The Sunday Sermon: Sixth Sunday of Lent – Palm Sunday, April 9, 2017
Scripture: Isaiah 2:1-4
Lent Six: Eschatology
Palm Sunday. What a fascinating day this has always been for Christians. The pomp of a processional and the memory of what our NRSV translation subtitles the “Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.” We celebrate this day and begin this week in festively fully aware of what is going to happen to the one we follow, Here in this congregation we have also used Palm Sunday to welcome our Eight grade confirmation class into the church as “active members.” Again this year, we have four Confirmands who sit in front with us ready to make their public profession of Christian faith after a course of study that has deepened the mysteries we confess and their desire to know more. What a fascinating day.
Of course we do all this today, celebrate and process, shout loud “hosannas” and publicly profess, because we know what happens next week. We know that, in spite of the darkness ahead in the final days of Jesus’ life which ended in betrayal, denial, and death, the final word from God in the Way of Jesus is Salvation – eternal life, “the life of the age to come.” We feasted last week on our Salvation. Do you remember? Salvation is for now. This week, today, this morning, we set the table for our last feast of Lent 2017: Eschatology.
Pray with me …
This week’s Lenten feast goes “hand-in-glove” with last week’s. And as with last week’s doctrine, this one needs just a quick word of explanation. The word “eschatology” is the fancy theological word that we use when we are talking about “last things” or endings. In the rich and lavish feasts that are provided for our lives of faith, our salvation last week is in service to our work in brinigng about the “final things” and “the end” that is not only our hope, but our promise.
We’ve tried to “break open” and broaden our understandings of God, Christ, humanity, the church, and our salvation in the weeks past. All of these “ologies,” all of these church doctrines have too often been, and continue to be, presented as “one course meals,” and so have remained too mysterious and misunderstood. Since I’ve lead it here at PVPC, the Confirmation experience has been called “Mystagogia.” Another fancy word that means most literally “learning the mysteries.” We never seem to fully grasp them, that’s why they are mysteries, but we’ve all been exploring them, some of them, more deeply this season. And there is probably no idea more mystifying and misunderstood by us and all Christians, than eschatology.
The table that is most often set for this doctrine, this teaching, this belief, is a very bare one, indeed. Almost immediately and exclusively, when we hear “end times” and think theologically about “last things” we imagine the end of the world by the “divine destruction” of the physical earth. We image rapturous judgments of humanity that vacate the earth for a new heavenly location. That’s what “end times” most commonly means, theologically thinking.
And it’s easy to imagine the earth’s destruction because we can do it so easily today, atomically, chemically, “nuclearly”, or otherwise. We experienced the anxiety again last week. Chemical weapons used by the Syrian government and Tomahawk cruise missiles used by our own country are only the beginning of what we, and other countries around the world, can do to world. So it’s easy to imagine the earth’s destruction. It’s also easy to focus on a new “other-worldly,” heavenly, location for us because we continue to make this world less and less attractive. Indeed, even the days ahead this week, full of the memories of betrayals and denials, convictions and crucifixions, days seemingly devoid of the Love of Christ, between the cross and the tomb, encourage us to seek “heaven” anywhere but here.
The problem with all that is … it’s only one interpretation of “the end” and final things and, I believe with all my heart, the wrong understanding, the wrong table-setting. Eschatology, scripturally speaking, is not about some divine destruction of this world, but a vision of the great divine clean up of this world. It is a revelation of how Love, the love of God revealed in Jesus the Christ, will “end” the toxic evil and impurity, the injustice and oppression, the war and violence in this world so that God’s Kingdom may come … where? We pray it together every time we worship … “on Earth, as it is in heaven.” And, as with last week’s salvation, we confess that in Jesus, in the community that gathers in his name, and through each one of us, that “clean-up” has already begun
We have feasted on new and deeper expressions of God and Christ, of ourselves, our church and our salvation, all in service to a richer and deeper understanding of the call that each and every one of us, as believers in the Mystery we call “God” and followers of the one we call “Christ, must respond to: Love’s Kingdom will come, Love will be done, on earth as it is heaven.
Listen to Word of God about the final things for us: Read Isaiah 2:1-4. The Word of the Lord … Thanks be to God.
The “end-times” banquet is ours to participate in right now and the feast is before us every day of our lives. It’s not complete, goodness knows, this dream of God, this vision of shalom, this Kingdom of God on earth. But we have been given a taste of it in the life that has led us to this day. And we proclaim with our loud Hosanna’s that the world, the life and Love of Jesus Christ, our own lives, this community with the millions like it around the globe, and our salvation by grace through our faith in it all is not a mistake that must be destroyed. Rather it is a promise that must be renewed, redeemed, and – get this … Resurrected.
That’s what next week ha always been about …
Next week we’ll gather to celebrate the greatest feast of them all. And we’ll do so full of the feasts that we have been consuming in our deeper, richer, broader, and bolder understandings of who we are called to be and what we are called to do. Like Jesus two thousand years ago, we have arrived in Jerusalem, not with swords but with Love. Next week, Easter, should mean more than it ever has to us because we know God, Christ, ourselves, the church, our salvation and these “final things” more profoundly than we ever have. Resurrection can never again be something that happened long ago and far away to someone else. It is ours. It is us. Resurrection for the salvation of this world.
That celebration is still a week away and there are some dark days in between. It remains for us this morning to strengthen our number for the duty ahead, to mark this day’s “triumphal entry” with the celebration of the entry of Toby Fletcher, Gabe Weible, MacKenna Williams, and Ethan Willis into the church on this Confirmation Sunday. With their own professions of faith, they will join us as adults this morning in our common journey to save the world through resurrection life.
Toby, Gabe, MacKenna, and Ethan: Will you stand and come forward, facing me? (Bring your Booklet with you. Christiaan, will you come forward and stand with them?)
Blessed are the ones who come in the name of the Lord!
We have talked over and over again in our class and in our lives together this past two months that what is happening this morning is not the end of anything. It’s another beginning. Confirmands, your public profession of faith should remind you that you are not alone, we are all with you on this common journey. And gathered church, the words these four speak should remind us all that we are called together to be Christ for one another.
(Move to Confirmation Liturgy …)
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / April 9, 2017