Palm Sunday Virtual Service and Pastor Cheol’s Sermon: Strengthen Hope in the Passion

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April 05, 2020 [Red or Purple]
Passion/Palm Sunday (Sixth Sunday in Lent)

Psalm 46:1-3; Matthew 27:57-61

 Strengthen Hope in the Passion

The gloomy season

Weather in our New England is so fickle, especially, around this time of the year. It’s warm one day and just the next day cold again. I am always confused about whether the month of April is spring or winter. Spring has come and Easter is just next week, but emotionally I felt like I had to start the Lenten journey all over.

Liturgically, this Sunday is also one of the hardest days of the entire church year on which the Son of God was betrayed and killed by the humanity whom he so loved. Through our Palm/Passion Sunday, we are invited to see our capricious hearts that welcome the Christ by shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” with a song of praise one moment, and nailing him to the cross the next. This story is not about some other people at some other time. It is about all of us.

Walking with Joseph

Today, we are walking with a man named “Joseph” whom we don’t know much about. According to our Gospel lesson for this morning, he has the courage to ask Pontius Pilate for Jesus’ dead body because he wants to carry it from Golgotha to the tomb. His pace will be slow with such a heavy burden.

Perhaps Joseph is numb from the horrible events of the day; Jesus who was hailed by people as their Messiah was just crucified as a criminal and died on a cross. Looking at the dead body of Jesus, he might say to himself, “How could the man called the Messiah end his life like this? How come the righteous man was killed, and Barabbas, the notorious murderer, can be allowed to roam the streets? If this is the kingdom I have been hoping for through this man, I don’t want any part of it!”

This unexpected event must have caused him to struggle with all kinds of negative thoughts. He might be worried about the prospect of life without Jesus in this world. He might be disappointed with the fact that all his disciples and followers ran to their homes and locked the doors. He might even doubt his promise of God’s kingdom. Whatever his thoughts, it is certainly a gloomy walk.

His questions and concerns are familiar to us today, aren’t they? Just like him, we are shocked to see our world has been shaken by this invisible enemy. Just like him, we are in a panic and afraid that this ruthless virus is roaming on our streets.  Just like him, we are  disappointed that we must stay home to keep “social distancing” and even “self-quarantine.” Just like him, we are struggling with those negative questions of “Why this” or “Why me.”

Joseph’s broken heart is ours; his concern is ours; his disappointment is ours as well. Once again, the Passion story is not about some other people in some other time, but it is our story of today. Carrying the dead body of Jesus, he may have also struggled with a question like “How can I get through this trial?” And we know this is also our question of today.

“God is with us”

My answer to this question is so simple and clear: “Raise your head and live with “hope!” I can even say that we can use this tough trial as an opportunity to deepen and strengthen our hope in God. “Hope? What are you talking about? Don’t you know what happened to our world?” … Friends, if our time is always perfect without any worry or challenge, we don’t need to have hope and we don’t need to rely on God our Savior. Then, what is the reason for us to live with hope in this time of anxiety and uncertainty?

When I was in my prayer time as usual, God gave me the passage from Psalm 46. The verse 1 in this poem says that “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” And I was inspired to have in my mind the picture of a little lamb and the shepherd: the lamb was stuck in down at the bottom of a deep valley covered by thorns and thistles, and the shepherd reached out to pick up his lost lamb. What I can see in this picture is that God is not there to stop the tragedy from happening, as much as we might want, but God is there to help us climb back out of the valley.

In our worship or in our prayer, we like to confess our faith such as God is our heavenly Father; God is stronger than anything; nothing is able to separate us from God’s love in Jesus Christ our Savior; God already dwells in our lives by the power of the Holy Spirit. Most of all, we believe that Christ was risen from the grave; after his own resurrection, he visited his disciples hidden in the dark room, saying “Peace be with you!” He promised to give us the Holy Spirit who will teaches us what to say and what to do when we are being persecuted.

All we say or confess in our faith is, in a word, to believe “God is with us,” doesn’t’ it? If we really confess this and believe this, friends, what are we afraid of? Does “God is with us” mean that there is no trouble in our life? You know this answer is No! God never promises in the Bible that there would be no trouble in our lives because He is with us, but God promises that when we are in trouble, we are still given hope because He is with us. God is there to help us when we are in our trouble. That is our hope!

Regardless of this coronavirus outbreak, we know life is hard, life is unfair, life is so fickle that we don’t know what will happen next moment. When we have to get through the stormy time, our hearts are more agitated about looking forward to a new day. But friends, let me remind you of this truth which you have already learned from your life journey: Without dark nights, can we really appreciate sunny days? Without heavy rain, can we really expect to see a rainbow in the sky? Without tasting the pain of defeat, can we really know how wonderful the final victory is?

Although we are always tempted to rush to the glory of Easter, we know we are called to get through Passion Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday: days which all talk about the cross of pain and suffering. We have to wait a little longer to hail the final victory. While waiting, we will not be afraid and panic but remain strong in hope because we know we are not alone but with God.

Walking in hope

Today we are walking with Joseph full of concerns and disappointments. Just like him, we also are surprised to see that our world God so loves has been shaken by this invisible enemy and this ruthless virus is roaming on our world. How dare this happen!?

Yet, unlike Joseph, we don’t want to walk in gloomy thoughts. Rather we still want to walk in hope because we are not carrying the dead body on our shoulders but we are carrying the Good News that “God is with us.” As we trust the promise of God’s presence and keep this risen Christ deep in our heart, we can always have tremendous hope for today, tomorrow, and all eternity. Our faith of “God is with us,” that is our hope, our shield, our shelter, and our rock for our life journey in this time of trial.