During the recent NCAA basketball tournament, it was interesting to see South Carolina makes its run all the way to the Final Four. The coach, Frank Martin, just seems to me to be a wonderful blend of “old school” and yet able to connect so closely with his players. I can only imagine what his halftime speeches were like. I also suspect they were straight forward – “you’re ready,” “you know what it yours to do.” I am sure there were X’s and O’s, but at the heart of it all, he pointed to the road that brought them to this point in time, he reminded them what they had achieved, that they were prepared, and to now it was time to answer the call. “You are ready!”It a way, Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion is our “halftime” on Lenten journey as we reach Lent’s end and Holy Week’s beginning. Our “Holy Week coach” has us in the locker room and reminds us that Palm Sunday is more than a moment of great celebration, that Lent is just not a liturgical season to get to Good Friday and Easter. All these liturgical moments are to prepare us, to make us ready to more fully and unreservedly follow Jesus as his disciples.
Think about the road that brought us here to this point in time. The gospels of Lent have prepared us to realize who is this Jesus of Nazareth. On the 2nd Sunday of Lent, the glory of God was revealed in the Transfiguration. This Jesus, miracle worker, teacher, and more – is truly God and truly man. We know the apostles were amazed – they are ready to build a tent and stay there! But Jesus knows what lies ahead and he sets his face like flint towards Jerusalem.
Then we heard about the Samaritan woman at the well. There Jesus reaches across the great divide between Jew and Samaritan, across the divide between woman and man, across untold barriers and invites the woman to the “living waters.” She comes to understand that this Jesus is the promised Messiah. She is ready to be disciples and to spread the word. And people come to believe. She knows what is hers to do.
There is the man born blind who is, in the eyes of his contemporaries, the stigmata of sin – perhaps his, perhaps his parents. Jesus reaches across the great divide of sin, prejudice, and assumption to restore and heal, and prepare the man for what lays ahead. The man once blind is now interrogated by those who won’t believe. The man is challenged and persecuted, but he too sets his face like flint to testify to Jesus come what may.
The week following, we hear of Jesus reaching across the last, great barrier – death itself. He reaches in to the great maw of the deepest fear and finality of mankind, and show there is no one that cannot be redeemed and given new life.
All of this brings the apostles, disciples and us to Palm Sunday, to “halftime.” The apostles are on a high – their “man” has just been given the king’s welcome. The crowds were amazing, they were loud and proud. The “hosannas” still echo in their ear.
They have no idea what is coming. They are not ready to face the devolution of Jesus from hailed hero to the lonely figure bound before Pilate and the Sanhedrin.
They have no idea of the depth of God’s love.
They cannot imagine Good Friday and they are not ready for Easter Sunday when, as Matthew describes, the very foundations of the earth will be shaken.
In all the gospels of Lent leading to this moment, we have witnessed that love is greater than the barriers that separate us, stronger than illness and prejudice, so life-giving that not even death can resist its power. We have witnessed the call of the Kingdom expressed in the two greatest commandments: love of God and love of neighbor.
The apostles witnessed the same love and yet scattered like sheep before the wolves. Denied Jesus in the darkest moment of the night. Huddled in fear after experiencing the Resurrection. They weren’t ready. But love crossed the barrier of disbelief and fear. The apostles found their game in the “2nd half” and went to the ends of the earth to tell the Good News.
And now we stand at the precipice of Holy Week. We arrive with our own burdens and barriers, prejudices and pride, fear and longing, hope and prayer. Lent is the season that prepares us to be ready for what awaits. Perhaps we will falter. Perhaps we will fail.
But the “coach” will ever remind us of the way we have come, what we have achieved, and that we are ready. We can endure. We can do great things – because love will ever reach out to us.
We are ready.
Ready to be disciples. Ready to love.
Such is the lesson of Lent and Palm Sunday.
Good Friday awaits. Easter is coming.
You are ready.