Readings – Mark 11: 1-11; Isaiah 50: 4 – 9a; Psalm 31: 9 -16; Philippians 2: 5 – 11; Mark 14: 1 – 15: 47
One of my favorite Christmas carols, yes, Christmas carols, is “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”, Hymn #56. The first verse is as follows:
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here,
until the Son of God appears.
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!
Holy Week proclaims, without a doubt, that God is with us as we walk our journey of life, Emmanuel. The Christmas Promise was crystal clear as our Lord Jesus shared the Passover meal with his disciples, as he was arrested and his disciples abandoned him, as the religious and governmental leadership condemned him to die and executed him, as he hurriedly was buried in a nearby tomb, and on Easter morning threw off the shroud and rolled away the stone, and rejoined and empowered his followers to share the extraordinary good news, the extraordinary Gospel, that love overcomes all obstacles, even death. The joy of Palm Sunday is a prelude to the more complete and overwhelming joy of Easter. The triumphal entry into Jerusalem is the prelude to the victory of eternal life over death. Our Lord Jesus did not avoid the pain of abandonment by his friends; our Lord Jesus did not avoid the false accusations of his enemies; our Lord Jesus did not avoid the public humiliation, the insults, the public execution; our Lord Jesus did not avoid the crown of thorns, the nails, and the spear of death; our Lord Jesus did not avoid death and the cold dark tomb. He went through it all and emerged victorious. So, when we enter abandonment or false accusations, or humiliation and insults, or the pangs of death, we know that our Lord Jesus has been there, done that, too, and made it through to the other side. Emmanuel, God is with us, every step of the way. Our Lord Jesus guides us through to the other side, like the Good Shepherd of Psalm 23 declares, though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we are not alone. The Good Shepherd is with us.
On previous Palm Sunday services, we have sung without accompaniment hymn #172, “Were you there?” It is a powerful hymn that reaches deep down into our souls.
v. 1 Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
v. 2 Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?
V. 3 Were you there when they pierced him in the side?
v. 4 Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?
Each verse includes, “Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble”. I did some research about this hymn, an African-American Spiritual. Did you know that the 1940 Episcopal Hymnal was the very first to include this in any major American hymnal? Scholars think the hymn was first published in 1884 after being brought north from the cotton fields of the pre-Civil War southern plantations. It was sung by the Slaytons Jubilee Singers of Chicago, a traveling choir, but really took off with the Fisk University Jubilee Singers of Nashville, Tennessee. Other verses sometimes included were as follows:
Were you there when they crowned him with thorns?
Were you there when the sun refused to shine?
One version had “I was there….” Another version from Hampton University, Virginia included, “Did you hear how dey crucified my Lord…” and “Did you hear how he rose from de grave…” As they were toiling in the cotton and rice fields, the singers knew their direct connection to the suffering of our Lord Jesus, and they were yearning, trembling, trembling, for the freedom that only he could bring.
In this Holy Week we remember, and we, tremble, tremble, know that our Lord Jesus brought us the freedom that only God’s love and eternal life can bring. Our Lord Jesus experienced in his own flesh the worst this world could give, and he did not “duck it” or use his power to sidestep it. Our Lord Jesus walked through it, so we would know that nothing, in the words of St. Paul, could separate us from the love of God. The Lord Jesus has been there before and takes our hand to guide us through troubled times as the Good Shepherd.
In conclusion, I will paraphrase the words of the Christmas Carol –
You came, you came, Emmanuel,
and ransomed us, captive Israel,
that mourned in lonely exile here,
until the Son of God appeared.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel,
Did come to us, O Israel.
At Christmas the Promise was made; at Holy Week the Promise was fulfilled.