PALM SUNDAY OF THE LORD’S PASSION A – April 17, 2011 – Do Not Abandon God
Matthew 21:1-11 (Procession), Isaiah 50:4-7, Psalm 22:8-9, 17-20, 23-24, Philippians 2:6-11, Matthew 26:14-27-27:66
“Why have you forsaken me?” We have just heard these very critical words uttered by Jesus while dying on the cross. What does it mean to be abandoned? Close to home it might mean something like this. Long term unemployed people abandoned by state legislatures. Children deserted by parents who cannot care for them. Elderly dying parents abandoned by their children. The earth scrapped by reckless human behavior.
According to some scholars the words of Jesus in the gospels, about being abandoned by God, point to the purpose of his death on the cross — “it was the redemptive act.”  The paradox is this: God abandoned Jesus who suffered a most humiliating death so that God might save us from eternal death.
This event on the cross cannot be separated from the life of Jesus anymore than our death is isolated from the lives we live. During his short lifetime Jesus showed concern for poor persons, outcasts and sinners. He showered them with acts of redemption — exorcisms, healing and forgiveness.  Jesus’s death on the cross was the ultimate expression of his unwavering commitment to change people’s lives for the better. He was executed for his revolutionary ways much like Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr., Oscar Romero and the five women martyred in El Salvador.
This is why we gather here every week to listen to the Word of God and to share a holy meal — to learn how not to abandon sick parents, homeless children and unemployed neighbors. We don’t have to be martyrs. Our small day to day acts of goodness do matter.
The stories we hear in the bible are not just about what happened in the past. By repeating these mystery stories we can connect them to what is going on in our own time. Our liturgical life, composed of ritual actions like baptism, reconciliation and eucharist, unite us and link us with these scriptures and the God who initiated them. Over time we come to realize that the biblical stories we love are just as much about us as they are about the heroes and villains in them.
Deciding just how to connect with these biblical stories can be difficult. We easily get impatient and angry. We sometimes think more about ourselves than about others. The reading from Isaiah today, known as the third suffering servant song, is a preface to the passion story. The Israelites who once happily thought God was leading them to the promised land found themselves held hostage by more powerful ruthless nations. Thinking that God abandoned them, they renounced God. They did not want to hear anything more from prophets about being faithful to God. They cried, why, God, have you abandoned us? That is what happens to us, don’t you think? Sometimes we just give up and abandon our mission.
This holy week is about making decisions when we come to different junctions in our lives. On Thursday we will commemorate the last supper and we will affirm our decision not to abandon hungry people but to wash away the injustices of the world. On Good Friday we will venerate and embrace the cross of death which is also the cross life and we will affirm our decision to replace suffering in the world with hope. During the Easter Vigil we will light the world with a new fire, listen to the stories of salvation in the bible, announce the resurrection of Christ, welcome new members into our community and we will affirm our decision to renew our commitment to advance the kin-dom of God on earth.
To be abandoned is a terrible experience. The history of God tells us that in some mysterious way God, in the end, will not leave us stranded. By not forsaking one another we will not abandon God.
1 Reginald H. Fuller and Daniel Westberg. Preaching the Lectionary: The Word of God for the Church Today. Third Edition, (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 2006, 55-59
2 Fiorenza, Frances Schüssler. “Redemption” in Komanchak, J., Collins, M. and Lane, D. The New Dictionary of Theology (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press) 1991, 839