Sunday, April 5, 2020

Overcoming Aloneness

April 5, 2020 – Palm Sunday, Year A

© 2020 Evan D. Garner

Audio of the sermon will be available here. Video of the service will be uploaded here.

In the end, all Jesus wanted was the companionship of his closest friends. Yet none of them was able to stay awake with him for even an hour.

As they came into Jerusalem, Jesus knew that trouble was ahead. His message that the reign of God was coming to the earth in a way that would supplant the powers of this world had angered both the Roman and Jewish authorities. The religious leaders of God’s people had struck a bargain with their imperial masters: as long as taxes were paid and insurrectionists were put down, religious life could continue in Palestine. But Jesus had begun to threaten that arrangement. Like the prophets of old, he had accused the chief priests and scribes and Pharisees of pretending to care about their religion so that they could pursue their own self-interests while betraying God and God’s people. The everyday folk were beginning to think that Jesus was right. And, once the crowds were on his side, it was only a matter of time before Rome cracked down on them all. Something had to be done.

Sitting at table with his friends, Jesus told them the hard truth: one of the twelve would betray him. “Not me. Surely not me. It can’t be me, Rabbi,” the disciples all said in turn, but the scheme had already been set in motion. More than that, he explained that all of them would fall away out of fear. “No matter what, I’ll never stumble,” Peter said to him, and all the disciples agreed with him. “Even if we must die beside you,” they said, “we will give up our lives for your sake.”

Only hours later, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus said to Peter, James, and John, “Stay with me. Keep watch with me. My heart is full of sorrow—so much so that I feel as if I will die. Don’t leave me alone.” But, when he came back, he found them all asleep. “Could you not stay awake with me for even an hour?” he asked them. But they could not. Not even for an hour could they stay awake with their rabbi, their master, as he approached his own death. Jesus was afraid for his life. All he wanted was the company of his friends, and even that was denied him.

Jesus took the depth of our loneliness with him to the cross. He knew the isolation, the distance, and the quarantine we experience so that he might carry it with him to death. The separation we feel in this time of physical distancing has brought to the surface a deeper aloneness that many of us experience in life. Some of us are staying at home with spouses and children, but others among us depend upon the church and work and the gym and little things like trips to the grocery store to keep us connected with other people. This time apart has shown us how isolated we really are, and many of us are desperate for even an hour of companionship. And yet, even in the depths of our loneliness, we are not alone because of the one who bore the bitter weight of all rejection on our behalf.

When we look to the cross of Christ, we find true hope. We find that hope not because we find an escape from our struggle but because we behold the one who embraced that struggle with us and within us. Our loneliness does not vanish as if it were a mere dream, but it melts away because, in the crucified one, we discover that even in our aloneness we are not alone—that even our deepest solitude is overcome by God’s love.

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