Bootcamp for the Soul: Celebrate and Wait
Rev. Sandy Johnson
Last Monday night, April 3, the North Carolina Tar Heels defeated Gonzaga of Washington State to clinch the NCAA college basketball championship. Did any of you watch the game? It was a nail biter. I was sure Gonzaga was going to win, but the Tar Heels came out in the second half and did what they needed to do, to win the championship. The following night the team returned home, victorious, to their fans in Chapel Hill to celebrate their win. The house was packed! The news reported that “thousands of fans poured into the arena and onto the court before the team’s flight had even landed at nearby Raleigh-Durham International Airport, and they cheered fanatically every time live footage of the team’s motorcade was shown on the video scoreboards.”
This was no ordinary celebration! This was no ordinary victory, this was NCAA Championship. This was their team and they were super stoked! When the team entered the court, they went crazy! The sound was deafening. The stadium pulsed with the joy felt by these loyal fans. And the fans go wild!
Reminds me of another celebration, when boot camp graduates celebrate the completion of the toughest training of their lives. Weeks of intense physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual testing culminating in their graduation. With families in attendance, recruits are recognized for their accomplishments. “The hard work and self-examination experienced along the way, come to an end with a sigh of relief and a hoot of satisfaction, with high fives all around for the group that has taken this journey together.” That’s when and where their military careers really begin.
Celebration! “An act or event designed to commemorate something or make something special and enjoyable.” Think of a time when you have celebrated something, a birthday, an anniversary or retirement perhaps. The mood was joyous, wasn’t it? Maybe there was music and dancing? Like most Methodists there was probably food involved. Celebrating is one of the joys we have in our life, taking special moments and commemorating them through a party atmosphere.
Our scripture today is all about a celebration, a party welcoming the conquering hero into Jerusalem. The time was Passover. Jerusalem and the surrounding community was crowded with pilgrims, coming to the Holy City for the yearly celebration. “The law required every adult male Jew who lived within twenty miles of Jerusalem” to come into the city for Passover. It wasn’t only the Jews from Palestine who came, it was Jews from all over the world who would make their way home to Jerusalem for this sacred remembrance.
Jesus was not acting on impulse. He knew they were to go to Jerusalem, and he had prepared ahead of time. He had prearranged the details so that things would go smoothly for him and his disciples. Jesus sent two disciples ahead of the group to get the donkey that he would ride on so that Zechariah’s prophesy would be fulfilled.
9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
They were expecting a king, a conqueror, a military leader; one who would stand up against the Romans and bring peace to the region. The people were tired of being oppressed and they believed that Jesus, their king, would save them. So, they treated him like a king. Riding on a donkey, they spread their cloaks on the ground in front of him, a tradition they had for welcoming royalty.
The crowd was massive. As Jesus made his way down from the Mount of Olives, the mass of humanity began waving palm branches and shouting, “Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna!” Today hosanna is “used as a cry of acclamation and adoration.” But that isn’t quite what it meant when it was shouted at Jesus. It actually means, “save now!” “It was the cry for help which a people in distress addressed to their king or their god (little “g”). This was no “cry of welcome and of acclamation, like “Hail!”’ but essentially it is a people’s cry for deliverance and for help in the day of their trouble; it is an oppressed people’s cry to their savior and their king.” God heard the cry of these desperate and oppressed people. The celebration was a call for help, a prayer to God to free his people.
Today we celebrate the triumphant entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem. At the same time that we are celebrating today, we do so with an eye on the week to come. We know that although it seems like today is time to celebrate, we all know that the celebration won’t last until the end of the week. There’s trouble is brewing in Jerusalem.
Oh, how we would love to skip the drama and move to the final celebration on Easter morning. We long to take the easy way, to not be reminded of the horrific circumstances that Jesus faces. The celebration isn’t the same though, if the victory is easy. If we skip over the Last Supper, the arrest, trial, beating and crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the Easter morning joy is muted, subdued.
This week ahead you are invited to experience Jesus’ Last Supper with a Maundy Thursday worship service. We will reenact the foot washing that Jesus did with his disciples before their communal meal and then receive communion in remembrance of this last meal. Friday, Good Friday, we will enter into the dark and evil world of Jesus last day on earth. Our service will give us all the opportunity to experience some of the emotions that Christ and his disciples felt as their world came apart. Sisters and brothers, don’t skip these experiences, don’t gloss over the pain. Allow the worship we have planned guide you through, so that Sunday morning will be a true resurrection of your soul!
Forty days ago, we set out to get into spiritual shape, we began our boot camp for the soul. We committed to doing something new, something different, something that would help us to grow deeper in our relationship with Christ. I have found this Lenten journey to be the most transformative of all my Lent memories. I increased my time in the Word, in a sense forcing myself to read scripture before CNN – I know blasphemous! But it has had a tremendous impact on me. God has seen my efforts and rewarded them.
Two weeks ago, I was reading in Judges 6. I should tell you that I started a reading plan on my Bible Gateway app and it feeds me an Old Testament and a New Testament reading every day. This particular day it was Judges 6, the story of Gideon testing God. Remember that story? God had asked Gideon to go into battle and Gideon tested God by placing a piece of fleece of wool on to the threshing floor. He asked God to prove his call by putting water onto the fleece and leaving the ground dry all around. So, sure enough, the next morning the fleece was soaking wet, he could squeeze water out, and the ground around was dry. That wasn’t enough for Gideon. He still wasn’t convinced so he asked God this time to keep the fleece dry and make the ground wet. Of course, God did what he asked. But can you imagine testing God this way?
Later that morning I went to visit a woman who is on hospice and is bedridden. She is one of several people in town that I minister to, that have never stepped foot inside our church. As I came in the front door, her caretaker said she was so glad I was there. She said she had a question for me. She asked me if it was ok to put the fleece down. Fleece? You mean like fleece in Gideon’s story? Exactly! She said.
Now, I don’t know if I would have gotten the reference had I not read the scripture that same morning. She goes on to tell me that she had been really struggling with the idea of testing God and thought to herself that if I came to see Marion that week, that she would ask me. That morning she was called in to work, the regular caregiver couldn’t make it. When she arrived, she saw that I was scheduled to come for a visit. I know that that day I was sent to minister to the caregiver, not Marion.
Had I not done something new, had I not added to my spiritual disciplines this Lenten season, I would have missed this opportunity for this woman to see God at work. She felt so strongly that God had orchestrated our meeting and the discussion that followed, and I agree with her. It was a divine appointment, arranged by the God of the universe.
Our Lenten, spiritual boot camp has pushed some of us in ways we could never have imagined. In the same way that military boot camp is only a beginning, I challenge all of us to recognize that this Lenten boot camp is only a beginning for all of us. If you didn’t go as deep as you had wanted this season, it’s not too late. Take the training you did receive and build upon it. Pushing and straining to achieve a heightened relationship with God.
Faithful servants, as we look toward this Holy Week, we can celebrate today, but then we must wait…wait for the terror of the night, so that the sunrise on Resurrection Sunday will be as bright and as life-giving as possible.
Let us pray: Gracious God, creator of the universe, let us enjoy the celebration today but prepare us for the grief that is to come. Let the holy week before us strengthen our faith and prepare us for resurrection. Amen.
 Miller Kelly, Jessica. A Preacher’s Guide to Lectionary Sermon Series: Thematic Plans for Years A, B, and C. How Westminster John Knox Press. Louisville, KY. 2016. Page 29.
 Barclay, William. The Daily Study Bible Series: The Gospel of Matthew, Volume 2, Revised Edition. The Westminster Press. Philadelphia. 1975. Page 238.
 Barclay, William. The Daily Study Bible Series: The Gospel of Matthew, Volume 2, Revised Edition. The Westminster Press. Philadelphia. 1975. Page 239.