The Rock Who Saves Us
April 5 Palm Sunday “The Rock Who Saves Us” Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29 • Matthew 21:1-11
With plenty of extra time and in need of something to provide a distraction, I started watching the Father Brown TV series on Netflix. It is somewhat churchy, sometimes dark, but overall entertaining, comforting and fun. It deals with life and its messiness, but generally comes to a conclusion at the end of each episode instead of being an ongoing crisis. I had just started watching season 2 when it suddenly was gone from Netflix. I searched and searched but can no longer access the series, and if I really want to watch the rest of it will have to get a subscription to BritBox. It sounds silly now, but for awhile I felt lost and disorientated, with something that provided comfort and a sense of routine suddenly gone.
Perhaps this is a frivolous example compared to what we are going through right now, some of us need such silly and frivolous things, but we can all remember times when we woke up one morning and our world had changed forever. The day after 9/11, the day after the bailout of many financial institutions in 2007 as we headed into the Great Recession, the day after a loved one has died. There is emptiness and doubt, maybe fear. We remember where we were, how we felt, and many other little details that we otherwise would not have held onto. Certainly this pandemic is one of those times, and it seems like it is affecting more aspects of everyday life than anything I can remember, but then I wasn’t alive to witness many of the things those of you who are older are probably remembering right now. It seems to be in our nature to compare things, and rate how horrible events and memories are. This current crisis didn’t strike my heart fully until I learned that the father of one of Kristen’s coworkers was in the hospital, in a coma and holding on to life with the aid of a respirator. Fear and uncertainty. But hopefully this time will also help us to recognize and cherish all the more the good things in our lives: our loved ones, our homes (and gardens!), and all of those things that are unique to each of us that make life more meaningful and fruitful. In a time of great change, we also need to remember the things that don’t change, especially the good things, that we tend to take for granted.
I don’t remember a time when we were not able to go to church except on snow days. It has always been there as a rock to stand on, if not one particular church, then one I could visit if for some reason I couldn’t go to my home church. Right now, we are encouraged to worship with others online if we are able, which means many folks are not able to join together for worship of any kind. With so many churches already struggling, it is worrisome indeed to think of those which will fail, and those folks who might not return once we are able to open our doors again. The potential split of our denomination just doesn’t seem that important right now, when we struggle just to connect with each other in this time of social distancing. You’d think we would all be used to change and new things, but this current crisis has upended life in ways we couldn’t have imagined before.
Of course, even with change all around us, God does not change. He is our rock through the storms of life, including this one. Many passages of Scripture as well as hymns sing praises to the Rock who saves us. Here is just a small taste:
“For I proclaim the name of the LORD; Ascribe greatness to our God! The Rock! His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; A God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He. (Deu 32:3-4 NAS)
“The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge; my savior, Thou dost save me from violence. I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised; and I am saved from my enemies. For the waves of death encompassed me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me; the cords of Sheol surrounded me; the snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called upon the LORD, yes, I cried to my God; and from His temple He heard my voice, and my cry for help came into His ears. (2Sa 22:2-7 NAS)
The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised. (Psa 18:2-3 NAS)
It is hard to believe Holy Week is about to begin; with all that has been going on, I have kind of pushed Lent somewhere to the back of my mind, and suddenly Palm Sunday is here. Lent is supposed to be a time of reflection, and it has, but in a totally unexpected way. There will be many folks seeing this pandemic as a sign of the end times, and rightly so. Only God knows when that day will come, but we should have a new sense of urgency in not only getting ourselves right with God, seeking to flee the wrath to come, but also to be proclaiming the Gospel to all people with greater zeal and ardor. Perhaps you heard the news story of 300 people dying in Iran from drinking methanol as a fake cure for the coronavirus. People are more vulnerable than usual right now and will believe many false things and be led astray. However, they may also be more willing to listen to the truth of the Gospel message and come to Christ as a result. Certainly, we don’t want to prey on the fears of folks like some will do, but we want to share the hope in Christ and the promises of God with all who have yet to come to know them. We must share our faith in the Rock who will get us through this time.
There are two texts for Palm Sunday. The first is the familiar story of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, a parody of Roman victors riding into a conquered city, in Matthew 21:1-11. Who on that day would have guessed that the world would soon be turned upside down? A new kind of king had arrived, not just the true king of this world but the king of all things. Through those calamitous events, as Jesus was tortured, murdered, yet risen, we would be given the path to get through our own trials and tribulations and one day rise victorious into glory. On that day, the very fabric of earthly reality was changed, but that change was built upon the unchanging, solid reality of God’s grace and faithfulness. Our world may be wracked with sin and destruction for now, but one day will be renewed. As Christ is the same today, yesterday, and forever, God has been there waiting for those who seek him since Adam walked in the Garden of Eden, Jesus wept in the Garden of Gethsemane; as we today connect with God in our gardens and the beauty of the natural world, and will one day frolic in Heaven, a new Garden of Eden, perhaps. Jesus humbly rides into a new reality on that donkey, and few if any present would have understood what was happening, like we may feel right now.
Our second reading is Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29, often classified as a royal or enthronement psalm celebrating the coronation of a king. Earthly kings may come and go, but Psalm 118 exalts our heavenly King who reigns forever:
O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!
Let Israel say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”
Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the LORD.
This is the gate of the LORD; the righteous shall enter through it.
I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Save us, we beseech you, O LORD! O LORD, we beseech you, give us success!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD. We bless you from the house of the LORD.
The LORD is God, and he has given us light. Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar.
You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God, I will extol you.
O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.
As God is our Rock, Jesus is the cornerstone of our lives, the source of our faith, the foundation of our salvation. God’s steadfast love endures forever, and the greatest expression was the sending of Jesus to die for us on the cross. Through him the gates of righteousness are opened for us, we enter in with joy and thanksgiving. It may be difficult to feel connected to God when going to church is not an option, so we must be more intentional in our devotional practices at home, as we come before God wherever we may be. One traditional way for doing this, in addition to reading the Bible daily, is to commit to morning and evening prayers. Evening prayers are used to reflect on the day, confess our shortcomings and receive God’s forgiveness, and then rest in his peace as we settle in for the night. Morning prayers are used to reconnect with God, proclaiming his sovereignty and our obedience. Both times of prayer are good for praying for others. By following this practice, we better cling to the Rock who saves us on a daily basis, scheduling our lives around our praises to him.
Our Lord called Peter a “rock” also: “and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it.” (Mat 16:18 NAS) This of course means something else to the Catholic Church, but I like to believe it applies to each of us, too. We like Peter have our failings, but we too can be solid and faithful, building a legacy of faith and good works that witness to the Rock who saves us. As Jesus taught us:
Everyone who comes to Me, and hears My words, and acts upon them, I will show you whom he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid a foundation upon the rock; and when a flood rose, the torrent burst against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who has heard, and has not acted accordingly, is like a man who built a house upon the ground without any foundation; and the torrent burst against it and immediately it collapsed, and the ruin of that house was great.” (Luk 6:47-49 NAS)
We may be fickle at times, and our earthly lives are relatively short, but when the Rock is our foundation, we can rise above the storms of life and enter the gates of Heaven. Our current crises are temporary, but in Christ we enter into blessed eternity. Let us always praise the Rock who saves us!
Kristen’s coworker posted a picture of her dad the other day, out of the hospital and playing with his dogs. This pandemic is scary, but there are still reasons for hope. Our world has changed vastly in just a couple of weeks, but our ultimate reality has not. God still is in control and will bring us into his peace now and eternal life soon. Jesus is the cornerstone of our faith, the foundation of our hope, the source of our strength. He will get us through this life and into the next. As the classic hymn proclaims:
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy riven side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Save me from its guilt and power.
While I draw this fleeting breath,
When mine eyes shall close in death,
When I soar to worlds unknown,
See Thee on Thy judgment throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.