Palm Sunday 2021

No Expectations, Just the Present

Sermons / April 2021 / No Expectations, Just the Present

The people of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday long ago were mistaken. This Jesus, riding on a beast of burden, was not the Messiah they had hoped for. He did not come to overthrow Rome or to establish an earthly kingdom. They would have understood that life-changing opportunity if only they had listened carefully and deeply to his words, if they had not been so attached to their own expectations and ideas. Even the disciples on the road to Emmaus said as much, “we had hoped [this Jesus] was the one to redeem Israel”. The problem was that, despite travelling with and listening to Him, they were not united with the real Jesus at all. They were attached to their interpretations and ideas of the Messiah. And in doing so, they missed out on the real thing.

This happens to us, even. We meet someone who is charismatic, attractive, wealthy, resourceful, and checks all our boxes. We are so relieved and excited that we marry that person, only to realize fairly soon that they were not who we thought they were; rather, we did not understand who they really were. We fall in love with ideas of people, places, events, and ignore and miss the real thing.

The crowd was so in love with the popular ideas about the Messiah that they couldn’t recognize him when he came. They were so attached to their notion of what the Messiah must do to please them, they could not see that Jesus was going above and beyond their wildest expectations. Why defeat Rome when death is the real problem?

Of course, we often find ourselves in the same situation. We project our expectations onto people, events and things and find ourselves disappointed. The old saying is, “no expectations, no disappointments.”

There is a solution to this problem and it is to let go of our attachments to our own imaginings of how things should be, and take a long, honest look at how things really are.

To be consumed by expectations is to live in a fantasy that does not exist. To let go of expectations is to live in the moment. The past is done and gone. The future does not yet exist. Only the present moment is here for us. It is a gift, which is why it is called “the present”.

There is a curious pattern in Orthodox hymnography that uses the word, “Today”. We sing before Christmas, “Today is born the pre-eternal God”. We sing on the feast of Theophany, “Today, river Jordan turns back”. We sing on Holy Friday, “Today is hung upon a tree, He who suspended the earth upon the waters”. How can we say it happens today, when those things occurred 2,000 years ago?

This is the mystery and the power of ritual and liturgy. Through ritual, we transform the place and time where we are into the actual time and place we remember. By celebrating this historic event ritually, we make today that very day. The events and services of Holy Week are not reenactments, or a drama, or simply calling to mind something that happened; they are the actual events that we participate in. We make this place (Nashua, NH) into the Jordan, into Jerusalem, into Golgotha by calling into our midst those very events.

In the same way we, in lifting up our palms and welcoming our Savior in our midst through ritual, make this very day the same as the day when Christ entered Jerusalem six days before his passion. The church, through ritual and liturgy, unites the past with the present in a mystical way that is beyond our human ability.

So, TODAY, we celebrate the entry of Christ into Jerusalem. Today, right now, this moment. Back then he was received by some and rejected by others. In the same way, we get to choose if we receive Him or reject Him. Today we also have the choice to lay aside all earthly fantasies and imaginings of what God should look like and how I want Him to act. We lay aside all delusion and live in the present reality. Why? Because if we are lost in fantasies, histories, or future dreams, if we are not present in the here and now, WE WILL MISS HIM.

So, TODAY, we bring ourselves to the present moment. No past, no future, but the eternal “now”; we experience the glory of God here and now, and unite ourselves to His passion, His sacrifice, and His victory.

Hosanna in the Highest! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!