"How Awesome" – Br. Mark Brown

“How awesome is this place,” said Jacob, waking from his dream. “This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.  Surely the Lord is in this place.” [Gen. 28:16-17]

But how did it come to this—yet again?  We marched in triumph with palm fronds, spreading our garments before him, into the Holy City of Jerusalem (in a more imaginary way than usual because of the rain).  But instead of a celebration, we’ve come to an execution.  With giddy anticipation we came back to this place, only to find ourselves witness to a crucifixion.

Cries of “hosanna in the highest” mutated to “crucify him.” And we did.  According to the script, the ancient script, we put him to death–again. In our very broken and confused humanity, we, too, crucified him. It’s a terrible reversal, an upheaval: the world in convulsions again.

It’s Palm Sunday—we do this all over again every year.  And then, as if we can hardly believe what we’ve done, we pause, back up, and re-play in slow motion during the course of a week. By this time next week we’ll know how it all ends up, but for now we pretend we don’t know. Like children hearing a favorite story yet again, we pretend we don’t know how it all ends.

This monastery, as you know, has been undergoing extensive renovation—it’s beginning to look like the building we know and love, only better. The work began with opening up walls all over the place: first, to see what was there behind the walls, then to fix it. The inner workings needed to be exposed first, then repaired—wires, pipes, conduits, ductwork and such. First, everything corrupt, broken, frayed, inadequate or simply nonexistent needed to be exposed.

Palm Sunday is a bit like that first breaking open of the walls to see what lies beneath the surface.  Today we ourselves are opened up to see what’s inside, what’s in need of repair, what needs renovation. We’re exposed—inside and out.  Joy, exaltation, recognition of everything good, noble, beautiful and true–Hosanna in the highest! Love himself is worshiped as He enters Jerusalem.  Love himself, riding in grace and truth, is worshiped as he enters the city–palm fronds and flowers, garments spread upon the roadway.

But then, as the story unfolds, the sordid cavalcade of our confused and broken humanity.  Greed (thirty silver pieces worth of greed).  Betrayal (not one, but two disciples’ worth of betrayal). False witness. The wanton cruelty of soldiers at their gruesome games. The raw contempt and blood lust of a crowd gone mad.  Serpentine conspiracies of the priests of God. A whole city possessed—possessed and under occupation by Death and his minions.

But Love, Love knowing what Love knows, stares back without blinking.  And, in another great reversal, Love takes upon himself all that Death and his legions can offer.

For the time being, we pretend we don’t know how it all ends. Actually, the way it ends is more of a beginning, the death is more of a birth…but let’s not jump ahead. For the time being, we reflect on our own hearts, we reflect on our own participation in the sordid cavalcade of the human condition.  We break through the walls of our souls to see what needs to be fixed, what needs to be replaced, re-designed, added on to. We ponder the ways we need to be restored, renewed, renovated, recreated—born again.

Palm Sunday exposes our need: we too are complicit in the violence, the betrayal, the cruelty of the story. But if we are complicit in the crowd’s broken and confused humanity, we are also taken up into the greater mystery of what we shall witness. What we shall soon see of God’s doings on the morning of the third day, on the first day of the week, the day of creation. The day when the spirit hovers over the chaos and tumult and upheaval of this earth—hovering, breathing and caressing the face of the Beloved.

But for now, we linger here. Near the foot of a cross, we linger–and a great stone lies across the door of a new tomb.  We linger quietly. As we wait, we wonder.  We wonder about the whispering breath we seem to hear. The whispering that speaks to our wondering ears: “you are my beloved, with whom I am well pleased–watch with me and wait.”

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  1. Selina martin on March 18, 2016 at 00:23

    Brother Mark, I just stumbled on this amazing Palm Sunday sermon of yours. Amazing I think because it forces us (me) to be there ,us to be there participating, first celebrating then turning very ,very ugly, betraying, screaming murderous taunts. We can’t keep it all back there and far away . You hurl us into the past as present and we can’t escape. You have have made the events of the story so real I have to throw away my usual evasions and be present in every sense of the word.Thank you.

    • Christina on February 8, 2017 at 09:52

      I too have just stumbled into Br. Mark’s sermon.
      Last year, 2016, I was so depressed during the whole of the week beginning with Palm Sunday. Yes. We do know the outcome of that week. The Palm Sunday celebrations were/are followed by the fickle nature of we human beings. How quickly we can turn around from joy to hatred and vindictive, vicious behaviour. Our love for other beings can so quickly fly out of the window.

  2. Jeff Lowry on March 30, 2015 at 09:46

    As many have said, wonderful sermon, Br. Mark. The old phrase,”It’s always darkest before the dawn” seems, to me, a fitting metaphor for Holy Week. All those years ago, believers feeling amazement at Jesus being willing to let himself be put through what he went through . Believers wondering how they would exist without their Raboni; what would happen to their new found faith and way of living? I would imagine you and any other brother who had come to know the monastery had somewhat similar feelings during the renovation project. I am going through something similar in my oersonal life right now. Nearly 15 years ago I moved four states away to be married. I gained a bunch of family but yet knew no one in the town where I know live. That changed over the years. After 13.5 years my wife,who is a wonderful woman but very introverted, discovered that marriage was not for her. Fast forward a year, I am taking care of my mom who is 82 and has COPD. Technically, she is the only person to whom I am related. My step-daughter is only communicating with me via Facebook; even though we live in the same town. I explain all this NOT seeking pity; only to illustrate similarity. Just as we find joy at Easter I am hopeful that I will find joy again.

  3. Mark on March 29, 2015 at 22:47

    Beautiful sermon with thought provoking revelations

  4. Ruth West on March 29, 2015 at 22:15

    A good sermon indeed, admonishing us to open the walls of our hearts to reveal those sins which need repairs, actually repentance. During this Holy Week is an excellent time of searching within.
    “Search me, O God, and see if there be any wicked way in me…”

  5. Jane on March 29, 2015 at 21:15

    This week then provides us with the opportunity to begin renovations, clean out the closets of the heart, mind and soul that have been the collecting spaces for negativity and harmful thoughts and behaviors–harmful to others as well as to ourselves. What wonderful hope Easter provides us–hope that as we do this cleaning, we can begin anew….

  6. Paula Kelly on March 29, 2015 at 16:05

    Rich Rohr speaks of going into the need to go into the darkness to find the light. Your imagery of renovation, opening walls to discover what needs repair, replacement, adding on, recreating, speaks so clearly to my work for this Holy Week, finding the light.

  7. Michael on March 29, 2015 at 09:20

    Your sermon is beautifully written, but at its core lies a mystery we do not comprehend. Metaphors help us relate, but in the end we must all accept our position as spectators. People who see but do not fully understand exactly what we witness, for it is in our lack of understanding that God makes his presence known to us

  8. Muriel Akam on March 29, 2015 at 04:23

    A week of contemplation – the human story . Who has not had moments of greed, betrayed a loved one , a friend or a colleague? A time of self examination, true remorse followed by renewal , rebirth . The joy of Easter. We can fix things and do better. Thank you for showing the way.

  9. George Hanford on April 22, 2011 at 13:11

    What a wonderful way to relate Palm Sunday to the restoration of the Monastery in anticipation of Easter and the completeion of the restoration.

  10. Ross Bliss on April 19, 2011 at 16:49

    What a compelling and beautiful way to be led into a place of contemplation on what it means to be human, fully aware of our culpability, quietly awaiting the ultimate love that is so beyond merit, but thankfully not completely beyond understanding, or accepting.

  11. Dick Palmer on April 19, 2011 at 12:44

    Ah, Brother Mark, ” How Awesome” is your sermon….Dick+

  12. Virginia Nagel on April 19, 2011 at 11:43

    Amen, brother. How very true. Thank you for giving us an agenda for Holy Week, a guide for our self-examinations, and a way to connect ourselves, our society and culture, and the Scripture…all in one. I will be reading and meditating and chewing on this, all week, and probably beyond. In Xto, Ginger+

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