A Living Obedience

March 28, 2021 Palm Sunday

Mark 14:17-36

As Jesus enters Jerusalem to fanfare and shouts of “Hosanna,” I am sure that the disciples still fully did not understand what was about to take place. They were holding out hope that Jesus would be like the conquering Messiah they had imagined. Jesus predicting his death, is not what they were hoping for and it has them on edge and there is hesitation in their footsteps. The parade into Jerusalem seems celebratory. In their minds however, there is apprehension. At this point, they are being obedient to Jesus and follow in his footsteps. Living on this side of the empty tomb, we know how quickly it will change.

It was my prayer, like many others, that as we entered this Holy Week, things would like very different. I prayed that the pandemic would have started to fade away and this Easter season would be a return to the familiar. And yet, here we are. Macomb County has one of the highest infection rates in the country. Part of our obedience to loving one another is in our practices of washing our hands and wearing masks.

It has become practice to blend Palm Sunday and the Passion story. It has become typical to read through the entire Passion narrative each year through the eyes of which ever gospel is our focus for the given year. This year it is Mark and instead of reading the entire narrative, I prayed over the entire text and picked a selection that can speak to us today.

I read from the eleventh chapter of Mark as we began worship on this Palm Sunday. And it is in Jerusalem where we now find Jesus. Sitting down to have a meal and break bread with the disciples. Jesus fully understands what the next 24 hours hold for him. The disciples are busy and caught up in their meal to fully understand this will be the last time they sit back and relax with Jesus. It is in this meal that we find the institution of Holy Communion. It is in the breaking of the bread and the drinking of the wine that Jesus once again points to the saving grace of the actions of the cross.

While Jesus decides to head to the Mount of Olives to pray, he continues teaching. He informs the disciples that they will be scattered by the very action of Christ’s death. In word, they want to stay obedient, with Peter leading the pack. All of them, except Judas who had already left to set into motion his betrayal, agree that they will never deny Jesus. We know that does not hold true and they will sit in disbelief for three days with the thought of what has occurred on the cross.

So, what struck me in this particular scripture selection? Jesus praying in Gethsemane. Being in the Holy Land last January has given me a new perspective. Walking the same paths of Jesus has ingrained the gospel story much deeper within me. Being among centuries old olive trees and seeing a glimpse of what Jesus probably had seen is breathtaking. I actually had to run to catch up with our group when we were at the Mount of Olives because I got caught up in prayer in the church that is now located there.

Listening to Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane reveals a fear and hesitation on his part. Jesus is even questioning the coming events and if the cup can be taken away from him, he would rejoice. In what appears to be his fear, one can fully witness the human Jesus. A humanity that connects with the very creation that he came to be with in his birth. In Jesus’ reluctance, I feel closer to him and also some assurance that when I have to face things reluctantly, I am not alone.

It is in his prayers in Gethsemane that Jesus turns himself over to true obedience. He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” While Jesus may be hesitant and perhaps a little reluctant of his impending arrest and crucifixion, he knows God’s will be done. Amid his obedience, he is already sensing the disciples are starting to step away. They cannot even stay awake for him as they wait.

To be obedient means we follow the commands or guidance of someone or something that is in control. One is expected to obey his parents. One is expected to obey the laws that govern a nation. These make for good civil order. At times we can find ourselves in a quandary when the laws enacted conflict with the commandments of our Lord. Who then are we to follow? Jesus teaches us that the greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart and our neighbors as ourselves. If we live out this obedience to God, a love for all creation is manifest.

Francis of Assisi became a living example of obedience. When Francis looked around and found himself surrounded by war and living the life of a soldier, he sensed he was far from his calling. Wandering around the countryside one day, he found himself near the dilapidated Church of St. Damian. He went into the church and heard God speak to him, through a crucifix, saying, “go and repair my house, which, as you see, is completely destroyed.” Francis took this commandment literally and would begin to rebuild the church placing one stone on top of another. Francis followed through obediently. He would move on to a couple more churches and do the same. Francis’ father did not agree on his new endeavors and took him to the bishop. Francis would attend church and was being drawn to the crucified Christ even more. He began to understand “repairing the church” was much more than erecting the walls. It was a greater obedience to God. Francis followed through obediently. It was an obedience to live in the love of Christ and to share the same love with others. It was Francis’ obedience to the Lord that would guide him for the remainder of his life. No matter how foolish he seemed to others at times.

Often, obedience can easily be taken out of context and seen as a foolish or negative trait. It may feel restrictive and put a damper on your personal desires. Yet, obedience is also a call to love one another. It is a call to support and respect all creation throughout time. To be obedient to God is a call to follow God’s will and not our own, as Jesus so rightly prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. Throughout the Bible and history we have examples of obedience and following God’s will. Being obedient to God is not always an easy path, and it can lead us to uncomfortable yet essential growth in our faith. Jesus walked obediently through is last days in humility and thankfulness for God’s will being done. As you enter this Holy Week, may you experience the love of Christ through his death on the cross and practice obedience in his word.

By Alex Steward

I am a husband, father, and pastor within the ELCA. I did not grow up in the church and thus come at this pastoring thing with an unique perspective.

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