Covenant Presbyterian Church – Athens, GA

A Rocky Road to Life John 12: 12-9 Isaiah 40: 3-5

(due to technical difficulties an audio version is not available)

Today begins a celebratory week of homecoming, complete with a parade, as we dig out from the snow banks & look around at the buds of spring, as family we haven’t seen all year begin to crowd in under one roof, and as merchants stock their shelves with baskets & bonnets, with ham & eggs, with greens to eat & greens to plant. We’ve spent this past month looking inward too, doing our Lenten chores of spring cleaning for heart & hand. We’ve washed the windows of our souls, we’ve swept away the dusty cobwebs of absence, we’ve planted the seeds of forgiveness & kindness we want to bloom, and now we’re looking upward & outward to see the joys of new life, just around the corner, with Jesus leading the way to new healing & harmony together. Of course, we must have a parade, to sing & shout, to wave our palms and proclaim our new Savior – the One who will set us free from all that keeps us enslaved.
Surely the excitement in the air was akin to what was felt yesterday in DC, in Atlanta, at the Arch, as our children led the way for all to follow, waving posters & photos, proclaiming a new day, a new way, to challenge instruments of senseless death and instead provide a new freedom of assembly in our schools & churches & concert halls, celebrating learning & life through peace & civility & respect for each other. It shouldn’t be just a dream. Ironically, it now must become our “new norm,” in the face of grief, in the face of fear, if we are to flesh out the fruits of Holy Spirit, those of love & joy, patience & gentleness, humility & self-control.
Yet we live with a sense of foreboding in the air too, even as we now fill the streets of the capital city with our cheers. For who will be the next shooter? Where & when & why? Will the next bomb be strapped to a single person or a soaring missile? Again, it’s so tragically similar to the streets of Jerusalem in Jesus’ time – given the Roman parade on the other side of
town, meant to show the splendor & might of war horses & chariots, the brass of armor & the
glint of swords in the sunlight, such a celebratory way to bring in 1000’s of soldiers to manage
the potential revolutionaries in the Passover crowds, the ones who would worship a new King.
So we see the contrast. There is joy & sorrow, good & bad. There are up’s & down’s in
every life, in every century, as every generation experiences the thrill of idealism, the despair of
realism, and then we remember that Jesus too walked the same rocky road that we do. He
began in Bethany what would become the final week of his life, with the ultimate high – raising
his best friend Lazarus from the dead – then receiving Mary’s gift of precious oil on his feet,
enjoying Martha’s impeccable hospitality & fine dining, followed by the joyous procession into
Jerusalem, no longer hiding his identity but celebrating all that could be accomplished by the
Son of God. Yet in the next 5 days, Jesus would suffer blow after blow – his rage with the
moneychangers in the Temple, his curse of the fruitless fig tree, his tears for the impending fall
of Jerusalem, his anguish over the plots against his life – culminating in a dear friend’s betrayal,
an agonizing night alone with God in the garden, the physical torture of imprisonment, the
mockery of a trial, and the very public horror of death on a cross. How could anyone trust the
next step on such a journey? No wonder he felt forsaken, though we still see his enduring
faithfulness even on the cross – as he cares for his mother, as he forgives the thief, as he
forgives all of us who have ever denied him or kept silent or done such to the least of God’s
children – and in the end, we see Jesus entrust his very Spirit into God’s hands, come what may.
Surely it is handing over your last flame of candlelight, trusting you will not be left alone in a
sea of darkness.
In the sound bytes from the #MarchForOurLives, I heard over & again many voices
crying out: “Are you ready?” – – ready to give, ready to take heart, ready to move, ready to walk
a new way together. For life is hard. They say aging is not for sissies, as at any & every age we
are in constant flux, always growing & changing & adapting to something new, whether painful
or delightful – or both. For with new life, there come new adventures, new excitement, and new
responsibilities, to which we are “response able” – we are able to respond – as we mature &
mellow, as we accept the new challenge, as we share the gift we become for the good of all.
Just so, the ancient Isaiah has his own sound byte, a voice crying out: People, get ready!
Prepare! The Lord is near, so clear a way in the desert. Make the rough places plain, so that
God may come quickly. Fill the valleys. Level the mountains. Let there be no hindrance to
delay, no rocky road to stumble o’er. For then the glory of the Lord will be revealed to all the
world. The Lord has promised it will be so.
Sounds like it’s up to us now, as Jesus has shown us the way, shown us how, and
entrusted his very Spirit into our own hands & hearts, come what may. So let us fill the valleys
by leveling the mountains, filling what is empty, filling the hungry heart with God’s love,
bringing the lofty down to earth so we may see eye to eye & understand one another. Only then
will we be able to enjoy the circle of giving & receiving that is God’s way of life for us all.
Only then will the rocky road be smooth, as, with God’s help & by God’s grace, we dig out the
boulders & stones & pebbles that trip us up.
May we never fear the cost of love, for Christ fills us to overflowing. May we never fear
the steep or rocky road, for see, the whole world is following after him. May we never fear any
darkness on our path, for we walk it together. Let it be, dear Lord, let it be. Thanks be to God.
Amen. Beecher Mathes