Fear and Prudence – Palm Sunday
Fear and Prudence
April 5, 2020 (Palm Sunday)
Rev. Fritz Nelson
On Thursday I collapsed. Its been a crazy few weeks in the Nelson household as we’ve been sorting things out with my in-laws while also navigating the Coronavirus and the new reality its brought all of us. Thursday morning I woke up feeling a little under the weather. By the time Ohio’s hero Dr. Amy had made her report, I was done. By 3:00 I was in bed. By 3:15 I was convinced I’d caught Covid-19. By 3:30 I was convinced I’d infected everyone around me. By 3:45 I was trying to figure out the logistics of a five person extended total quarantine. By 4:00 I was picking up the phone to call John Rettig at the funeral home and ask about quantity discounts.
For the record, I don’t think I have Covid-19. For all my panic, I didn’t have one symptom. I was just mentally and physically exhausted. But I was also afraid. Honestly, I am still afraid. Afraid I might get it. Afraid I might be a carrier and inadvertently infect others. Afraid others around me might get it. Afraid for what that might mean for our household, our family.
As I called around the congregations last week, one person said to me: “These are scary times.” She’s right. Its hard not to be afraid. Actually its probably good to be somewhat afraid. People are getting sick. People are dying. Our government agencies were unprepared, our medical systems overwhelmed and leadership scattered. This isn’t some make believe monster under the bed. Its real.
In Luke’s version of the Palm Sunday procession, some Pharisees in the crowd ask Jesus to stop the crowd’s cheering and celebration. Jesus refuses: “If they were silent,” he says, “even the stones would shout out.” I wonder if, seeing the spectacle around Jesus, the Pharisees had become afraid. We’re locked down by a pandemic. First century Jerusalem was locked down by the occupying Roman army. An army known to brutally suppress any hint of insurrection. You’re going to get us all killed, the Pharisees may have been thinking. You’re going to get yourself killed. Just stop. Tell the crowds to be silent. Go home. Go back to Galilee.
But Jesus refuses to heed their warning. He refuses to give into their fears. His kingdom, his message, the new life he promises thrives in the face of fear, it holds power over the forces of oppression, of sickness, of death. It cannot be contained. Even the rocks will cry out.
Later in the day, Jesus and his followers take over the temple. They literally seize control of the temple complex, let in the lame, the blind, the children, and rewrite the rules of who is welcome in the house of God. After he has healed the sick and let the children sing and dance in the holy space, Jesus leaves.
While out on the street Jesus demonstrates a certain fearlessness in the face of Jerusalem’s oppressive occupiers, in the temple he shows prudence. He doesn’t attempt to hold the complex against everyone who would like to see his followers evicted. He doesn’t urge his followers to fight to the last man, woman and child in order to prove the worthiness of their cause. He doesn’t declare their faith will make them immune to Roman spear and sword. He makes his point and then gets everyone out of there, sends them home to safety.
We need not be bound by fear in these times but we do need to exercise prudence. Both can be difficult. Its hard not to be fearful when we see the graphs, consume the statistics, hear the horror stories and begin to personally know people who have contacted the virus, who have been sick to the point of death, even who have died. Its hard not to be fearful as we watch our economy implode, as we wonder about our paycheck, our 401k, whether the job we lost will return when this is over, whether the job we still have will kill us. Its easy to become paralyzed by the fear. Its tempting to react by defying it.
Jesus knows the healing, renewal, new life he brings cannot be stopped by Roman armies. Those armies may be able to oppress individual spirits, they may be able to control the coming and goings of the people, they may be able to bring death and destruction, but they cannot stop the power of the Holy Spirit. Even the rocks will cry out. Even the daffodils will bloom. In our isolation, our fear, our uncertainty we can still praise God, still seek the movement of the Holy Spirit, still hold each other in prayer, still show our love for each other.
Jesus also knows renewal takes time. We want a quick victory. One tradition says Judas wanted Jesus to defy, to fight. When he didn’t, Judas betrayed him. Jesus knew victory would come – but only after betrayal, only after denial, only after suffering, only after death. In these times of pandemic we also know victory will come. But only after more sickness, more death, more fear. So we stay as safe as we can and do what we can to help. So we self isolate, we minimize going out, we sew face masks, we inquire over the well being of our neighbors, we pray. We pray twice as hard for those on the front lines and do what we can to support them. And somehow God will be present in all of this. And in time, in time, resurrection will come.