United Presbyterian Church of West Orange

“Consolation & Desolation”
By Rev. Mike Capron
April 6, 2017
Palm Sunday


Matthew 21:1-17   “Consolation & Desolation”  “From appeal to praise”

  1. What TV show is the quote, “I love it when a plan comes together”, from?
  2. A: The A-Team.
  3. Let me tell you, the plan for Palm Sunday really came together.
  4. I mean, somehow, Jesus even had the donkey and the baby horse ready to go. He needed both because both are in Zechariah 9.
  5. Prophecy was being fulfilled, the promised banishment of war from Jerusalem.
  6. The name ‘Jerusalem’, by-the-way means, “city of peace”.
  7. Jesus brought a large crowd of disciples with him—and then many, many more people joined in.
  8. Could it really be happening? Could peace be coming?
  9. They all started chanting: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”
  10. It’s from Psalm 118, a royal psalm. A new king, like great king David is coming!
  11. And that word Hosanna, I didn’t know this until this week, but its original meaning was “Save us.”
  12. Somehow it also became an exclamation of praise. “Save us” became “Save us!”, or perhaps something like “We are being saved!”
  13. Well, the city just went wild.
  14. And Jesus heads right up to the Temple, the center of all power in the city.
  15. He sweeps into the temple courts and starts turning over the tables of the money changers.
  16. Sure there may have been some greed or even fraud going on, but you also need to remember that the money changers were supposed to be there. They made it possible for people to purchase animals for sacrifice in the temple.
  17. The part of the Bible we call the Old Testament outlined a variety of rules and rituals that were supposed to be performed. It was a way of worshiping God.
  18. But Jesus overturns the whole thing. It is as if he is saying, “Hey folks, business as usual is over. God is doing something new. Your time has passed.”
  19. Then, as if to emphasize the point, the blind and lame people start coming to Jesus and he heals them all.
  20. Blind and lame people weren’t allowed inside the temple, so they begged outside it.
  21. But Jesus heals them. How wonderful! Now they can be included too.
  22. The chief priests and the scribes, the people who were supposed to be in charge, they see these amazing things—And they frown.
  23. Marvelous wonders are happening, but they frown.
  24. And then they hear the children shouting, echoing the crowds throughout the city, “Hosanna to the Son of David” and their jaws start to clench. They feel anger rising from the pit of their stomach, gurgling out of their mouths: “Do you hear what they are saying?!”
  25. “This is treason. They call you a king. This is blasphemy. They call you the fulfillment of prophecy. Stop it!”Psst, the verse he quotes references God preparing praise for God’s self.
  26. Jesus looks at them and smiles—and quotes the Bible, Psalm 8, “‘Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise for yourself’?”
  27. Psst, the verse he quotes references God preparing praise for God’s self. So Jesus is equating himself with God here.
  28. The rest of the line in Psalm 8, the part he doesn’t quote, says that God has also prepared a fortification to keep out enemies; that enemies will be silenced and those who seek revenge will be stilled.
  29. I can just see the temple authorities mouths hanging open, shocked and aghast at his impudence, his hootspa.
  30. And then he turns on his heel and exits while their jaws are still hanging open.
  31. Yes, it was a good day.
  32. Maybe a once-in-a-lifetime good day.
  33. One for the record books.
  34. Just astonishingly successful all around.
  35. God was blessing the movement. They were all talking about it. The old ways were done! Over with!
  36. The new way was sweeping it all aside. The priests and temple authorities were impotent, on the run. They had no power. They could do nothing.
  37. In Jesus’ camp, no one could sleep; they were so giddy with success and enthusiasm.
  38. à That would have been a good time for someone to have talked with them about consolation and desolation in the Spiritual Life.
  39. Consolation is the word sometimes used to speak about when things are going really well—especially in your life as a disciple.
  40. In times of consolation, God seems especially present. Prayer comes easily. Our faith seems clear. We love to come to church. Our hearts are full of compassion for others. We may even experience material blessings, gratefully seeing God’s hand in all the good things that are happening to us.
  41. (pause)
  42. There is something you should do in times of consolation. No one wants to do it, but you really should.
  43. You write it down. Or you tell people about it. You do something to preserve the memory of all the amazing things that are happening so that you can’t possibly forget them.
  44. At the times of consolation, it doesn’t seem like you could ever forget what God is doing in your life. It feels like you will just go from strength to strength, that your faith will keep growing by leaps and bounds, that the material blessings will continue to flow forever, that the elimination of all the world’s evils is just around the corner.
  45. It  is an awesome feeling. Really wonderful. It’s even fun to talk about, so I hate to tell you this next part, but consolation does not go on forever.
  46. Sooner or later, we will face some desolation.
  47. Desolation is when God seems absent. Prayer is hard—it doesn’t seem like we can talk to God at all. We get up and wonder why we should bother going to church. Anger and frustration flow easily. We yell at our loved ones and think how useless all the people we meet are. We feel self-righteous. We may experience material set-backs or health crises. We either think that God is punishing us or we think that God doesn’t exist.
  48. In fact the biggest danger of desolation is that we either forget we ever had times of consolation—Or when we think back to the times of consolation, we decide in hindsight that we were wrong about them.  

  49. Not good. Don’t do that. Write yourself a little insurance policy. Take steps to write down or tell other people about the consolation so that when the desolation comes, you have some other people or something written in your own hand to remind you and convince you that that stuff really happened.
  50. By the way, this is also why it is deadly to only go to church or pray or read your Bible when you feel like it.
  51. It is exactly when you don’t feel like it that it is most important.
  52. So “Just do it.”
  53. (pause)
  54. I’m going to tell you an important secret about consolation and desolation.
  55. In the long view, things tend to get worse before they get better.
  56. I’m sorry, but it is true.
  57. Consolation is often front-loaded in our lives. Children are naturally happy and tend to recover quickly from injury.
  58. But as the years pass, we tend to get older. As we get older we lose some capacity and don’t recover as quickly.
  59. And then, I really don’t think this will be a shock to anyone, we die.
  60. As we age, times may increase, but I’m sure you also know some older people who developed these deep wells of what I’m calling consolation, that manage to maintain astonishing faith even in the midst of astonishing trials.
  61. These people are an inspiration to us. They remind us that the hoped-for outcome of mortal existence is not to live forever, but to die well.
  62. That too is part of the message of Holy Week.
  63. I hope that this morning you find yourself in the midst of terrific consolation.
  64. I hope you feel close to God and understand that God is always close to you.
  65. Like the disciples of Palm Sunday, I hope you feel like all things are possible with God, that old hurtful ways may be changing entirely, that new life is possible.
  66. If so, take some notes! Tell people.
  67. Because the disciples had only a few more days of consolation before the huge desolation.
  68. Thursday night Jesus would be arrested and on Friday he would be killed.
  69. His followers would scatter in fear, in shock and also in doubt.
  70. Do you remember what the two disciples said on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24? “we had hoped [past tense] that Jesus was the one to redeem Israel.”
  71. As they say that, they are in desolation. Jesus was gone. It was done. There was no more hope and they were convinced that they hope they previously had was a mistake.
  72. A few short hours later, they would find out that they were completely wrong, that the good news far exceeded the bad news and that consolation gets the final word—that in fact that the risen Christ was with them after all—they simply hadn’t realized it yet.
  73. (Pause)
  74. Yes it is true that we experience more and more desolation as life progresses, and as we get older.
  75. But then again, death is not the end. It is going to look very dark in this room when we put out all the lights in our Good Friday Tenebrae Service. We will speak about the horrors of the crucifixion and the fact that the Son of God was really and truly killed by those very priests he bantered with on Palm Sunday--and their Roman surrogates.
  76. But, spoiler alert here, Easter looms large and bright on the horizon afterward.
  77. Consolation will get the final word. Life will get the final word. Love will get the final word. 
  78. So don’t ever let the shadow of desolation pretend it is all there is.
  79. Enjoy—and remember--the consolation with celebration and gratitude. Accept the desolation with disciplined faith.
  80. Even in the darkness, stay the course… all the way into the light, praising God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit! Amen!