Mark 11: 1-11 & Mark 14: 32-52
“An Ambivalent Assembly”

“An Ambivalent Assembly”

Mark 11: 1-11 & Mark 14: 32-52 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook ~ Northwood United ~ March 24, 2024


You want it, Lord…you got it! You need anything…just ask! What can we do…we will do it! We will shout Hosanna; fetch a colt to ride upon; we will throw a party; we will do anything. That is how our assembly commenced this morning, isn’t it? We waved palm branches; our choir sang “Let the King Come In”; we sang: “Hosanna, Loud Hosanna”; we showed up: alive, vibrant, and awake ready to welcome our King, our Christ, our Messiah home!


But that is not how things further unfold is it? Just like the weather shifting from a sunshiny 20 degrees to the rainy cold. The storm of Holy Week week will dramatically shift as well. A sunshiny palm-waving beginning quickly shifting into the pains and passion of Holy Week ending with a cross. On Palm/ Passion Sunday, we move into the complexity of Holy Week and as quickly as the parade concludes…as the palms are thrown by the roadside…as the festivities wrap up, the tide turns, and the darkness of our humanity meets the grace of God’s story. And we come to all of this…an ambivalent assembly with a myriad of mixed emotions: joy and pain, guilt and anger, blame and ownership. This is a complex week…which is why, I would suggest, that we need to ponder its complexity each day as we move towards Easter. Yes…this is a week that we should arise and meditate on the cross and the nature of faith that lies inside.  


The story progresses from the Palm parade. They had arrived at the place of prayer: the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus had taken his inner circle: Peter, James and John ~ his favoured disciples (certainly the ones we know the most about in scripture). He instructs them simply to sit and wait while he goes to pray. He goes off and prays: ‘Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.’ The “cup”, of course, is the cup from the last supper that Jesus had just shared with them last night. It was a final meal reminding them that ater they drank, he would no longer be with them again, in the same way. Jesus had said on that night: “This is my blood of the covenant (promise), which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”


Jesus’ prayer reveals the two sides of his being: humanity and divinity. We see his humanity: “remove this cup from me”. He doesn’t want to see this dark side of humanity; he doesn’t want the pain inflicted upon him; he doesn’t want the suffering. Yet, there is another side of Jesus. And while the human side does not want it to be, the divine side of Jesus knows what is ahead. Remove the cup…remove the suffering…remove the darkness of humanity that will cause it all. Yet, as he prays, he ultimately leaves it to God: “yet, not what I want, but what you want”. This is Jesus’ passion: caught between the joy-filled crowds shouting Hosanna and the darkness of our humanity that will soon shout “crucify him”…Jesus turns it over to God in prayer. Jesus teaches us so much about prayer in these few verses: “yet, not what I want, but what you want”.


He returns to the disciples whom he had instructed to sit and wait, only to find them there…not waiting…but asleep. ALL he had asked of them was to sit and wait. He hadn’t asked for an escape plan or to find weapons or an army to protect him…just to sit and wait and be there so he wasn’t alone. Yet, they couldn’t even muster that…to be present for Jesus before the hour arrives.


Jesus returns to pray, once again…only to return and find them sleeping, yet again. And yet, a third time only to find them sleeping once again. Once, twice, three times ~ sleeping: the same number of times that Peter will deny him; the same number of times the cock will crow; the same number of days following the crucifixion until Easter morn.


It is understandable that Jesus was ambivalent towards this Jerusalem assembly. What is it with our human nature that causes us to be warm and welcoming one day, only to offer the cold shoulder the next. We do this so often, can’t we? With our favourite sports teams as they rise in success only to shun them later. With our favourite politicians only to be hated in the next election. We seem to run hot and cold all the time. As Jesus challenges his trusted disciples “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak”. The disciples had already tuned Jesus out… given up…and gone to sleep.


Scholars have pondered for two millennia what caused their sleep. Were they exhausted? Had they given up? Did they want to avoid what was ahead? I have a sense that they wanted it all to be over. They went to sleep dreaming for the power of God to come and intervene while they slept. I wonder if they wanted God to come down in one big lightning bolt and deliver them all from the horrible situation ahead. A ‘magic eraser’ (if you will) to remove the mistakes that had been made. So, they slept…dreaming for it all to be done through their slumber. What they discover when they awake is that this is not how God works. They discover that God will not erase the horrible things; yet God will also not leave us alone as we go through them. They discover a God that will stay with them through the night of their pains, their sadness, their distress…and will stay awake always. In this week, we discover a God that shows up and never leaves our side.


Last week, we discussed the P.I.E. Day movement. A call for us to stand with, and affirm, the belovedness of all people. Regardless of one’s sexuality, we were reminded of that unending, limitless nature of God’s love. Just like that unending number of ‘Pi’, God’s love never ends and continues to stand with all God’s children. Earlier this week, many considered the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Our United Church, and many other communities offered resources to help us learn and grow in awareness and love. And as we grow in these areas, we are encouraged to shine light and find a God who has never left anyone alone. A God who encourages us to support social systems and ways of being that include all as equally beloved parts of God’s family. What we uncover in Holy Week is a God who does not leave us alone in the struggles and the pain. We go through the struggles and God is there; we go through the pain and God is there; we go through life and God is there.


As we recall Jesus assessment of ‘the flesh willing but the spirit weak’, I wonder if that knowledge might allow our flesh to be (even a little bit) stronger. I wonder, in the struggles of the night…with the challenges we face…if we might know that God will never leave us orphaned, alone, unaccompanied. God’s gentle strength will be with us.


God’s gracious strength will be with us in the good times as parades are celebrated, and Hosannas are shouted. God’s gracious strength will be with us when Jesus will turn the tables of the money changers saying, “stop making my Father’s home a marketplace”. God’s gracious strength will be with us in the Upper Room as the loaf and the cup are passed. God’s gracious strength will be with us on a Friday that only God could make ‘good’. God’s gracious strength will be with us through the waiting over the tomb on a Holy Saturday. And, God’s gracious strength will be with us on the sunrise of Easter morning revealing the new life that comes through God’s immeasurable power. You see, God’s gracious strength will be with us…always!  


I would like to take an opportunity to further commemorate this aspect of our faith. This is found in our United Church Creed. “We are not alone, we live in God’s world. We believe in God: who has created and is creating, who has come in Jesus, the Word made flesh, to reconcile and make new, who works in us and others by the Spirit. We trust in God. We are called to be the Church: to celebrate God’s presence, to live with respect in Creation, to love and serve others, to seek justice and resist evil, to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen, our judge and our hope. In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us. We are not alone. Thanks be to God.”   Amen.