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April 15, 2019, 1:00 PM

Sabbath Elevator - Sermon, 4/14/19


I’ve only been with the people of Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church for about 3 months but I’ve been a priest for about five years, so I’ve had quite a few opportunities to get to know hospitals in central Jersey. Recently, however, I found myself visiting Robert Wood Johnson Hospital to be with my mother as she had her cardiac cath procedure.

 

While going to spend time with my mom before her surgery, I noticed an interesting sign while waiting for an elevator. It said “Elevator 3 is a Sabbath elevator and stops on every floor.” It took a little bit of thinking but I have figured it out. A Sabbath elevator stops at every floor on the Sabbath so that Jewish people who strictly observe the Sabbath can visit people in the hospital without having to press any electric buttons.

 

Because the Sabbath elevator stops at every floor, it probably takes a long time to get anywhere, especially at Robert Wood Johnson Hospital where there are so many floors. And every time the elevator doors open, the people in the elevator car are greeted by the various sights and sounds of a hospital.

 

After all, hospitals have a tendency to be one of two things: really depressing or really happy. There are some very happy, life-giving reasons to go to a hospital, like visiting a newborn baby. Of course, there are sad, life-ending reasons to go to a hospital, like saying final good-byes to someone who is dying.

 

For example, riding the Sabbath elevator means that the passengers going to see a newborn on the sixth floor have to first stop on the fifth-floor cardiac unit where people might be suffering. You can’t skip over the sad floors just to get to the happy ones.

 

 

What a powerful metaphor for Palm Sunday and all of Holy Week! I’ve often wondered why the spiritual high of Palm Sunday has to be interrupted by the sad retelling of the events of the Passion of Jesus. Wouldn’t it be nicer to just rest with Jesus a little while? Wouldn’t it be nicer to just feel the breeze of the palm branches as they wave at Jesus? Wouldn’t it be nicer to just hear the calls of Jesus’ adoring fans? Wouldn’t it be nicer to just feel pride and joy at the way Jesus is welcomed into Jerusalem?

 

Instead, faithful Christians crash land from the high of the procession of the palms into the torture and sorrow of the crucifixion. We cry aloud, “All glory, laud, and honor, to thee, Redeemer King!” We remember and celebrate the triumphant entry of Jesus to Jerusalem and wave our palm branches in the air. We see Jesus riding on a donkey as he travels before us. We hear the cries of the faithful people around us as they say, “Hosanna! Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” We sense the joy in the air as we welcome Christ to the holy city of Jerusalem.

 

But, before we can even catch our collective breath from our symbolic journey into Jerusalem, the mood of the day drastically changes. No longer do our palm branches wave in the air. No longer do our cloaks line the road. No longer do we see Jesus as the coming military king, the kind of king we think we want. Instead, Jesus is transformed before our eyes into an enemy of the people and an enemy of the state.

 

Our cries giving glory to Jesus are quickly transformed to “Crucify him! Crucify him!” The “Hosannas” we shouted not even ten minutes ago become a sarcastic, hurtful, and condemning, “Hail, King of the Jews!” The one we so recently hailed as blessed is now charged before the Roman imperial authorities. And we, as members of the crowd, participate in the trial of Jesus. Instead of standing in the defense of Jesus, we mock Jesus and challenge him to “prophesy.”

 

Instead of remaining with the Palm Sunday crowd, we are now part of the Good Friday crowd that watches Jesus on his journey to Golgotha. We stand at the foot of the cross, not to mourn, but to jeer at Jesus and mock his pain. This is a depressing and uncomfortable place to be, but here we are.

 

 

It would be so easy to rest in the good feelings of the story of Palm Sunday. It would be so easy to bask in the joy of Christ’s arrival in Jerusalem. It would so easy to avoid the story of the Passion of Jesus altogether. Wouldn’t it be nicer to stay with the story of the procession of palms and skip ahead to Easter Sunday?

 

Unfortunately, that is not how Palm Sunday works. Like the Sabbath elevator, we, too, have to stop at every floor. Like the Sabbath elevator, we, too, cannot skip the sad floors to get to the happy floors. Like the Sabbath elevator, we, too, cannot go directly from the procession of Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. We have to walk through all of the events of Holy Week – from the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday to the crucifixion and burial of Jesus on Good Friday – all before we get to celebrate Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday.

 

This sermon is more than simply a commercial, encouraging all of us to attend and truly participate in the events of Holy Week. Of course, I do invite everyone to attend the many services scheduled for this week. Instead, I want to point out the importance of Palm Sunday’s joyous arrival and the terrible suffering of Christ on the cross. We can’t have one without the other. The events of Palm Sunday and the events of Good Friday have to happen together.

 

It would make the life of this preacher that much easier if today’s readings were limited to the entry in to Jerusalem. Instead, we all have to ride that Sabbath elevator together – stopping at all of the floors of Holy Week before arriving at the final destination of Holy Week: Easter Sunday.

 

Come, journey with the church. Come, journey with each other. Come, journey with Christ. Amen.


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