As creatures bound by time, we have long been fascinated by the idea of traveling back in time and changing history, be it public or private. Books and movies explore this phenomenon. What if… we ask plaintively. If only… we proclaim hopefully. Regrets can be mended, hurts healed, love renewed, if only.
Christians are keenly aware of such regret, remorse that leads to penitence. We are schooled in self-examination and confession and repenting, to refuse the evil and choose the good. We look forward because we have looked backward and dealt with our past. In this sense we have traveled back in time, rooting out those weeds in our soul-gardens so that the healthy plants can flourish into the future. We are forgiven. The weeds are burnt to ash. The debt is paid. We start anew with a clean slate so that we can truly love as God loves.
Today, Palm Sunday, we processed through Berkeley, waving our palm fronds. We re-enacted the drama of Christ riding a donkey through the gates of Jerusalem, the crowd waving their palm branches in joyous greeting. On Good Friday this crowd would shout condemnations not salutations, but today we recalled their happier cry, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” Their messiah had come to free them.
And of course Jesus of Nazareth did come to free them, but free them from the slavery of sin rather than the emperor. Jesus would pay the price, atone, and with repentance, with re-turning to God, our pasts would be forgiven. Christ would act out God’s huge love for us, act in suffering and sacrifice, to heal our time past, present, and future.
So today, turning the corner of Bowditch and Durant, we followed the cross and the acolytes in their red robes and white cottas, and we followed the thurifer swinging his thurible of frankincense into Berkeley, waving our palms, recalling Christ’s approach to Jerusalem. And just so, we approached the entry to our chapel. As we entered our Jerusalem, St. Joseph’s Chapel, the organ thundered Hymn 62, “All glory, laud, and honor/To thee, Redeemer, King! To whom the lips of children/Made sweet hosannas ring,” and we joined in song, returning to our pews. Looking back, it seems we acted two parts, the apostles following Christ (the cross) into the city (the chapel), and the people who greeted their Messiah-King so joyously.
We moved from the public to the private, from the unprotected outside to the protected inside, a movement from wilderness to civilization. For cities are built to band men together for reasons of mutual safety and comfort. Today countries serve this purpose with guarded borders much as cities once had fortified walls.
Christ entered the city gates of Jerusalem, and he continues to enter our soul gates through the bread and wine of the Holy Eucharist and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in prayer. For our hearts are gated, being homes of both the uncivil and the civil, the dangerous and the safe, the bad and the good. It is only when we repent, weed out selfishness and pride, that God can enter the gates of our hearts. When this happens we become a haven to the Heavens themselves. We allow God to live in us and through us. He becomes the true saving Messiah.
But we know too that just as the crowd changed their mood on Good Friday and the disciples denied and fled, so we will deny and flee. We will allow other people and other idols (time, treasure, talent) claim our allegiance and our love. We will take the easy way, the mistakenly safe way, forgetting that there is no safety outside the Heavenly gates.
We cannot change these denials and these wrongs that form our yesterday, our history, but we can repent, turn around, be forgiven because of those Good Friday events two thousand years ago, because of the King who rode a donkey through the gates of our hearts. For he will always be waiting to re-enter those gates. He will always stand outside our doors, waiting, holding his lantern high.
When he enters and redeems our past, be it yesterday’s past, last week’s or last year’s, he reconciles us to himself. We have changed time, rewritten our lives. Our histories are redeemed if we cry Alleluia on Easter morning. when all history, all time, paused to breathe, when death was conquered.
But before Easter, and after Good Friday, Christ entered more gates, the gates of Hell. In his love he redeemed every one of us, every lost sheep, BC and AD.
For the King of Heaven loved and loves us so deeply that he suffered and died in order to vanquish death. He redeemed us, brought us home, so that we could live forever with him, so that we would no longer travel in time but live and love in all eternity.