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Scripture

Liturgy of the Palms: Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29 •  Luke 19:28-40

Liturgy of the Passion: Isaiah 50:4-9a •  Psalm 31:9-16 •  Philippians 2:5-11 •  Luke 22:14-23:56

Reflection

Today, on Passion/Palm Sunday, we witness Jesus’ fateful ride into Jerusalem. His triumphal entry into the holy city is a time for celebration. The disciples line the streets—they take off their cloaks and lay them on the ground along Jesus’ way—and they shout, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” So great was the joy that, when asked to silence his disciples, Jesus replied, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” And I can’t help but wonder if, just maybe, the stones were indeed crying out, and the people there simply didn’t have ears to hear.

But the celebration was short-lived. In his words and deeds, Jesus proclaimed a new reality. He proclaimed a reality in which all would have access to wholeness, to the abundant life that is God’s desire for creation. He proclaimed an economy in which the poor would no longer be poor; a community in which all would be beloved; and an empire in which Caesar would no longer be emperor. But the implications of this reality were not acceptable to those in power—for the poor to escape poverty, the rich must cease to be rich; for all to be equally beloved, those with special privilege must cease to be privileged; and for Caesar to cease being emperor, well, anyone who would suggest such a thing must be a traitor. And so Jesus was executed as a traitor to the Roman Empire. And, as the sky darkened and Jesus breathed his last, I can’t help but wonder if the stones were crying out then, too.

Today, the stones continue to cry out—and not only the stones, but even the mountains. And today, they lament not only the death of Christ, but also the death of their kindred. The National Memorial for the Mountains identifies over 470 mountains in the Appalachians that have been destroyed by mountaintop removal coal mining, and the destructive process continues, not only leveling mountains and destroying habitats, but also polluting waterways and making affected areas more flood-prone. Many of us are unwittingly connected to this horrifying practice. In Nashville, NES uses coal from a mountaintop removal mine. The mountains cry out, and few of us have ears to hear. We inadvertently support companies that destroy mountains to feed our energy addiction.

At the cross, we are confronted by the tragic nature of the reality in which we live, which is often governed by injustice, suffering, and violence; sin, death, and evil. For the crucified Savior, there is little we can do but mourn. But, by God’s grace, we can work to save other innocents from the same fate. Likewise, there is little we can do for the mountains that have been destroyed but mourn. But we can work to prevent other mountains from meeting the same fate.

As we look forward to the resurrection, we see a glimmer of hope. But today, we mourn, and the mountains cry out.

Practices

1. As the disciples celebrated Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem, celebrate the arrival of spring. When you pass pear trees, dogwoods, and other blossoming trees, stop to admire the beauty of creation and to give thanks to God for the renewal of life.

2. As we mourn the crucifixion of Jesus, take a moment to pray for mountains that have been and are being destroyed, as well as all of God’s creatures that are affected by the destruction.

3. Join the fight against mountaintop removal. For Tennessee Residents, visit LEAF to find out what steps you can take to help pass the Scenic Vistas Protection Act to make mountaintop removal illegal in TN.

Prayer

O God of joy, we rejoice in the rebirth that accompanies spring.

O God who suffers with us, we cry out and mourn the passion of Jesus. We weep for his suffering, the unjust suffering of others, and the suffering of all creation.

O God of hope, we yearn for the day when you will finish the work of redemption that you have already begun.

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Readings for Ash Wednesday:

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 or Isaiah 58:1-12

Psalm 51:1-17

2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Remembering our Finitude, Finding a Source of Hope

Remember, from dust you have come and to dust you shall return.

Ash Wednesday marks the start of the season of Lent: a time of almsgiving, fasting, and prayer to ready ourselves for the coming of Easter.  It is a solemn time, for we are reminded of our finitude.  We are reminded that, as finite creatures, our actions and intentions often amount to little.

In this short period of time we have on Earth, we want to be useful and helpful.  Especially when we see the devastation that our Earth endures, we want even to save the world.  Yet, more often than not, we become impediments to the world’s restoration: our best efforts fail or become diverted from their purpose.  Or worse, when faced with the contradiction of our best efforts and our inevitable failures, we begin to lose hope.

Becoming “stuck” on the bigness of it all, we lose our ability to become present in the moment.  We forget that our Christian practice is–even in its best iterations–not meant to “save the world.”  Rather, our Christian practice is one of loving the world.  Our mission is not to save the world, but to love it as Christ has loved it.  From seed to tree, from mountain top to ocean current, part of what it means to be Christian is to love the world that God creates anew each day.

Ironically, we find that, in loving the world, little by little, we become unstuck from its bigness and can instead focus our practice on the seemingly insignificant things that do matter.

In today’s Gospel reading, we hear Jesus telling his followers to be private in their almsgiving, fasting, and prayer.  We hear Jesus telling us not to become caught up in the outward appearance of our spiritual practices.  Do not blow trumpets, calling attention to yourself and your own goodness, but quietly and steadfastly bear witness to the goodness of God’s justice that is coming.

And we know that it is coming.  On the other side of Lent, we know the joy of Easter that simultaneously promises and participates in the coming of God’s Kingdom.  Knowing that we come from dust and to dust we shall return does not stop us from proclaiming the exuberance of the resurrection.

But let us not get ahead of ourselves: though we look forward to the resurrection, let us not forget that we must be present throughout the slow season of Lent, or that we must also bear through the Cross on Good Friday.  Recalling that we shall return to dust reminds us of our finitude, but also of our context.  The basic and mundane contexts of our lives is where transformation takes place.  In the dust and dirt of our existence, we see hope for the restoration of the world.

Practice

Part of the season of Lent includes practices that help prepare us for Easter.  Some of us fast from some luxury such as meat, chocolate, sodas, or alcohol; others of us take on practices such as calling our families more often, giving to a charity, or embarking on disciplined prayerful contemplation.  Perhaps you have already decided what you will practice this Lent; perhaps you have not.

Almsgiving, praying, and fasting are traditional forms of Christian practice.  Viewed through an ecological lens, these practices take on new meanings.

Here is a brief list of suggestions.

Almsgiving

  • Pay carbon offsets to your local power company to encourage more sustainable forms of energy.
  • Reduce your dependence on material goods (and the stripping of natural resources that their production requires) by donating up to one half of your wardrobe to Goodwill, either all at once or a few items each week.
  • Join a CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) group to support local farmers, while at the same time getting fresher, more seasonal vegetables to your table.
  • Become a member of an environmental advocacy group, either through donating financially or by volunteering your time.
  • Donate your Saturdays to a community garden.

Praying

  • Practice daily devotional readings, searching for ways that the Scripture may enhance, deepen, or illuminate how you see the Earth and your relationship to nature.
  • Seek out daily activities that can become occasions for prayer: driving your daily commute without heat or air to cut down on the amount of gasoline used, doing the dishes with less water, brushing your teeth without the sink running: to come to understand this activity’s intricate connection to the environment.
  • Pray for the restoration of the environment, particularly that mountaintop removal be stopped and that God’s mountains and the people who live on them recover from decades of destruction.

Fasting

  • Cattle farming and other commercial forms of meat production often use more resources (such as water) than farming beans or vegetables.  Fasting from meat during the season of Lent can have a great impact on the amount of resources being used to bring your meal from the farm to your table.
  • Find ways to cut back your daily commute: carpool one day a week, or walk or bike to your daily activities (where possible).
  • Reduce the number of times per week that you and your family eat out.  Fasting in this simple way also means that you take on making more meals at home.  Becoming committed to more home-cooked meals may also increase one’s appreciation for the work involved in sustaining our bodies.
  • If you do go out to eat, bring your own reusable tupperware–fast from the environmentally harmful clamshell containers that have become a staple of our dining culture.
  • Start a carbon-fast at home: replace incandescent bulbs with CFL bulbs, either all at once or a few each week.
  • Fast from buying bottled water.  Instead, reuse your most recent plastic bottle for the 40 days of Lent.

Prayerfulness

We invite you to take this simple prayer* with you throughout the week.  May it remind you that the ground, praised as holy, is the same ground to which we as mortal creatures will return.  It is the same ground to whose restoration our daily practices witness.

Holy is the soil we walk on,
Holy everything that grows,
Holy all beneath the surface,
Holy every stream that flows.


* Prayer written by Edmund Banyard (quoted in Earth Gospel by Sam Hamilton-Poore).