Living Hope

Sabbath Day Thoughts — “Living Hope” 1 Peter 1:3-9

On Monday of this past week, President Biden signed a bill putting an end to our National State of Emergency in response to COVID-19. The US Department of Health and Human Services had already determined that their pandemic public health emergency would end in just a few weeks on May 11. Restrictions are easing. Perhaps you didn’t need your mask this week at the hospital. My doctor’s office sent me a letter stating that before I have a colonoscopy in August, I won’t need to take a COVID test. As we emerge from the shadow of the pandemic, we are learning that these past three years have not only been hard on our health, with more than 104 million reported cases of COVID-19, they have also been hard on our hope.

We all need hope. It’s the expectation that we’ll have positive experiences or the confidence that a threatening or negative situation won’t materialize, or if it does, it will ultimately resolve in a good way. When we are hopeful, we believe that our future is going to be better than our present. Hope is tied to optimism and a can-do attitude. It serves as a buffer against negative stressful experiences. Hope motivates us to get out of bed in the morning, feel good about what is next, and plan for the future. Christian hope trusts that we belong to God in life and in death.

Researchers have found that the COVID-19 pandemic put a dent in our American hope. It’s true for all ages. 37% of High School students experienced poor mental health during the pandemic. 44.2% say that they experienced persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness. A whopping 20% considered suicide. School closures, distanced learning, social isolation, family stress, and fear of illness for themselves or others were contributing factors to those scary numbers. 

The pandemic rattled the hope of folks in the workforce, too, whether they were laid off, working from home, or standing on the frontlines of the epidemic. Nurses, for example, saw a 29% increase in feelings of hopelessness, thanks to those high-stress, long hours in crisis. Grocery store workers, first responders, and even clergy have all voiced feelings of hopelessness and despair. We may be emerging from the pandemic, but many are experiencing burn-out or have left their jobs.

Even retirees are feeling less hopeful these days. Research has determined that depression levels among older adults have worsened considerably. Fear of disease, uncertainty about the future, and social distancing are contributing factors. For most seniors, social contacts, like family and friends, community centers, churches, and part-time jobs, are away from home, and when those social lifelines got stretched or cut, their hope suffered. Just ask our friends at Will Rogers who have just experienced another wave of COVID and the consequent lockdown. How is your hope this morning?

Our reading from Peter’s first epistle suggests that those exiles in the Diaspora were short on hope. The Apostle was writing from Rome to Christians in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). These were former-Jews and Gentiles, who trusted in Jesus as their Messiah. Their belief had brought suffering. The synagogues had thrown them out with charges of blasphemy. They were alienated from family and friends who would not accept their faith. They were viewed with increasing suspicion by their neighbors, who spread rumors that they drank blood and ate flesh, like first-century vampires. As time passed, Christians attracted the scrutiny of the empire. Local officials were troubled by news of people who reverenced a man executed as an enemy of Rome, and they really didn’t like the Christian refusal to worship Caesar at the imperial shrine. That official scrutiny would eventually explode into persecution. It must have been hard to keep the faith in a world that wanted to change you back, shut you up, and strike you down.

The Apostle Peter had known feelings of hopelessness. He had been the first to see that Jesus was the Messiah, yet an unholy alliance of Temple and empire had dashed those dreams. On Good Friday, Jesus had been publicly, brutally executed. What may have felt just as bad for Peter were his personal failings. Peter had slept when Jesus asked him to wait and pray in the Garden of Gethsemane. When the soldiers came, Peter had taken up the sword, even though Jesus had called for peace. Then, before the cock had crowed twice, Peter had denied Jesus three times. On the first Easter morning, before the women returned from the tomb with their startling news, Peter had been about as hopeless as a man can get.  All that changed on Easter evening. There in the Upper Room, behind their locked doors, Jesus had appeared—living, breathing, eating, reaching out. Jesus had given the disciples the gift of hope. Jesus breathed new life into friends who had felt as good as dead.

Today’s verses allow us to listen in as Peter wraps language around what he named “living hope.” He believed that the resurrection allowed Christians to hope, even in times of suffering. We could trust that God would have the last word. Jesus had risen. Christ had won the victory over sin and death! Because we have faith in Jesus, we can trust that God is at work for good in our world and that good will reign triumphant in the world that is to come. That’s right—we have a precious inheritance, imperishable, uncorrupted, unfading, kept in heaven for us. Peter believed that we are called to a living hope. The hope we find in Jesus has legs. Living hope shapes our lives and empowers us to support the lives of those around us. That living hope inspired Peter to preach powerfully, heal the sick, pray with strangers, plant churches, and pick up the pen to write to exiles in the Diaspora who were desperately in need of hope.

Peter knew the importance of hope, an importance that we are still learning to better understand today. Researchers at Harvard University have determined that we reap big benefits when we have high hope. We have more positive emotions. We have a stronger sense of purpose and meaning. We have lower levels of depression. We report less loneliness. We even have better physical health and reduced risk of mortality. That’s right: we have fewer chronic illnesses and lower risk of cancer.  We also have fewer sleep problems and stronger relationships. I like to think that when those exiles read and re-read Peter’s words, their hope rose from the embers of isolation and fear. Their hope was fanned into flames that would bring strength and encouragement to face head-on the very real challenges they knew.

The COVID-19 state of emergency is coming to an end, my friends, but those widespread side-effects of loneliness, depression, and hopelessness may be with folks we know for the foreseeable future.  We all know people who are suffering lasting effects of the pandemic. They are permanently fearful and unable to relaunch social contacts. They labor joylessly in jobs that no longer feel fulfilling. Their good grades have taken a tumble. They feel lonely or depressed. They are plagued by the fuzzy thinking, fatigue, pain, and shortness of breath of long-COVID. They are our family members, friends, and neighbors.

Peter reminds us this morning that we are called to be the living hope in this post-pandemic world.   The hope that we have found in Jesus needs legs. The hope that comes with the resurrection must find expression. When we go forth in hope, we make a difference. Those same researchers who have documented the benefits of hope have also found that hope needs social support. Said simply, to be hopeful, we need hopeful people around us. We need people who show up, share their optimism, speak words of encouragement, and demonstrate their caring. This world needs people like us, who have a living hope.

Churches like this one—small, vital, active, engaged, loving—are hope factories. Indeed, if we are looking for hope, we have come to the right place.  When we gather on Sunday mornings, we get inspired by the Word. We feast on the fellowship. We remember that God loves us enough to die for us. We know that we have a friend in Jesus.  We feel connected and blessed in the shared prayers, the holy fist-bumps, and the swapping of news. We feel that we are welcomed and cared about. We find the courage and the fresh perspective to go out and face the week in a world that for three years felt long on the state of emergency and short on hope.

Perhaps, like Peter, we can resolve to make a difference this week. We could wear our hope on our sleeves. We can take up the pen or pick up the phone or simply reach out to those who need what we have to give in abundance. We could even invite them to church, welcoming them into this hopeful community that rests in the love of God, revealed to us long ago in Jesus Christ. This world may be plagued by those lasting effects of the pandemic, but we have the antidote. May we go forth to be the living hope.


Richard Jensen. “Commentary on 1 Peter 1:3-9” in Preaching This Week, March 30, 2008. Accessed online at

Daniel Deffenbaugh. “Commentary on 1 Peter 1:3-9” in Preaching This Week, May 1, 2011. Accessed online at

Judith Jones. “Commentary on 1 Peter 1:3-9” in Preaching This Week, April 23, 2017. Accessed online at

Camille Preston. “The Psychology of Hope” in Psychology Today, October 24, 2021. Accessed online at

Traci Pedersen. “Why Is Hope So Important?” in PsychCentral, September 26, 2022.

Sherry Everett Jones, et al. “Mental Health, Suicidality, and Connectedness Among HS Students During the COVID-19 Pandemic” US Dept. of Health and Human Services/CDC, April 1, 2022. MMWR, vo. 71, No. 3.

1 Peter 1:3-9

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead 4 and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, 7 so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Although you have not seen him, you love him, and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

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The Gift

Poem for a Tuesday — “The Gift” by Li-Young Lee

To pull the metal splinter from my palm

my father recited a story in a low voice.

I watched his lovely face and not the blade.

Before the story ended, he’d removed

the iron sliver I thought I’d die from.

I can’t remember the tale,

but hear his voice still, a well

of dark water, a prayer.

And I recall his hands,

two measures of tenderness

he laid against my face,

the flames of discipline

he raised above my head.

Had you entered that afternoon

you would have thought you saw a man

planting something in a boy’s palm,

a silver tear, a tiny flame.

Had you followed that boy

you would have arrived here,

where I bend over my wife’s right hand.

Look how I shave her thumbnail down

so carefully she feels no pain.

Watch as I lift the splinter out.

I was seven when my father

took my hand like this,

and I did not hold that shard

between my fingers and think,

Metal that will bury me,

christen it Little Assassin,

Ore Going Deep for My Heart.

And I did not lift up my wound and cry,

Death visited here!

I did what a child does

when he’s given something to keep.

I kissed my father.

in Rose: Poems by Li-Young Lee. New York: BOA Editions, Ltd., 1986.

Li-Young Lee is a poet, essayist and memoirist. His work is marked by the spare elegance of traditional Chinese poets and the mystical edge of Eliot, Keats, and Rilke. He thoughtfully and sensitively explores themes of family, spirituality, and belonging. Lee’s family fled political persecution in China and Indonesia before emigrating to the United States, where his father attended seminary and became a Presbyterian minister. As a student at the University of Pittsburgh, Lee began writing poetry and discovered his life’s work. He received the American Book Award for his lyrical memoir The Wingéd Seed: A Remembrance. In an interview with Tina Chang of the American Academy of Poets, Lee reflected, “If you rigorously dissect it, you realize that everything is a shape of the totality of causes. What’s another name for the totality of causes? The Cosmos. So, everything is a shape of Cosmos or God. It feels like something bigger than me—that I can’t possibly fathom but am embedded in.”

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“Ahead of Us”

Sabbah Day Thoughts — Matthew 28:1-10 “Ahead of Us”

Lupe Gonzalo rises at four or five in the morning. She piles into the back of a truck with other farmworkers and is driven to Florida fields in need of harvest. There, she is given a bucket and told to fill it with tomatoes or strawberries or beans as many times as she can during the course of a long day of backbreaking labor. Some days, there are no bathroom breaks, no lunchbreaks, no water breaks. “That’s your job,” Lupe says, “That’s what you’re there to do.” For women, like Lupe, the work carries worse problems than hunger and thirst. Sexual harassment and sexual violence are common—and speaking out about your experience can cost you your job. It feels hopeless.

Manuel Nazario and his people the Weenhayek have fished for a living for longer than anyone can remember. They ply the banks of the Pilcomayo River that rises in the foothills of the Andes in rural Bolivia. They wade in the water and cast nets, just as their ancestors did before them.  But these days when he casts his net, Manuel worries. Climate change, irregular rainfall, drought, and runoff from mining operations in the mountains have troubled the waters. His catch is far less plentiful than it once was, and it only seems to be getting worse. He wonders how he will feed the twenty-seven residents of his village, who depend on him for leadership. He feels powerless.

Smitha Krishnan a Dalit—an untouchable—woman, was accustomed to a life lived on the margins of Indian society. As part of the lowest social class, she was unable to draw water from the common well, prevented from attending school, and forbidden from entering temples. Then her husband died, just before the last tsunami. Then, when the storm came, her thatch and mud house, with everything in it, was swept away, including the sewing machine that she used to earn a living as a seamstress. Widowed and homeless with five children to care for, Smitha despairs.

As Mary Magdalene and the other Mary walked to the tomb in the darkness before dawn, they knew how it feels to be hopeless, powerless, and filled with despair. They had accompanied Jesus to Jerusalem for the Passover. Earlier that week, their beloved friend had been welcomed like a conquering hero, with the singing of psalms, waving of palms, and the spreading of cloaks along the way. But with each passing day, tension had mounted. Powerful enemies had emerged among the Pharisees, scribes, and priests. They challenged Jesus’ authority and feared his charismatic appeal to the people. Betrayal had come from within their ranks, as a trusted friend traded his loyalty for thirty pieces of silver. In a trial orchestrated under the cover of darkness, Jesus had been falsely accused, condemned, and turned over to the Romans for execution. At the judgment hall of Pilate, the same crowd that had welcomed Jesus rejected him, shouting for his blood.

On Friday, the Marys watched as the one they had hoped would redeem Israel was beaten, scourged, spat upon, mocked, and marched through the city streets to his brutal death, flanked by criminals. The women knew all about hopelessness, powerlessness, and despair. Even so, on Sunday morning, before the sun had risen in the east, they found the courage to offer a final kindness. In Matthew’s telling of this story, there are no anointing oils or burial spices. Just two women, vulnerable and alone, who came to the grave to hold vigil, to weep and lift their voices in the wailing cry of grief.

We know how it feels to be hopeless, powerless, and despairing.  Those feelings find us when we stand at the grave of our beloved.  They leave us weeping over unforgiving hearts and broken relationships. They find us as we contend with mental illness.  They trouble us as inflation surges and we worry about money. They keep us up at night when we ponder the future of our warming planet, and they rob us of peace as we read of the seemingly unending cycle of gun violence.  Some days, it feels like the pain and suffering, the cruelty and greed of our world are more than a match for us. Some days, we feel like the two Marys. Some days, we feel like Lupe Gonzalo, Manuel Nazario, and Smitha Krishnan.

At the tomb, the two Mary learned that hopelessness, powerlessness, and despair are no match for God. The earth shook, the stone rolled away, the guards fainted, and an angel, flashing like lightning in the half-light of dawn, told them a mystery. God’s love had won the victory over sin and death. Jesus lived, and even now he was going on ahead of them to Galilee. There was work to do—good news to share. Then, like a big exclamation point on the angel’s astounding words, there was Jesus! He filled them with joy, quelled their fear, and sent them forth as the first apostles with the assurance that he would be with them, just a step ahead, waiting for them in a world where death no longer had the last word.

Matthew likes to remind us that Jesus is with us.  In Matthew’s gospel a holy messenger warms the cold feet of the reluctant Joseph by telling him that Mary’s baby will be Emmanuel, God with us. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus assured his friends that wherever even two of them gathered in his name, he would be there. In the last parable that Matthew recorded, the Lord told his friends that wherever they encountered people who were hungry or thirsty, sick or in need or imprisoned, he would be there, too. Jesus lives, at our side, in our midst, a step ahead.

As the women ran with fear and joy through the streets of the waking city with news that would forever change the world, they trusted that Jesus was with them. If they had any doubts, if their hopelessness or powerlessness or despair threatened their mission, those feelings were swept aside in the Galilee when Jesus met them and sent them forth to the ends of the earth with good news and great love. Jesus lives. He’s always a step ahead of us. It’s a message that we need now more than ever, as we weep at the grave of untimely death, and lament the brokenness of our relationships, and mourn the future lost to mental illness, and despair over a warming planet and the ubiquitous news of guns in our schools. Yes, there is hopelessness and powerlessness and despair in this world, but there is also Jesus. He walks with us still and calls us to be good news in a world bowed down by the powers of sin and death.

One of the enduring ways that this congregation has followed Jesus amid the world’s hurt and pain is through One Great Hour of Sharing. Whether you saved your change in a fish bank throughout Lent, or you chose to use those offering envelopes, your contributions have brought good news to neighbors in this country and around the world who struggle with those familiar feelings of hopelessness, powerlessness, and despair.

Your offerings allowed Presbyterian Disaster Assistance to work with local partners on the ground in India to help Smitha Krishnan. With our help, Smitha found shelter, a sewing machine, and other essentials. She now lives with her children in a permanent, disaster-resistant home. Smitha says, “Because of gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing, I am able to feed and clothe [my children], and when they get sick, I am able to take care of their medication, too.”

One Great Hour of Sharing also helped Manuel Nazario, that indigenous fisherman in Bolivia. Through a generous grant from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, Manuel’s people are learning new ways to thrive, despite climate change and environmental degradation. Working with local partners, the Weenhayek people are developing irrigation systems and collecting rainwater. They have seeds and gardening tools. They are learning to grow fruits and vegetables organically and sustainably. With a diversified diet and enough to eat, they no longer depend on the traditional practice of casting their nets to ensure their future.

One Great Hour of Sharing has helped Lupe Gonzalo, too. The Presbyterian Hunger Program partners with farmworkers to ensure that those who bring food to our tables do not go hungry or work in inhumane circumstances. We support the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a human-rights organization that works to bring safety and justice to the fields where our food is grown. Lupe appreciates our generosity. She says, “For us farmworkers, the support from Presbyterians across the country has meant the world to us . . . we don’t feel like we’re alone . . . we’re walking together.” 

On Easter morning, Jesus, continues to go on ahead of us, my friends, sending us forth to be bearers of good news.  He’s out there still. And when we rise to respond to his calling, there is something Christ-like in us, something that no grave can ever contain. Jesus awaits. Let’s go forth to make this world a little less hopeless, powerless, and filled with despair.


Greg Carey. “Commentary on Matthew 28:1-10” in Preaching This Week, April 9, 2023. Accessed online at

Melinda Quivik. “Commentary on Matthew 28:1-10” in Preaching This Week, April 20, 2014. Accessed online at

Kathryn Schifferdecker. “The Foundation of Christian Hope” in Dear Working Preacher, April 2, 2023. Accessed online at

David Lose. “Easter Courage” in Dear Working Preacher, April 16, 2014. Accessed online at

–. “A New Day for Farm Workers” in Special Offerings: One Great Hour of Sharing. Accessed online at

–. “Restoring Dignity to India’s Most Oppressed” in Special Offerings: One Great Hour of Sharing. Accessed online at

Matthew 28:1-10

28 After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers and sisters to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

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Via Dolorosa

Throughout Lent and into Holy Week, I’ve been sharing weekly devotions based upon my travels to the Middle East. This is the sixth and final meditation in the series.

“So they took Jesus, and carrying the cross by himself he went out to what is called the Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them.”

— John 19:16b-18

The Via Dolorosa — Way of Sorrow — follows the path that tradition tells us Jesus walked to the cross. The practice of walking the Via Dolorosa dates to the fourth century when Byzantine pilgrims gathered across the Kidron Valley on the Mount of Olives, descended to the Garden of Gethsemane, climbed the road to Jerusalem, and followed the steps of Jesus to the cross. Over the centuries, stops or stations were added to the walk as travelers paused at places that scripture or local lore maintained that Jesus had also stopped, like the spot where Simon of Cyrene was pressed into service to carry the cross (Luke 23:26) and the location where Veronica is believed to have wiped the face of the suffering Christ with her kerchief.

Walking the Via Dolorosa today will take you along narrow, cobbled streets worn smooth by the centuries. Modern-day pilgrims move to the rhythm of reverence and remembrance. Some carry symbolic crosses and sing sorrowful songs. Others stop to mark the stations with prayerful solemnity. Amid the heady aromas of fresh baked bread and Arabic coffee, tourists pause to haggle with shopkeepers over the price of fresh juice or hand-woven carpets. In the quantum-moment, Jesus still walks the way of immeasurable sorrow and limitless love — bloody, battered, dying.

How will you walk with Jesus along the way of sorrow?

Please pray with me . . .

Almighty God, we are pilgrims all, walking the Via Dolorosa and following Jesus’s path to the cross. Quiet our minds and open our understanding to the way of sorrow that Jesus chose to walk. May we dare to imagine his pain, to feel the weight of the cross, to hear the insults hurled. As we face our sorrow and the sorrow of our world, may we hear your voice, calling us by name. Raise us from death to life and send us forth with good news of a love that is stronger than death.  Amen.

“His executioners made vulgar jokes about Him, called Him filthy names, taunted Him, smacked Him in the face, flogged Him with the cat, and hanged Him on the common gibbet—a bloody, dusty, sweaty, and sordid business.” — Dorothy L. Sayers

“When Christ calls a man, he bids him to come and die.”— Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Christmas and Easter can be subjects for poetry, but Good Friday, like Auschwitz, cannot. The reality is so horrible it is not surprising that people should have found it a stumbling block to faith.”― W.H. Auden

“The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food:
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood–
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.”
― T.S. Eliot

Good Friday, 1613, Riding Westward

Poem for a Tuesday “Good Friday, 1613, Riding Westward” by John Donne

Let man’s soul be a sphere, and then, in this,

The ‘intelligence that moves, devotion is,

And as the other spheres, by being grown

Subject to foreign motion, lose their own,

And being by others hurried every day,

Scarce in a year their natural form obey:

Pleasure or business, so, our souls admit

For their first mover, and are whirled by it.

Hence is’t, that I am carried towards the West

This day, when my soul’s form bends toward the East.

There I should see a Sun, by rising set,

And by that setting endless day beget;

But that Christ on this cross, did rise and fall,

Sin had eternally benighted all.

Yet dare I’almost be glad, I do not see

That spectacle of too much weight for mee.

Who sees Gods face, that is self-life, must die;

What a death were it then to see God die?

It made his own lieutenant, Nature, shrink;

It made his footstool crack, and the sun wink.

Could I behold those hands which span the poles,

And tune all spheres at once pierced with those holes?

Could I behold that endless height which is

Zenith to us, and our antipodes,

Humbled below us? or that blood which is

The seat of all our Soules, if not of his,

Made dirt of dust, or that flesh which was worn

By God, for his apparel, ragg’d, and torn?

If on these things I durst not look, durst I

Upon his miserable mother cast mine eye,

Who was Gods partner here, and furnished thus

Half of that sacrifice, which ransomed us?

Though these things, as I ride, be from mine eye,

They’re present yet unto my memory,

For that looks towards them; and thou look’st towards mee,

O Saviour, as thou hang’st upon the tree;

I turn my back to thee but to receive

Corrections, till thy mercies bid thee leave.

O think me worth thine anger; punish me,

Burn off my rusts, and my deformity,

Restore thine image, so much, by thy grace,

That thou may’st know me, and I’ll turn my face.

In the Norton Anthology of Poetry, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1970, pp. 189-190.

John Donne

Poet, writer, and clergyman John Donne was born in 1576 in Oxford. As a young man, he studied law, traveled as a gentleman adventurer to Cadiz and the Azores, and served as the secretary of Sir Thomas Egerton, the lord keeper of England. His secret marriage to Lady Anne More in 1602 led to a falling out with the Egerton family which put an end to his service to the household and blighted his professional opportunities for a number of years. Plagued by a sense of his own unworthiness, he was reluctant to become a priest. Ordained in 1615, he soon became a celebrated preacher. When his wife died in childbirth in 1617, Donne committed his energies to the church. He was elected dean of St. Paul’s in November 1621 and frequently preached before the king at court. Although his work was immensely popular during his lifetime, he fell out of favor during the Restoration and was little read until the late 19th and early twentieth century when his poetry was rediscovered and championed by T.S. Eliot and William Butler Yeats.

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The Cross or the Gun?

Sabbath Day Thoughts “The Cross or the Gun?” Matthew 21:1-11

We heard news this week of yet another school shooting. On Monday, a former student shot out the glass doors of The Covenant School in Nashville. Armed with two assault rifles and a handgun, they began shooting indiscriminately. Police, tipped off about the attack, were on the scene in eleven minutes.  The shooter was dead at fourteen minutes. In the aftermath, we learned that three nine-year-old students and three staff members had been killed.

It’s the latest incident in a long series of school shootings that have prompted our thoughts, prayers, and tears. There have been 456 shootings at schools since the attack on Columbine High School in 1999. It’s part of a larger epidemic of gun violence that has infected our nation. There have been 134 mass shootings in America so far this year, taking the lives of 196 people and wounding a further 470. The growing violence and mounting death toll are an intolerable fact of life in this country, a fact that we have grown hardened to. There seems to be a lack of political will to bring real change, perhaps most clearly demonstrated by Tennessee Congressman Andy Ogles, who represents the district of The Covenant School. He offered his thoughts and prayers for the families of victims this week while defending his controversial Christmas card showing him and his family posing with assault rifles in front of their Christmas tree.

Today in Nashville, there is a small shrine that has taken shape outside The Covenant School with flowers, balloons, stuffed animals, and messages of remembrance and love. Flags are flying at half-staff as an expression of mourning. Families are grieving and planning funerals. Palm Sunday worship is underway. Worshippers wave palms and sing “Hosanna” in the Palm Sunday parade. Today in Nashville and all across our country gun violence is the leading cause of death for our children.

That first Palm Sunday parade was a peaceful protest against the violent occupation of Israel. New Testament scholar John Dominic Crossan teaches that there were two parades that Passover week in Jerusalem. One parade approached the city from the east. There Pontius Pilate and the Roman Army rode into the Holy City from Caesarea Maritima.  At Passover, when the Jewish people remembered the deliverance of their ancestors from slavery in Egypt, it was always prudent to beef up the security in the Holy City, just in case anyone had Messianic pretentions. Pilate’s parade waved the imperial standard of the Roman Empire. Pilate and his officers were mounted on splendid war horses. Foot soldiers marched in cadence, armed with swords and knives, spears and javelins. A twenty-first century version of Pilate’s parade would have those soldiers brandishing M4s and driving Bradley armored fighting vehicles with TOW missile launchers and twenty-five-mm chain guns that can fire 100 rounds per minute.

Jesus’s parade was carefully staged to be the antithesis of Pilate’s. Instead of riding a war horse, Jesus rode a donkey, just like the Prince of Peace that the Prophet Zechariah had promised would one day come to break the battle bow and put an end to war (Zech. 9). Jesus’s “soldiers” spread their cloaks on the ground, like the generals who once hailed Jehu their king. They brandished palms, like the jubilant crowds that welcomed Judas Maccabeus after he defeated the Greeks. Instead of marching songs, the pilgrims sang hosanna and blessing. This was no violent insurrection, it was a peaceful revolution that anticipated the Kingdom where love for God and neighbor would be the rule of the land, where God’s people would beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks.

Anyone who has ever gone out early to claim your favorite sidewalk spot for the Winter Carnival Parade can testify that parades need people. We look on and clap, smile, sing, wave, and get swept up in the grand celebration.  Jesus’s parade would have had enthusiastic onlookers and participants, those who knew him, had heard him teach, had experienced his miracles, and those who asked, “Who is this?”  Pilate’s parade would have had its own audience, a crowd that turned out to watch the pomp and welcome the procurator. Some may have been collaborators. Some may have profited from the occupation. Most probably turned out because we all love parades, and we grow numb to everyday injustice. Some days, any excuse is a good one if it will appease the powerful and make the best of a bad situation.

A great irony of Holy Week is the great shifting of allegiance. Those who danced in Jesus’ parade would abandon the ranks. They traded their songs of hosanna for shouts of “Crucify him!” The Prince of Peace would meet a violent end—beaten, scourged, mocked, crucified. On Good Friday, as Jesus was marched to the cross, it would feel as if Pilate’s parade had prevailed.

On Palm Sunday, we are caught between the two parades. We know the Way of Jesus. We can quote, “Blessed are the peacemakers! Turn the other cheek! Love your neighbor!” There is no question about what Jesus expects of those who will march with him.

Yet we live in a culture that is addicted to violence. We see it in the cop shows that dominate prime time tv and the video games that preoccupy our kids. We see it in our national obsession with guns. The United States is the only nation in the world where civilian guns outnumber people. There are 120 guns in private ownership for every 100 Americans. The annual number of US deaths from gun violence is eighteen times the average rate in other developed countries. With numbers like that, it should be no surprise that no other developed nation has mass shootings at the same scale or frequency as we do.

On Palm Sunday in America, we are caught between parades: one leads to love and life and the other has been a source of immeasurable heartbreak and death.

Shane Claiborne is an author and founder of The Simple Way, a new monastic community in Philadelphia. He’s one of the best spokespeople I know in describing the tension between life as we know it and life as Jesus calls us to live. In his book Beating Guns: Hope for People Who Are Weary of Violence, Shane argues that we have a gun problem and a heart problem in this country. With artist and blacksmith Michael Moore, he dramatizes the biblical call to beat our swords into ploughshares by turning guns into garden implements. In gun-blighted communities, they invite mothers who have lost their children to guns to come and weep and beat AR-15’s into rakes and shovels. It’s a carefully staged antithesis to our national love affair with the gun. It’s a little like Jesus’s carefully staged peaceful ride into the Holy City, a ride that invited—and still invites—the world to turn from death to life.

In response to the shooting at The Covenant School this week, Shane wrote, “As a devoted Christian, I am convinced that the gun and the cross give us two very different versions of power. One is about being ready to die. The other is about being ready to kill. There comes a point where we cannot serve two masters. We cannot love our enemies as Christ commands, and simultaneously prepare to kill them.” I know that there are people who feel that they are devout Christians who will argue with Shane. They will say that guns are the best way to keep America safe. They will insist that we should arm teachers in classrooms—even though there were teachers who had guns at The Covenant School. They will feel great sorrow at mass shootings. They will think about it. They will pray. They will quote Jesus and send out Christmas cards with their nine-year-olds brandishing assault weapons. But when all is said and done, the choice is really quite simple.  Will we choose the gun or will we choose the cross? Will we march with Pilate or will we follow Jesus?

There was a parade on Thursday in Nashville. More than 1,000 people—children, teens, parents—turned out. They entered the capitol building and lined the hallways. They chanted simple slogans like, “Save our children,” “Never again,” and “Not one more.” They filled the gallery of the legislative chamber, holding signs that said, “I’m nine years old” and “Gun Reform Now.” Some carried pictures of the victims of Monday’s shooting. There are more protests planned for the coming days in Tennessee, including a student-led march on the capitol scheduled for tomorrow. I’m sure it will be quite a parade. I’m sure Jesus will be there.


Adam Tambourin. “Large crowds gather in protest at the Capitol” in Axios, March 31, 2023. Accessed online at

Jonathan Mattise, Travis Loller, and Holly Meyer. “Nashville shooter who killed 6 drew maps, surveilled school.” AP News, March 28, 2023. Accessed online at

Ariana Baio. “Tennessee lawmaker defends 2021 Christmas card of children brandishing guns in wake of Nashville shooting.” The Independent, March 29, 2023. Accessed online at

Kara Fox, Krystina Shveda, Natalie Croker, and Marco Chacon. “How US gun culture stacks up with the world,” CNN News, March 28, 2023. Accessed online at

Shane Claiborne. “Christ, Not Guns: A Reflection on the Nashville Shooting” in Red Letter Christians, March 31, 2023. Accessed online at

Veronice Miles. “Pastoral Perspective on Matthew 21:1-11” in Feasting on the Word, Year A, vol. 2. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010.

Andrew Prior. “Tell the Story” in One Man’s Web: Becoming Human in Australia, April 13, 2014. Accessed online at

David Ewart. “Matthew 21:1-11” in Holy Textures Year A, 2011. Accessed online at

Matthew 21:1-11

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. 3If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” 4This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, 5“Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” 6The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” 10When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” 11The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Image credit: Alexis Marshall WPLN News. Accessed online at