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The Risk of Love

To read the Lectionary passages that inspired this sermon, click here

Sermon: The Rev. Dr. Maryann Amor

Today is Palm Sunday, a day that is filled with a joy that we see expressed outwardly by those gathering to welcome Jesus into Jerusalem. We can imagine the scene in our minds with little effort…the joyous cries, the people crowded together on the dusty streets, palm branches in hand…waving them, placing them on the ground, as Jesus rides into town. Hope is in the air…joy is in the air. It is a wonderful day.

But as our Gospel reading and the rest of this week make so abundantly clear…things are quickly going to change. In a few days, the aura of the Jesus narrative, the aura of our Christian narrative and our liturgical year moves from joy to sadness…death comes in, grief now hangs heavy in the air, we know what is coming.

I think that many of us probably wish we didn’t have to go through the sad days that will now overshadow our lives. We might wish to hold onto the joy of Palm Sunday for just a little longer…prolong it and relish it as much as we can. Especially given all that we experience in our lives, the sadness and suffering, it feels unfair, maybe cruel, to have to experience sadness in worship…why can we not sing the Easter hymns now? Why can we not celebrate now, extend that celebration for an entire week? We might hope that we could just skip from Palm Sunday to Easter, avoiding the sad bits in between…I wonder if many already do this, the low attendance at Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services reflecting the pervasive, human desire, to avoid pain and suffering at all cost. In fact, our world makes it so easy to avoid the sadness…with Easter bunnies already on store shelves, we easily forget that before the joy of Easter necessarily comes the pain and grief of the cross.

So, we have to ask ourselves, what is the point of this week? What is the purpose of the painful days that lie ahead? As I wrestled with this issue, the only answer I could come up with is love. Now I know that sounds so incredibly simplistic and cliched, but let me explain…

Henri Nouwen, a Dutch Catholic priest, writes, “Every time we make the decision to love someone, we open ourselves to great suffering, because those we most love cause us not only great joy but also great pain. The greatest pain comes from leaving. When the child leaves home, when the husband or wife leaves for a long period of time or for good, when the beloved friend departs to another country…the pain of the leaving can tear us apart. Still, if we want to avoid the suffering of leaving, we will never experience the joy of loving. And love is stronger than fear, life stronger than death, hope stronger than despair. We have to trust that the risk of loving is always worth taking.”

To love necessarily means pain, because when we open ourselves to love someone, we know that at some point, there will be a loss. The inevitability of pain does not mean that we stop loving…instead we continue to give ourselves over to other people. It is the most selfless thing we do and we might not even realise it.

And this sense of love is reflected in the sadness that overshadows this week. The love of Jesus for humanity was so great that the loss that came with it, the painful loss that he endured for us, is what we see writ large in our Gospels and in our liturgical year. At the same time, we also experience the pain of loss felt by the disciples and Mary…that pain of knowing that someone they love, someone we love, will undergo suffering, will die, will be taken away.

If our Gospels or our Christian year were to be about joy alone, they could never capture the profound reality of what it means to love. Love can never be a simple or clichéd answer…because love is never simple or cliched…but it is deeply tied with pain and suffering. As Nouwen describes, we experience this in our lives when those we love leave, and this week we experience this as we journey through the Gospel narratives, accompanying Jesus, Mary, the disciples to the cross.

So rather than holding onto the joy of Palm Sunday or skipping from Palm Sunday to Easter to avoid the painful bits in between…this week is about embracing the pain for what it shows us about Jesus and ourselves. It is about embracing the pain because we know it is only possible because of the selfless love of Jesus for us…it is about embracing the pain for what it shows us about our lived human experience. That for all of us, to love anyone means that pain will come. But, even knowing this, even experiencing this as we all do, we continue loving, we continue to embrace others, giving of ourselves…so this week, let’s journey through the sad days ahead, lets experience what love really means, entering into it fully…and, as we do, we carry with us the words of Nouwen: “love is stronger than fear, life stronger than death, hope stronger than despair. We have to trust that the risk of loving is always worth taking.”


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