SERMON for PALM SUNDAY 4/5/20based on Philippians 2:5-11 This is a particularly hard Sunday for me, the time in 40 years that I will not be leading a Palm Sunday service. There will be no excited children and their frenzied waving of palm fronds, no familiar hymns and readings, no encouraging thought that spring must indeed be at hand with Easter so close. The church year, like the school year, has a rhythm to it, something I didn't realize until I began my pastoral work in Grafton. When that first fall came in my new role as pastor I had the unsettling feeling that something was wrong. For the previous twenty-five years fall had meant the beginning of school, whether elementary, junior high, high school, teaching, or seminary. Now fall was here, but I wasn't starting classes. It took a while to settle into the new pattern of life in the church, with the central thrust now being Advent and Christmas, Lent and Easter. But within a year or two it, too, felt right. Now that pattern, too, has been changed by a pandemic of a type not experienced in living memory. I fully understand why we are not able to have services, yet I am still faced with that same unsettling feeling of something being wrong. Events like this remind us just how much we are creatures of habit, and how those habits become a source of comfort over time. We look to them for a sense of security: there is an order and structure to life we can depend on, day after day, week after week, year after year. But not this year. We will celebrate Palm Sunday together again in years to come, but I suspect this will be the one that lingers in the memory. But I hope what will also linger in our minds is the heroic efforts of doctors and nurses, CNAs and custodians, EMTs, and others serving on the front lines of the battle against covid-19. Heroic, because they are risking their lives to save as many lives as possible. Whether or not they are aware of it, they are heeding the words of Paul when he writes, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death--even death on a Cross.” They are of the same mind of our Lord, entering into the fray knowing full well that it may lead to suffering and even death, but knowing it must be done if people are to be saved. They, like him, have chosen to become slaves by becoming slaves to duty and honor. And by their actions they invest humanity with a dignity and nobility of which it is totally undeserving. As I wrote last Wednesday, Christ knew exactly what was coming: that that squalid political cesspool of a swamp called Jerusalem would seek to destroy him as surely as self-interest has always attempted to destroy what is good, compassionate, and caring. What would happen to him that week in Jerusalem is a case study in the depth of human depravity and sin as spin doctors and special interests worked together to bring about his death. And I suspect those fighting on the pandemic front lines are seeing much the same as they are confronted with the lack of proper medical equipment and even the tools to determine what they are dealing with. Fingers are being pointed in every direction as those who should be shouldering the responsibility for the mess we're in attempt to place the blame on others instead. But in truth this is nothing new; it is simply a modern reflection of the same depravity of sin and self-interest that killed Jesus. Where are the masks, the tests, the ventilators, the protective gear that should have been made readily available ahead of time for just such an emergency. Why were tax cuts considered so important, while health care preparedness was ignored? We have been “penny-wise and pound-foolish” when it comes to health care preparedness; now we are asking our healthcare professionals to pay the price. In one of the great ironies of history, a robust healthcare system would probably have kept the economy from tanking. As it was, we bet our money on the wrong horse. In an even more ironic and this time embarrassing case of “Physician, heal thyself”, one of the countries that has turned out to be the most successful in dealing with the crisis is Nigeria. Over the years they have had to deal with Ebola, SARs and MERs, but with help from American experts on disease control they learned how to plan for and deal with the spread of an epidemic. They put what they learned into play, and they are doing quite well, thank you. Would that we had listened to our own experts while there was still time! As it was, our devotion to worship of the Golden Calf left us open to being blindsided by a stealth virus. The suffering that follows will be great. But an unnecessary part of it will be carried by our healthcare providers. It would be enough to make anyone give up and turn their back on their fellow human beings but instead, like Jesus, they continue to soldier on, risking death to save life. This is why we need to hear the rest of what Paul says: “Therefore God has also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” If God so honors Jesus, who willingly made the ultimate sacrifice, we can be certain that those who follow in Christ's footsteps, too, shall be honored in ways that we can't even begin to imagine. In our hospitals, in our nursing homes, in our assisted living centers, in our clinics we are looking at living saints, doing the will and work of God for no other reason than that it is right to do so and it must be done. Forget the wealthy, forget the powerful: these are the true heroes, whose praises must be sung in such a way that our children never forget what they have done. As what happened to Christ was meant to make us see ourselves how depraved and lost humanity truly is, so what is happening on the front lines is meant to show us that, through Christ's presence and inspiration, he is creating a beauty and nobility in humanity worthy of the kingdom. For those of us not on the front lines, remember to keep them constantly in your prayers. And in the years to come we must remain vigilant and take seriously what must be done so this doesn't happen again. But as long as money is considered more important that love of our neighbor the suffering will continue on and on, forever and ever, world without end, Amen.