Love is not a Victory March

I recommend you listen to this version of “Hallelujah” before or after the sermon.

And I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch
And love is not a victory march
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

For years this hauntingly beautiful song by Leonard Cohen, has in one line possessed the whole meaning of Palm Sunday for me.  You may think I’m crazy, but I read a commentary on this day about five years ago—before I was ordained a priest—, a commentary that pointed out the lyrics:

“Love is not a victory march
It’s a cold and it’s a broken, ‘Hallelujah.’”

And it hit me: that is the meaning of Palm Sunday.  I can’t help but feel in the midst of this pandemic, in the midst of this upheaval, in the midst of all this suffering and pain, those words ring truer than ever before.

Love is not a victory march.

As I scroll through my Facebook feed, I’ve watched numerous viral videos of people from their apartment balconies, cheering on during shift changes, all the healthcare workers at our hospitals who are on the front lines, battling this virus.  It is beautiful and moving to watch.  Yet even with all of the shouts and affirmations, I can imagine that for those individuals— for all the CNAs, and Nurses, and Physicians, and respiratory therapists— that it doesn’t feel like a victory, like a win, at the end of their long and grueling shift.  That instead they are wondering how it ever got to this point?  They are grieving after watching so many of their patients die.  They are considering throwing in the towel as they are bone tired, without another ounce of energy to give.

Yet, my friends, are they not one of our greatest examples of love at this present moment in time?  Their love is humility—admitting we know so little about this disease, and yet they will try everything in their power to care for those in need of a healing balm.  Their love is service—showing up day in and day out, no matter how tired they really are.  Their love is sacrifice—putting their own health and well-being on the line to save the life of another human being.

Love is not a victory march.

Even in today’s readings from the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus does not look like some triumphal king riding into a city he has just conquered.  He is not some Roman dictator flaunting his military prowess and might.  He is not an overlord looking for all to bow before him.  No, that is not the kind of king we celebrate today.  No.  Instead, Jesus knows He is about to feel far from victorious.  This supposedly triumphal entry into Jerusalem, well… it is more of a death march than a victory march.

For Jesus’ love is humility—coming to earth in human form, taking on our likeness, God experiencing what it is truly like to walk among us.  Jesus’ love is service—washing his friends’ feet at the Last Supper, displaying what real love looks like to his disciples.  God’s love is sacrifice—giving up his life for us and for all the world, in the excruciatingly painful process of crucifixion.

Love is not a victory march.

For us this Holy Week, we cannot live into our usual rituals in the same way.  We cannot process around the sanctuary in the same manner.  We cannot celebrate the resurrection in the same fashion—with over-flowing lilies on the chancel steps, and spectacular Easter bonnets upon our heads, and an exciting egg hunt to finish off all the festivities.  No.  We cannot host a traditional Holy Week this year.  But y’all we can love one another.

Love is humility.  Love is admitting we do not hold control over this situation.  Love is taking quality time with our family.  Love is finding some sweetness in the solitude and the silence.  Love is realizing that we cannot predict the future; and therefore, we will learn to live fully and abundantly in the present that God has given us.

Love is service.  Love is Ginnie Jed cooking me her grandmother’s homemade chicken noodle soup while I was recovering post concussion.  Love is the numerous parishioners who have brought groceries to the homebound.  Love is the phone call you made to your neighbor just to check in on him or her.

And love is sacrifice.  Love is the recognition that we will forever be changed by this situation.  Love is the realization that so many in our local, national and global communities have gone without—gone without food; gone without shelter; gone without proper health care.  Love is the decision to change this nation, no, to change this world for the better by giving some of the abundance that you have, so that another family can finally have enough.  Love is changing our current lifestyles so that all may know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are beloved children of the Divine.

Praise the Lord, Almighty.  Love is not a victory march.

Because this kind of love—a love that is humble; that is service; that is sacrificial—,that is God’s kind of love.  That is the kind of love God has for us, and the kind of love God asks us to have for another.  It is a love that is so unbounded, so unconditional, so transformational, that it cannot help but turn the world upside down.  That it cannot help but change us all for the better.  That it cannot help but burst forth from an empty tomb, in just a week’s time.

Love is not a victory march… No.

Because this week, as every Holy Week, we witness that God’s love is so much more than we could begin to comprehend.  And with that I say, Amen.


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