Preached on Palm Sunday, April 13, 2014 at First Congregational Church of Minnesota, UCC
Listen to the rustle of the palms.
It comes like a rustle, this knowing.
It comes like a whisper from deep inside you. Can you hear it?
It says: This is my truth. This is who I am. I. am. undeniable.
So here we are at the beginning of Holy Week, and these forty days of Lent are almost up. How are your Lenten practices coming? Has anyone eaten chocolate yet who wasn’t supposed to? :)
In all seriousness, today is the day that we enter into what is the holiest week of the year in the Christian calendar, where together we ritualize and make meaning of the final days of Jesus’ life – and his death.
If we take it seriously, this is a really challenging week. We see the betrayal of a friend. We witness a final meal. We hear the grief at Gethsemane. We see a man hung from a tree.
So doesn’t it strike you as strange that before Lent is even over, that just as Jesus is entering the city Jerusalem in which we all know he is going to die a miserable, political, friendless, powerless death, we’re joyfully waving about our beautiful palm fronds, as if they are wings about to bear us up in flight? Palm Sunday has become, in the mainline Protestant church, something like a mini-Easter. It we were to take Holy Week just Sunday to Sunday – and skip the stuff in between – one might miss the part about death altogether, what I would argue is the most important part.
Palm Sunday is no celebration! Instead, this procession of the Palms should strike a profoundly ironic chord from deep within us. Because each of us knows this truth: the height of Palm Sunday is temporary. Each step taken toward Jerusalem is another step toward Jesus’ death – just as each breath we take in this life is one breath less that we’ll have in this life.
[SLOW, DEEP BREATH]
So let’s get a little closer today to the story of Palm Sunday – because the historical rendering of what might have actually happened is just a little different than how most mainline Protestant congregations observe the day.
John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg outline Jesus’ final days in their 2006 book The Last Week – which I know a group in this congregation read together recently. In it, they describe not one but two processions into the city of Jerusalem: this procession, which we know well: the palm branches and cloaks strewn on the ground before Jesus; the humble donkey he rode into the city; the shouted Hosanna!s ringing through the air. But they also describe a second procession.
The second procession would have been Pontius Pilate, who was not only the Roman governor of Judea, but also Idumea and Samaria, and so he didn’t live in Jerusalem year-round. Instead, he came to Jerusalem – the capitol of Israel – now and again, and especially during times when it would be expected that there might be an insurgency.
Such as the Jewish high holidays.
Which, in case you didn’t know, begins tomorrow, and always overlaps with Holy Week.
Pilate’s procession would have had a very different feel to it than that of Jesus. It would have been populated with soldiers, horses, chariots; the smell of leather, and the clanking of metal. It was a procession intended to impress upon the Israelites the power of Rome. And, Crossan and Borg claim, it was just this procession that Jesus would have been referencing. In fact, they argue, Jesus’ humble procession into the city may have been something quite intentional, even a planned political demonstration against the empire of Rome.
No wonder Jerusalem was in turmoil when Jesus entered the city. That was the plan all along.
It’s hard to say whether Jesus would really have known that this procession was a long march toward his death. Of course he knew his actions were terribly dangerous. That to march into Jerusalem on the eve of Passover was to step into the hornet’s nest. That his teachings were oppositional to Rome. That all along his ministry, his words of love and justice were disturbing the fragile balance of power in the region.
And the crowd that followed him likely knew it, too. We envision Jesus’ Palm Sunday procession as something like a parade, but it was truly more like a throng of people just ringing with desperation. Hosanna! The people cried. Save us! Save us from this power being imposed on us! Save us from the empty taxes that strip us of a living wage; save us from the crucifixions that stretch as far as the eye can see! Hosanna!
What must have been going through Jesus’ mind as he made his way toward Jerusalem? What did he make of the danger he was putting himself into – himself, his friends, his family? Was he afraid? Courageous? Prideful? Uncertain? We can’t know for sure. But we do know this. Jesus didn’t know what would happen. But we do.
Jesus died. And then,
HE CAME BACK TO LIFE.
It merits repeating. Jesus. Came. Back. To. Life.
Now, let us release ourselves of the intellectual, historical-critical analysis I know that each of us are performing in our minds about whether or not Jesus was really, truly, physically resurrected 2,000 years ago. The historicity isn’t the point. The truth is in the story. And the story is this: on the other side of death is life. And it can be yours, too. All you need to do is walk to Jerusalem.
You see, We. Hide. Pain. We hide it from each other, we hide it from our own selves. We tell ourselves lies to avoid it, we cover it up with clowns, closets, masks, and magicians – they all cover up the truth, but the truth is this. Without death, we cannot know life.
Our task today, on Palm Sunday, is to turn toward death. To walk toward the Cross.
Holy Week at its core is about how we humans make sense of death. Not just our mortality – although that is a big part of it – but also the small deaths that we experience throughout this life. The loss of control over one’s body and mind one feels in aging. A denial of our sense of self by the presiding powers that be. The loss of a job. Even the birth of a child! Anything that radically shifts our world and our sense of who we are is a small death. Its markings are pain and fear. But it is also an opportunity for resurrection.
There is a moment – a turning point – in which we make the decision to be who we are, to embrace the life we have, to choose resurrection. Addicts often talk about hitting “rock bottom” – this is what I’m talking about. It is a moment of awakening, a moment of decision-making, a moment of no return. In this Jesus story, I believe that moment is his march to Jerusalem. No turning back now. But I believe there are moments like this scattered all throughout history, scattered throughout all of our lives.
The moment Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990, allowing him to be elected President of South Africa four years later.
The Freedom Riders’ course across southern America in 1961, bringing awareness to the public of the vitriol present in our nation’s laws and culture
Gandhi’s salt march in 1930, which protested the British monopoly on salt in India, triggering a movement of civil disobedience and calling into question the legitimacy of British rule over India.
Notice that these are not necessarily moments of peace – in fact, they rarely are. Instead, they are moments of great turning, when we humans set aside our fear, turn toward our pain, and walk into the unknown. When who we are becomes undeniable, that is the moment we turn toward the Cross – and it is our first step toward resurrection.
It is the moment when you decide to get clean
The moment you decide to speak out
The moment when you decide to come out
It is the moment you know the treatments aren’t working
The moment you recognize your grief for what it is
The moment you grasp your mortality
It is the moment you become conscious of your privilege
The moment you know what you are capable of
The moment you know you won’t just stand by –
This is the march to Jerusalem!
And there’s no turning back now.
Do you hear it? Do you hear your truth rustling within you?
Do you hear the whispers telling you to be who you really are, to turn toward your most authentic self? Today, this moment, this Palm Sunday, this is what it’s about. This is when we begin the march toward the deep. This is when we walk with Jesus toward who we are.
We bury the seed. We rustle the fronds. We move our feet. And we trust that life will come again.
And in the deepest fears of the night,
There’s no turning back now.
Take the first step.
B and I will be moving soon, into a bright blue house with yellow trim and a pretty front porch. I have all kinds of grand plans for a garden, for pretty pots of herbs and twinkly solar lights. I’m dreaming of sitting on the front porch drinking tea on a Saturday morning, reading a book with the cat in the window. Oh, it’s going to be so lovely! So this post is dedicated to front porch inspirations. And in the midst of all the shitty stuff going on the world these days, we maybe all need a little inspiration.
I love all the bright colors! Since we’re moving to an eccentrically-colored duplex (NOT the one pictured above, btw), I’m considering decking the porch out in equally eccentric furniture. Not sure what B will think of that, though…
And such pretty lights!
The thought of sitting on the porch, late in the summer’s evening with the light waning, a cool drink, and a good friend sounds like heaven. Especially in these dirty-snow-March-days. Yuck.
So come visit us this summer on our brand new porch! We always welcome visitors, furry and friendly and everywhere in between!
so, yes! the grand blog experiment of february DID result in at least ONE productive thing: i finished those gorgeous fingerless gloves and i gave them to gibson! (it is a serendipitous wonder indeed that, in true literary style of ME, the words “gibson” and “gloves” are alliterative. small feats such as this bring me great joy.)
gibson is one patient woman. she won these gloves on february 11, and did NOT receive them until about four days ago. let’s not go into the crazy schedule that consumed my life for nearly the entire month of march; instead, let’s just say… wow, gibson. you are well-conditioned to waiting. were you regularly at the end of the lunch line as a kid?
also, gibson is very cute. see photo below.
we talked about the church, about being recovering bible camp counselors (can i call you “recovering,” gibson?), about needing space for flexibility and ideas and openness within systems of belief. (speaking of which: did anyone else hear about how awesome jennifer knapp is recently?!)
all the while, i was admiring how well the fingerless gloves match her green eyes, green purse, green wallet, and even lime-green tea. yup: i think those gloves found themselves a nice little home.
if professional athletes get them, so can i. it’s been a marathon of a month. i’ll be back tomorrow.
it’s now been three weeks straight of posting something every single day. one week from now will be my last post for the month of february, and so far i have mixed feelings about this blog-a-day thing. on one hand, i like that it presses me to reflect more consciously on the mundane-ness of my daily life, and it is really helpful to set goals for myself and actually follow up with how i’ve lived out said goals. on the other hand, i feel incredibly self-involved. blogging assumes that people actually WANT to read about a) what i’ve made for dinner, b) what i think about ____, or c) my cat. this is typically reserved only for the people who inhabit the most intimate, boring aspects of a person’s life. to create a world that revolves around all this… well, i’m still struggling to figure out what i think about that.
but there is something important (is there?) about recording my thoughts in *this* moment. i just re-discovered my very old blog, from when i studied abroad in ecuador five years ago, broke up with an old boyfriend, and later went to brazil for a few months following my graduation from college. i haven’t read through all the old posts yet, but even the few that i browsed last night brought back a number of memories that would otherwise have been lost to me, for who knows how long. perhaps always, never, forever. so, am i saying this blog is useful for the purpose of recording memories i might otherwise forget? well, maybe.
anyway, in quasi-reflecting on this blogging thing, i realized that at the beginning of this month, i set out a number of goals for myself the accomplish by the end of february. i had meant to report back more speedily than this, perhaps on a weekly basis, but all my other AMAZING and PHENOMENAL ideas for blog posts must have escaped this. so here we are. only one week left, and here is my first update on my february goals:
1. Exercise three times a week, and I will report said exercise here.
you might remember that during the first week of february, i got a fairly nasty cold. So, i did not exercise that first week. since then, however, i HAVE lived up to that goal, and am happy to say that i’m back to enjoying a good run again. i also ran a race with my brother, and renewed my practice of yoga.
2. Once each weekend, I will cook something fancy and write about it here.
Ok, i haven’t necessarily been doing the fancy cooking every weekend per se, but i have been writing about the meals i’ve been enjoying cooking whenever i happen to feel like it throughout the week. and, i know i’ve been doing it at LEAST once a week, so much so that my Dad tells me this blog should be on the food channel. I’m not sure he meant that as a compliment, but i’m taking it as one!
3. FINALLY finish putting things up on our apartment walls (take pictures, and post them here)
SO NOT happening. and it’s not going to happen before the end of february, either. oh well. i’ll wait for inspiration.
4. Finish the messenger bag I was going to sew for B at the onset of medical school (now six months ago and counting)
i have done some work on B’s messenger bag; quite a bit, in fact. still, it’s far from being done anytime soon.
5. Forgive myself when I do not complete all of these goals.
Ah. Previous Al was wise. Therefore, I hereby forgive myself for goals 3 and 4. Hurrah!
you won the fingerless glove giveaway!
i wish i could have given them to everyone. oh well.
gibson: let’s finally get together for that coffee in early march and i’ll hand over your new pretties.
ok. now i’m going to go celebrate mandi’s birthday. tgif!
myself to post every single day over the month of february.