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Palm Sunday March 25, 2018 - The Rev. Samuel Torvend
Sermon for Palm Sunday, March 25, 2018
Mark 11:1-11
As a child, I came to the conclusion that the great feasts of the church year were an opportunity to go back in time and imagine what it was like to be with Jesus and the disciples. You might call it Time Travel for Christians. This notion was underscored by the annual Christmas pageant – youngsters dressed up in bathrobes, with kitchen hand towels or halos of tinsel on their heads, stiffly or wildly playacting the birth story of Jesus. Holy Week began in procession, waving palms, while Good Friday engaged us with a rough-hewn cross created by the parish Men’s Club; you know, the gender stereotypes of an earlier age: the men erect a sturdy wood cross on Good Friday while the women decorate it with fragile flowers early on Easter Sunday morning. Later in life I began to think of this annual round of feasts as the Bibleland Mystery Tour: watching events unfold in the past as sermon and hymn invited us to imagine what it was like to be with Jesus then and there. Indeed, we could all watch the biblical events from the relative safety of our pews, those events utterly separated by 2000 years from our world today, the listening and singing assembly led to feel sorrow on Good Friday and an upbeat if not artificial happiness on Easter morning. And, then, when all was said and done, we left church, our attention freshly captured by life in the world, a world in which imagining what it was like to be with Jesus in ancient Palestine had little to do with living in contemporary America.
But, of course, I should have known better; for the gospels themselves are a clear critique of this nostalgic view of the events that mark this week. After all, they were written to and for communities of Christ followers who were challenged to live the Christ-life in a world that cared little for their convictions or suspected that their convictions and actions did not support the status quo; that these Christ followers questioned – as did their crucified leader – the values and practices of the culture in which they lived as they attempted to live into another Way of Life. Consider, for a moment, the Christian community to whom Mark wrote his gospel, some 30 years after Jesus, as the Roman army was destroying the Temple, Jerusalem, and any pockets of resistance to Rome’s violent colonial rule and its insistence that all people worship the emperor as a god. Jesus enters Jerusalem on a colt, an ancient symbol of peace and humility as the Roman cavalry enters the city on horses, the ancient symbols of war and destruction. Which symbol calls out for your loyalty and mine, Mark seems to ask: the threat of armed conflict and the fire and fury of weapons of destruction or the use of diplomacy and a commitment to the peaceful resolution of conflict?
As the crowd greets Jesus, the Galilean prophet, they shout, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!” as if Jesus were going to lead them in a stupendous uprising against their colonial masters. But, earlier in his gospel, Mark has already told the congregation of Christ followers that Jesus will experience betrayal and will suffer for his commitment to Kingdom of God’s Compassion and God’s Justice: compassion its soul and Justice its body, its public enactment. Mark seems to ask: Do you recognize that to be washed into this Way of Life is to learn and live the Compassion of God for the most vulnerable around you? Do you recognize that to be in communion with Jesus, to be nourished in his Body and Blood is to share in the wounds he suffered for his commitment to the wounded women and men of this world: his eating and drinking, his sharing life, with people considered “deplorables” by society’s elites; his free and generous healing of those no one else would touch; his indiscriminate friendship with those who did not share his socio-economic class; his acknowledgment of the God-given dignity and intellectual capacities of women who defied the stereotype of “fragile flowers” in constant need of care by allegedly sturdy men; his steadfast and compassionate presence with those who were abandoned by family or society?
Mark notes that upon his arrival in Jerusalem, Jesus enters the Temple. What we do not hear today is what Mark reports to his congregation: that Jesus, the activist for the Kingdom of God, demonstrates with righteous anger against the cruel system of religious and political taxation that benefitted Roman elites, their Judean collaborators, and no one else. And this demonstration seals his fate. Of course, a tax could benefit a widow, could benefit the homeless, could benefit the hungry poor, could benefit a struggling child, and could benefit the victims of war and natural disasters, that is, if we lived in the Economy of God. In other words, Mark seems to suggest that the treasure of a society – when channeled through the hands of Jesus – is directed first and foremost toward those most in need, toward those wounded among us. And if that is not grace abounding, I don’t what is. But, I ask you, is that what we experience today?
I wonder, then: what is the point of telling this story on this eventful day unless it continues to be written into your life and mine, and its inscription in our hearts and minds leads us to act with Jesus, in the here and the now?