March 25, 2018 Palm/Passion Sunday
Congregation: Come Live in the Light
Choir: Siyahamba, arr. David Moore
They tell me I am going to die.
Why don’t I seem to care?
My cup is full. Let it spill.
When they get close to Jerusalem, near Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, he sends off two of his disciples with these instructions: “Go into the village across the way, and after you enter it, right away you’ll find a colt tied up that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone says, “Why are you doing this?” just say, “The master needs it and he will send it back here right away.”
They set out and found a colt tied up at the door out on the street, and they untie it. Some of the people standing around started saying to them, “What do you think you’re doing untying that colt?” But they said just what Jesus had told them to say, they left them alone.
So they bring the colt to Jesus, and they throw their cloaks over it; then he got on it. And many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut leafy branches from the fields. Those leading the way and those following kept shouting:
Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!
Jesus was not simply an unfortunate victim of a domination system’s brutality. He was also a protagonist filled with passion. His passion, his message, was about the kingdom of God. He spoke to peasants as a voice of religious protest against the central economic and political institutions of his day. He attracted a following, took his movement to Jerusalem at the season of Passover, and there challenged the authorities with public acts and public debates. All of this was his passion, what he was passionate about—God and the kingdom of God, God and God’s passion for justice.
Jesus’s passion got him killed.”
The Gospel of Jesus 21:1-12
Led by one of Jesus’ disciples, the police show up at the place Jesus and the rest of his followers were gathered. Because Jesus had often gone to the place, Jesus’ followers knew the place too. And the police seized Jesus and held him fast. And the disciples all deserted Jesus and ran away.
They brought Jesus before the high priest.
The ranking priests bound Jesus and turned him over to Pilate, the Roman governor. Then Pilate had Jesus flogged and turned him over to be crucified.
And the Roman soldiers bring him to the place Golgotha (which means “Place of the skull”). And the soldiers crucify him.
Now some women were observing this from a distance, among whom were Mary of Magdala, and Mary the mother of James the younger and Joses, and Salome. These women had regularly followed and assisted him when he was in Galilee, along with many other women who had come up to Jerusalem in his company.
Then Jesus breathed his last.
Welcome The Oldest Thirst There Is Rumi
Give us gladness that connects
with the Friend, a taste of the quick,
you that make a cypress strong
and jasmine jasmine.
Give us the inner listening
that is a way in itself
and the oldest thirst there is.
Don’t measure it out with a cup.
I am a fish. You are the moon.
You cannot touch me, but your light
can fill the ocean where I live.
Thanksgiving Mary Lou Kownacki, OSB, Pax Christi USA
I bow to the sacred in all creation. May my spirit fill the world
with beauty and wonder.
May my mind seek truth and humility and openness.
May my heart forgive without limit.
May my love for friend, enemy, and outcast be without measure.
May my needs be few and my living simple.
May my actions bear witness to the suffering of others.
May my hands never harm a living being. May my steps stay
on the journey of justice.
May my tongue speak for those who are poor without fear
of the powerful.
May my prayers rise with patient discontent until no child is hungry.
May my life’s work be a passion for peace and nonviolence.
May my soul rejoice in the present moment.
May my imagination overcome death and despair with new possibility.
And may I risk reputation, comfort and security to bring
this hope to the children.
Word of Institution Didache
We thank you, God, for the holy vine of David your servant, which you made known to us through Jesus your servant. To you be the glory forever.
We thank you, God, for the life and knowledge which you made known to us through Jesus your servant. To you be the glory forever.
Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills,
and was gathered together and became one,
so let your church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom.
Partaking of the Bread and Cup
(All are welcome. Take a piece of bread and dip it in the cup that contains grape juice. Whether or not you participate in communion, please join the circle around the sanctuary for the closing song).
Sermon (From transcription)
A Full Cup.
March 25, Palm Sunday, 2018
I want to share with you a few thoughts about Palm Sunday and Holy Week. Next week is Easter and it involves a lot of Easter-ish things but this is a good week to talk about the setup–the events leading up to Easter which is the liturgical celebration of the victory of the son of the man over the powers of death. And that is the Christian church’s great myth. And when I use the word ‘myth’ here I don’t want you to be disturbed. It’s not as if I’m saying it was a hoax or a lie or a falsehood as in you know “10 Myths Versus 10 Facts about Heart Disease” or about driving impaired or whatever.
When I say Palm Sunday through Easter is the church’s great myth, I mean it in the sense of an overarching narrative — a portrait of what it means to be a human being. The challenges that we face as well as a possible path for our future. The main character of course in the Christian myth is Jesus called the Son of God or the favorite title he had used for himself “the son of the man.” Jesus the son of the man who knows that he is the son of the man. And when I say ‘the man’ you know what I mean. That’s a mythological archetypal thing — the man — Jesus is the awakened human.
He’s also Son of God over against other pretenders to the title notably Augustus Caesar whose image and title Son of God was plastered on every coin in the realm — every public declaration — all the buildings. It was pretty obvious who Son of God was so for Jesus or for the disciples to put that label on him was actually a pretty bold statement.
What I’m going to say this morning is at best a distortion. A student’s notes on the lectures of a scholar who every year reminds me that I can be a Christian one more year and that is John Dominic Crossan. And we’re reading his book How to read the Bible and still be a Christian on the first Tuesday of the month. Come and join us for that even if you haven’t read the book, just come for the discussion. I also interviewed him for my radio program about his latest book Resurrecting Easter which will be on podcast this week. And so I’m giving credit here to what he has done. These aren’t my ideas. Let me put it very clearly: my sermon is both going to be good and original. It’s just that the parts that are good are not original and the parts that are original are not good.
Palm Sunday is a demonstration. Here is a perfect illustration. Yesterday all across the country hundreds of thousands of people marched in demonstrations against gun violence. And I think it’s a good thing to do. I would even make it bigger than what it was. Gun violence is not only about gun violence in the United States but gun violence used against children in Yemen and in Gaza. Weapons sold and dealt with in the armament industry of which we are all complicit.
If I had a sign that would be a sign from the group Three Dog Night. Remember them in 1971, the big hit “Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog?”
If I were the king of the world
I’ll tell you what I’d do,
I’d throw away the cars and the bars and the war,
and make sweet love to you.
That is what I think Jesus was declaring on Palm Sunday. A new way of being human — a new approach to what it means to be a kingdom — to be a new society as opposed to the society that was dominant then and is still dominant today. That was a demonstration.
The whole business about the donkey. I used to read it as he’s the Amazing Kreskin. Right?
“I predict there will be a donkey and you can go and untie it and bring it.”
But it really is instructions. I mean he’s hanging out in Bethany. All right. He’s hanging out and Bethany means the “house of the poor.” Not quite like Bethany, Oregon, but that’s what he meant the house of the poor — Bethany. And he’s hanging out there with this group of people and they are intent on a revolution. It’s a nonviolent revolution. It’s a peaceful revolution. But they are announcing some changes and a lot of the things that are happening during this Holy Week are demonstrations. And one of those is this parade. These are instructions that he’s giving out to his people. He can’t show up during the during the night or he can be arrested. He has to be around where there are crowds that protect him because he is a dangerous figure and it isn’t because he’s a violent figure but because he’s nonviolent. He is stirring up the crowd over against the authorities. He’s instructing his disciples about how to get this donkey.
Why a donkey? Well it’s not for example a warhorse. Riding a donkey is what? “Two Mules for Sister Sara” comes to mind. Zechariah 9:9 is the scripture that is being invoked here.
Daughter Zion, shout aloud.
Lo your king comes to you.
Triumphant and Victorious is he.
Humble and riding on a donkey
On a colt, the foal of a donkey.
So this image is Jesus’s re-creation on Palm Sunday. And the verse continues to the next one. Check it out. This is Yahweh speaking:
I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
and the war horse from Jerusalem
and the battle bow shall be cut off
and he shall command peace to the nations.
This is a demonstration of peace over against the violence of the empire in the time of Zechariah. Jesus is taking that verse or the gospel writers are taking those verses and applying it in the situation of Jesus in his parade with the donkey being cheered by the crowd.
That’s the parade we know about. We have the palm branches and we wave them on Palm Sunday. But what is implied is not stated in the text. The matrix for the whole thing is that there is another parade going on that same day.
This is Passover and what happens on Passover? It’s the celebration of liberation of the Jews over against the Egyptians. It is a revolution. They’re celebrating a revolution against oppression. And so it’s a hot time in the city. And that means that Rome has to come in and make sure to keep order and they’re bringing in crosses and they’re putting them on the entranceways and the slaves are digging the holes for them.
They’ve got a whole bunch of them bringing along these cross beams and planting them because there will be a good number of crucifixions because crucifixion is state sanctioned terror. State Crimes Against Democracy we might call it in which the people can see that those who step out of line end up here.
And so Rome’s coming in with another parade on the same day and Pilate is leading and they are coming in with riot gear on war horses. So we have to remember there are two parades that are happening. There’s the Palm Sunday parade of the resistance movement–the nonviolent resistance movement of Jesus, and the parade of Pilate and Rome’s parade–the big military parade.
There’s another leader who wants to have a big military parade following right along with what empires have done throughout history. It isn’t about the United States it’s the whole bunch.
We have two parades and the crowd is cheering on Jesus because they know that he represents them. The Roman violence is not representing them.
There are also two temples in our story.
Later in the week Jesus does a demonstration in the temple in which he turns over a bunch of tables and people used to think that meant that we’re not supposed to sell doughnuts in church but that isn’t what it’s about. It is not over against selling things in church — it’s not over against the money system. It’s against collaboration. Jesus quotes Jeremiah:
“My house cannot be made into a den of robbers.”
You don’t rob in the den. You go rob out and then you come in the den and hide. That’s how the temple has become a den of robbers. Jesus is demonstrating — he’s showing that those who run the temple are in collaboration with those who are oppressing people. At one point he is watching people put coins in the treasury. One guy comes in and puts in a good chunk of change and then a widow comes in and puts in two pennies and Jesus says she put it all she had. Now preachers have used that for stewardship sermons. “Give it all for the Lord!” But that isn’t the message at all. It’s actually a criticism of the temple itself that ends up robbing the poorest widow of every last cent she has as opposed to doing the thing that the temple is supposed to do and that is to be a sanctuary — to be a place of peace and justice. Instead it has given itself over to being a sanctuary for empire and it has forgotten its true mission. That I think is what Jesus is doing when he’s overturning those tables.
So there are two temples.
One of the temples is the temple as it is that he’s challenging and the other temple is the temple that he believes it should be or could be. And that is a sanctuary for the Holy One who is ultimately the God of peace with the promise of everyone sitting one day under their own vine and their own fig tree not needing to be afraid.
So we have two temples, two parades. Also two crowds. I remember preaching that the crowd that waved the branches on Palm Sunday and celebrated Jesus had a change of heart and turned on him. By Friday they were calling for his crucifixion. Well that’s hard to explain. Why they would do that? And so Dominic Crossan I think has a very good idea saying now there actually were two crowds.
The first was the crowd that was with Jesus all week long and that is the crowd that waved the branches that is the crowd that cheered him on as he’s taking on the abuses of this oppressive system. In fact, the crowd protects him except at night when the crowd isn’t there and that’s when Jesus is arrested. He’s arrested at night when he’s alone and there’s no explanation given for this change of heart by the crowd.
So it’s very likely that the crowd on Friday really isn’t much of a crowd at all. It was just a bunch of people who wanted the violent guy Barabbas to be released. So the crowd that actually was for Jesus wasn’t there at all at his crucifixion. They’re still singing his praises wherever they might be. But it was a very different crowd that was calling for his death.
So two crowds, two temples, two parades. Also two competing myths. The myth of imperialism which is peace through victory and violence. We also might call it the myth of redemptive violence and this is the myth that has been with us certainly since civilization began. That’s one of the myths. I’ll talk more about that in just a second. There’s also the myth of the son of the man the myth of Jesus of nonviolent resistance to violence. This is the myth that’s encapsulated in our whole story from Palm Sunday through Easter. Peace comes through justice, says this myth, not violence. You resist violence with nonviolence.
Now the easy answer to that is,
“Well that’s a nice fantasy, John. It’s a nice story but in realpolitik we know that you cannot have peace without strength. If we give up our weapons then ‘they’ (whoever ‘they’ are and whoever ‘they’ happen to be at the moment) will destroy ‘us’.”
And that’s the argument that always wins the day. It won it 100 years ago. It won it a thousand years ago. It won it 3000 years ago. Every empire that comes says the same thing:
“You must have the weapons to beat the bad guys.”
And here’s the question that’s put forward certainly in the Jesus story but more pointedly in our time:
“How’s that working out for us? How is that myth of victory as the way to peace working for us as human beings?”
Ronald Wright wrote a book called A Short History of Progress and he puts it quite disturbingly clear regarding human evolution:
“From the first chipped stone to the first smelted iron took nearly three million years. From the first iron to the hydrogen bomb took only 3000.”
Where is that trajectory leading us? The first hydrogen bomb in 1945. How many years do we have left if we continue with the logic of “if we give up our weapons they will destroy us” before they and we destroy human life itself?
So Holy Week is the great myth of the Christian Church, the great myth of nonviolent resistance to human evolution, in contrast to the myth of peace through violence. The choice is pretty clear. Agree or disagree. But it’s why I continue to trust the Christian myth, the myth that asks us in which parade will we march, in which Temple will we worship, which crowd will we join, Rome’s military parade or the parade of those following Jesus on a donkey? Which myth is our myth? The myth of peace through victory encapsulated in the story of Rome’s crucifixion of Jesus or the myth of peace through justice encapsulated in the story of Jesus the son of the man the one who resisted nonviolently even with his own life the violence of empire?
Now the question that comes up right then is,
“Well I’m on Jesus’s team but I don’t know what to do about it.”
And I get you.
But I think at least the first step is to be honest about it — to say how is this really working out for us and how knowledgeable are we about this? People think I’m criticizing the military. I’m not criticizing the military. I’m criticizing the very notion that we will end up as a society as a human species alive with this myth of peace through violence. Because every time it happens it gets worse. Rome wasn’t particularly vicious. It was just good at it. And every time you get a winner there’s a lull but that doesn’t last until the next empire comes along and the next one. And then our weapons need to be more powerful and more expensive and more thorough. And now our wise ones are telling us that we can win a nuclear war and we’ve got the enemies lined up and we will go at it one more time.
I think it is time for human beings to say is this really what we want? Is this really the way to go? And is there another way to go and I’m not preaching that I have the answer at all. But I am simply saying, “Can we have the dialogue?” Can we have the conversation about what it’s going to be for our future and our children’s future? And the weapons that we continue to make and sell and make a lot of people rich.
Which myth will gain our allegiance, yours and mine?
The myth of peace through victory and violence or the myth of peace through justice?