Saturday, April 4, 2009

Time Marches On, a sermon for Palm Sunday

Hosanna, Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
With palms in OUR hands we can hear the echoes of the people who spread their cloaks on the road in front of Jesus’ triumphal entry. It was a joyous event and full of smiles. It was a parade.

And why not? Jesus followers were overjoyed; he was finally entering the city, their city, the city at the heart of their “political, economic and religious life.” The people’s hope for deliverance from oppression was riding into the city in triumph.
Everyone knew that their deliverer would return the throne to Kind David’s royal line and remove the Romans who had conquered Jerusalem 40 years before AND get rid of all the priests who collaborated with Rome. Best of all, The new KING was THEIR FRIEND! He lived with them, he walked the streets of peasant villages, he was one of them!
Hosanna, blessed is he!

The people are sure of Jesus, they trust him and are ready for him to confront the powers that oppress them. They have given him their hopes and dreams to bear and are sure that God is with him and will bring change to their lives of misery. In expectation they throw their coats on the ground to honor Jesus’ path. They create a royal carpet on which he rides the colt, - a donkey, hardly a royal animal and their coats are old, ragged really. But they throw them down in an act of adoration. They recognize in Jesus the one spoken of by the prophets, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!” (V. 10)
. . .
There was another parade that day, coming into town from the west. If you read any of Borg and Crossan’s book, The Last Week, you would learn about this other, much larger parade. It was a very intentional show of force by the Roman Governor.

Remember it is Passover week in the biblical account. This was the week faithful Jews flocked to Jerusalem to celebrate their deliverance and release from the oppression of the Egyptians. And now,-- that Jerusalem is ruled by another oppressive government, the Passover season carries the potential for revolt.

History tells us that Passover was a time when riots were common. And some were large and lethal. It was too dangerous for the Roman Governor, Pilate, to leave the city for underlings to rule. So on this first day of the week, Pilate rode to Jerusalem with a cohort of imperial cavalry and troops to reinforce the garrison that towered over the temple. This way Pilate could oversee the happenings himself, insuring that any uprising would quickly be suppressed. The sheer number of troops and the power displayed as his parade rode into town would likely be enough to deter trouble.

DID JESUS KNOW OF THIS OTHER PARADE? Surely he did, it happened every time a new conquering general took command of the territory. And it happened before every Passover as pilgrims poured into the city, soldiers marched in to prevent an uprising.

The fact of life for Jerusalem was although it continued as the center of religious life for Jews, it was also (since 6 ce) the center of collaboration with Rome. The temple authorities and the elite Jewish class became the ones in charge of maintaining good relations with ruling Rome.
The temple had come to represent a domination system (as Borg, Crossan and Wink use the term). It was a system responsible for collaborating with Imperial Rome by paying tribute taxes, keeping the peace, and maintaining order – which meant continuing to exploit the peasant class so that the ruling class could make the payments and keep revolts suppressed.
This included the delicate balance of acknowledging the Roman emperor as a God. Caesar was earthly king and heavenly Lord; a God and was to be worshipped as such. So Jews, who acknowledged only ONE God, had to find ways to justify the fact that they ‘pledged’ an allegiance to the Emperor. It was this “balance” that Jesus raged against which leaned far too heavily in favor of the Emperor and took almost ALL the life resources from peasants. In his teaching and in the next chapter of Mark Jesus will speak against the religious leaders when he “cleanses the temple.”

So YES, JESUS knew of the other parade; Pilate’s parade of power, of wealth and domination and he drew the contrast even more sharply when he made plans for his un-ridden colt to be picked up by the disciples. Jesus also knew the scriptures and so his parade is a parody of opposites:
Pilate rides a fine war horse.
Jesus rides a borrowed colt, a small donkey where his feet likely drug the ground.
Pilate was surrounded by elite troops, the royal guard that marched in with him.
Jesus’ crowd were fishermen and children waving branches, peasants and WOMEN; those of NO value.
Pilate is in his finest royal clothing and military splendor.
Jesus wears a linen robe, surrounded by the cloaks of people who owned nothing else.
Pilate, the official ruler, designated Governor by Imperial Rome, who welded Caesar’s power. Jesus, from the small town of Nazareth, who is called a King, in David’s line which is the royalty of the people’s heritage.
Pilate is greeted with official acclamations that recognized his power as the conquering Ruler OVER the people.
Jesus is welcomed with hymns that promise deliverance.

Can you hear the sounds of these two parades as time marches on?

Horses clopping, troops marching, the heavy sounds of power.
And One Lone colt, surrounded by the voices of children singing and the almost silent brushing of branches.

THESE TWO PARADES will COLLIDE in a few short days when these two rulers of different kingdoms stand face-to-face.

Jesus’ vision for the future of God’s kingdom is vastly different than Pilate’s, than Herod’s or Caesar’s great empire.
• Jesus vision echoed the prophet’s warnings for those who strayed from the ONE God to worship lesser things.
• Jesus vision included the lives of all those who surrounded him on this “Palm Sunday”. It was a vision that required food for everyone equally, it meant healthcare for the sick, and inclusion for the outcasts of society. AND it included enough Love for ALL of earth’s people, even those who marched in the Western Parade with Pilate.

Jesus Vision included the CROSS. We hear it in his predictions that foretell his death and resurrection. The cross is still in the distance on this day of celebration yet it is never far from his mind and begins to color each action of the week ahead.

Very quickly (in Mark’s gospel where everything happens “Immediately” indicating GREAT URGENCY) - Jesus will take on the power structure of the temple, which means taking on the combined political/religious ‘powers that be.’
He will,
“cleanse the temple” (Mk 11:15) and drive out the buyers and sellers, not because he was against the required exchange of currency for sacrificial rituals, but because it had become a place to cheat the faithful peasants who came to worship God. The whole system had become one of oppression and collusion with the Empire and Jesus’ wanted to tear it down.
He will be questioned about his authority to teach and he would speak against the scribes challenging them – while listeners gathered around him.
And he will compare himself to God’s temple, making apocalyptic predictions about its destruction and his own.

I wonder how many young men listened to him and then looked up at the walls of the garrison that stood higher than the walls of the temple. I wonder if angry young men raised their fists at the soldiers or voiced threats? Yet throughout this week that MARCHES on towards FRIDAY, Jesus would speak of a hopeful future and command that people forgive their enemies. He never backs away from the confrontation that HAS to come and all the while, He remains faithful to God’s Way; the way we now call the Jesus’ Way - even in the shadow of the cross.

There’s a sadness and heaviness that descends on us today as we lay our palm branches down.
We feel the tears that are reported in Luke’s gospel when Jesus looks over the city wishing for an alternative future.
We also feel the excitement in the community that draws closer around him to hear him teach of an alternative LIFE. IT sounds like a way out of the hopelessness of their economic future. They delight in the way he can twist the challenges that come from the scribes and turn their own words against them, even using a Roman coin with Caesar’s face on it to point out the difference between Caesar’s Kingdom and God’s own.
We even begin to feel HOPE, that the Way Jesus describes CAN work, that we can gain power OVER the powers.

But there’s the sound of Pilate’s cohort marching up on the walls of the garrison. There are the demands of the world waiting right outside the doors of this church.
The sounds of two parades echo in our ears.
They lead us to two different paths, two ways of engaging the world.

ONE is the way of power and conquest that says ‘might makes right’ and money is power. This way rules OVER people, suppresses dissent, and refuses to hear the cries of the powerless – because it doesn’t have to.
The power of the Empire is greater than the need to listen.
Even life is taken and used for power’s own benefit.

The OTHER WAY, is a way of life that takes on power by refusing to value it.
This way lifts up every life, demanding equality of treatment, of resources for those deemed to be of no value in the Empire.
This way embraces even death, if it should come, knowing that God’s power is greater than death.

In Lent we repent of living in the wrong kingdom and of having pledged allegiance to the wrong Lord. Today, when we hear the sounds of two parades.
WE are confronted with the choice between kingdoms once again.

We can take a palm frond and leave here with the sound of Hosanna in our ears and forget we’ve seen a glimpse of the crucifixion, or,

IN this HOLY WEEK that lies ahead, we can enter life in the shadow of the cross.
We can Walk in Jesus’ parade, accept the weight of our cross, AND bear the opposition and wrath of the powers when we stand up against them. . .

We can lay our palm branches at the foot of HIS cross and take the FREEDOM HE GIVES us - into the world.


Melody said...

Great sermon! I wish I could have been there to hear it. Hope it went over well. <3!

RJ said...

this is really spot on - thank you. once easter is over (and I take a little break) let's try to reconnect re: mission and all the rest. blessings as holy week unfolds.