April 14, 2019
Holy Wisdom Sunday Assembly
Today is Palm and Passion Sunday. We can’t reflect on all that in one homily, so this morning we’ll consider only the Palm Sunday event, Jesus entry in the city of Jerusalem. This is a crucial event in Jesus’ life, because it’s the bridge between his earthly ministry and his passion.
In their book, The Last Week, Marcus Borg and Dominic Crossan remind us that the word passion has two meanings—a religious one and a secular one. Religiously it refers to Jesus’ suffering and death. In secular language it means any consuming interest or commitment. Borg and Crossan point out that Jesus had two passions. The first was his passion for the coming of God’s reign on earth. He began his ministry by proclaiming, “The time is fulfilled, and the Reign of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.” Nearly all his teaching and actions were about God’s reign. Two weeks ago, we heard the parable of the Prodigal Son. The father in this parable embodies the radical forgiveness and love that defines life in the Commonwealth of God. Last Sunday’s Gospel was the story of Mary’s extravagant act of love. That act and the intoxicating fragrance with which it filled the room give us a glimpse and a whiff of life in the Commonwealth of God. I have had brief glimpses of this love in my own experience and I believe many of you have as well, which proves that it can and does really happen.
Jesus’ passion for the Reign of God on earth led inevitably to his second passion, his torture and execution at the hands of the Roman state and its Jewish priestly collaborators on charges of blasphemy and treason. If Jesus had just stuck to religion and offered his followers spiritual wisdom to get them out of this evil world of matter and into heaven, he would never have been executed. The Roman state tolerated all religions, as long as they didn’t change anything on earth, that is didn’t threaten the social, economic and political domination system that prevails in the world. But Jesus’ didn’t offer this kind of religious escape from the world. Quite the contrary, he announced the coming of God’s reign into the world, offered us glimpses of that reign, and invited us to join him in his mission to bring it nearer.
Jesus’ vision of God’s reign on earth and his actions embodying it collide with Rome’s vision of imperial society and its Jewish collaborators’ understanding of the way a proper theocratic society should be organized and run. This collision set off a conflict between Jesus and these authorities from the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry to its end. That conflict comes to a climax in the Palm Sunday processions and Jesus’ act of civil disobedience in the Temple the next day.
Borg and Crossan tell us that two processions entered Jerusalem on a spring day in the year 30. From the west, the Roman governor of Judea, Idumea and Samaria, Pontius Pilate, entered the city on a war horse at the head of an intimidating military parade. The governor’s procession was a panoply of imperial power. Cavalry on horses, foot soldiers, helmets, weapons, banners, sun glinting on metal and gold, the marching of feet, clinking of bridles and beating of drums. On the opposite side, Jesus entered the city from the East on a donkey, surrounded by a rag-tag band of peasants, strewing their clothing on the road and shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the son of David who comes in God’s name.” Pilate’s procession proclaimed the power and glory of Rome. Jesus’ procession proclaimed the coming of God’s nonviolent commonwealth of love. Luke’s Palm Sunday story suggests that Jesus had carefully prearranged this action as a counter procession. According to Borg and Crossan, these two processions, “embody the central conflict that led to Jesus execution.”
Now we come to the crucial question. What do these two processions into Jerusalem in the year 30 mean for us 2000 years later? These processions are paradigmatic. They open our eyes to see that the conflict between the Domination System and the Reign of God that they embody is still going on. One could argue that this struggle is the fundamental dynamic of human history. We Christians cannot be neutral in this struggle. We cannot be onlookers watching these processions go by. We must join the Jesus procession, share the vision of God’s coming reign on earth and seek to make it more real and visible. There are many ways to do this. On our honeymoon, Kathy and I visited a friend from my student days in England at the contemplative English monastic community he had joined. I was delighted to learn that this community was reading the books of Martin Luther King, Jr. at meal time and praying for the Civil Rights Movement. I was at midday prayers here at Holy Wisdom on April 4, the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination and was grateful that the prayers included a commemoration of his martyrdom. Contemplative communities are often in the front lines of this struggle in their own ways. Most of us are probably called to a more active engagement, but that also can take numerous forms. I would not presume to suggest to anyone how to work for the coming of God’s reign among us, but I believe we are all called to do so and to ask ourselves from time to time how we are doing it. When I examine myself, I discover many things that hold me back or undermine my energy and zeal for this task. One of those is that I often have a difficult time embracing Jesus’ hope for the coming of God’s reign on earth, especially right now in light of the daily news, and it’s hard to put your whole heart and soul into something for which you have little or no hope. So, I’m grateful that out Holy week journey does not end with Good Friday, but with Easter. Easter renews our hope each year and we certainly need this annual renewal of hope. May we open our hearts to let this Easter hope in and take it with us out into the world as we join Jesus’ in his mission to proclaim and model the coming of God’s reign among us.
Loving God, stir up in us Jesus’ passion for the coming of God’s reign on earth and inspire and empower us to be harbinger of that that reign in word and deed.
GOD IN MERCY, HGOD IN MERCY, HEAR OUR PRAYER
Liberating God, stir up your church throughout the world to follow Jesus’ example by boldly challenging the domination systems of the world when they oppress and exploit us, especially the Least among us.
GOD IN MERCY HEAR OUR PRAYER
Reconciling God, remembering Jesus words in the Sermon on the Mount, we pray for all our enemies, personal or political. Enlighten them and us with your Truth and help us find our way to one another even when we continue to disagree.
GOD IN MERCY, HEAR OUR PRAER.
For what else shall we pray
PAUSE FOR PRAYERS OF THE COMMUNITY
Gracious God, we bring to you all the requests in our Book of intentions and invite members of the Assembly to lift up aloud or silently the names of those for whom they wish to pray.
SILENCE FOR NAMES
GOD IN MERCY HEAR OUR PRAYER
Forgiving God, are Abba and Ama, hwe bring these prayers to you with confidence, because we know that you are gracious and the Lover of you have made.
THE PEACE OF CHRIST BE WITH YOU ALL
Let us offer those near us a greeting of peace.