Palm Sunday, March 29, 2015
Peter: LAMAR, Judas: KEN, Mary Magdalene: ADA, Pharisee: BOB, Roman: JOHN
Jan: Throughout the course of human history, voices of peace have risen above the cacophony of violence …. echoing the Spirit of Divine love and it’s longing for harmony in the human community. Their insight often as close as our night-stand, their lives, words and wisdom captured in books that we keep nearby. Representing a variety of cultures and religions their voices reveal a single-minded devotion to God that transformed them from ordinary people into the saints, prophets, and spiritual guides we turn to today.
One voice rose above the frenzied crowd in Jerusalem …. a voice of one crying in the wilderness of despair amid the exultant hosannas and the cries of crucify. It was a voice of compassion that called forth universal understanding. It was a voice of confrontation that challenged the abusive practices of government, culture and religion. It was a voice of passion that revealed the depth of both pain and promise. It was a voice of lament for a nation that failed to understand the nature of the spiritual kingdom he had come to reveal within each of them and all of us.
The Palm Sunday story begins with a donkey in a field. It’s obviously an Episcopal donkey because it loves tradition. It lives in the same field, treads the same path, and eats at the same hour-day-by-day, year-by-year. Then one day, strangers enter the field, put a halter around the donkey and pull it away. Most donkeys would resist. If this donkey had been given the gift of speech, like Balaam’s ass in the Old Testament story, it might have resisted. Donkeys can be very stubborn. The donkey was taken to the place where Jesus was and clothes were put on its back. Had the donkey been able to speak it might have loudly objected that it was good enough as it was. It didn’t need dressing up
Jesus sat on the donkey. It had never been ridden before. Leave that to horses. The donkey might have done what donkeys do, reared, kicked, and thrown this person off.
Then the journey into Jerusalem began and the crowds cheered and gave a ticker tape reception (using palms & clothing instead). The donkey might have mistaken the cheers to be in honor and praise of donkeys! After all being a Jesus-carrying donkey was an extraordinary achievement. “A unique donkey am I,” this animal might have thought as it plodded along amid the crowds to an unknown destination.
( Enter, Peter, Mary Magdalene, Pharisee, Roman and Judas) Portions of this script by Rev. Kerry Greenhill, adapted by Jan)
“:In the beginning, we thought we knew everything. We thought a new age was dawning, that everything was about to change. We thought we knew who he was, what he intended to do, what he could do for us, what we would do with him. In the beginning, we were so full of hope and enthusiasm for God, who was making all things possible and new.
In the beginning, I thought I had nothing to offer. I knew my place in the world,
or out of it, since no one would come near me.
I thought things would always go on the way they had always been.
I heard men talking about Messiahs and revolution, but that had nothing to do with me. In the beginning, I was nothing, empty of everything but shame.
In the beginning, we weren’t that worried.
Sure, there were rumors about the peasant wonder-worker and his ragtag band of followers. But prophets and healers are a shekel a dozen, and this guy wasn’t connected to anyone important.
He was a minor nuisance, someone to keep an eye on, but no one to get worked up about. In the beginning, he didn’t even warrant a mention in the Council minutes.
In the beginning, I was glad to be assigned to Jerusalem. Pretty far from home, but a big enough city to see a little action now and then.
Not that I wanted people to get hurt, mind you, but festival crowd control
was a lot more interesting than enforcing tax collection.
The Jews were okay, mostly. A few troublemakers among them, like anywhere, but they’d already risen up and been put down before I got there.
In the beginning, I figured it’d be an easy job.
In the beginning, I thought we were on the same side. Or maybe, I thought I could be on his side. It was so exciting, being part of the cause, the movement, the revolution. Of course, that was just in the beginning.
I had never walked more than five miles from the town where I was born.
Where my father was born, and his father, and so on.
I had a good life, out on the lake; no guarantees, of course, and plenty of weeks when the nets weren’t full enough, but I knew who I was and what I was doing. It was enough for me. Until he came.
And once he started talking about fishing for people, about the kingdom of God that was breaking forth in our midst, about how the order of the world
wasn’t necessarily a sign of who God cared about the most or how it would always be, I knew I couldn’t go back.
I had never been part of anything before. You probably don’t know what it’s like. To be so trapped in your own head, your own skin, your own demon-tangled spirit, that you barely even notice what others say, or do, or expect.
But you do notice that you’re alone.
My parents did the best they could to keep me safe, to keep me from hurting myself or from being targeted by those who thought I would curse them somehow to be like me.
But I was always alone. And then he came, and I can’t explain it, but the voices, the buzzing, the circling died down. And I was clear.
And he invited me to follow him. And I knew I couldn’t go back.
It all changed when he went up on that mountain. Peter and James and John were the only ones who know what happened up there, and they never gave me a straight answer about it. But it was about that time he started talking about death – his death –and how before it was all over he would suffer, and be killed, for the sake of the Reign of God.
I hated hearing it – we all did –but when we tried to convince him we could keep him safe from those who were threatened by his popularity, he told us that safety wasn’t really the point.
We were hearing plenty of rumors by then, about what had happened to his cousin John, and that the Pharisees and the chief priests were worried about how the Romans would react if the people got riled up during the Passover festival. But there was no changing his mind.
We were going to Jerusalem, no matter the cost.
It all changed when they started moving toward Jerusalem
Of course, by then we’d had plenty of time to get concerned.
That Nazarene started attracting attention, not just among the hopeless and lowly, but the Romans started hearing about him, and Herod had been monitoring him too, ever since the whole John the Baptizer debacle. We’d confronted him before; it wasn’t his first rodeo, if you’ll pardon the expression.
We had challenged his teachings, trying to show the people that he was just another charlatan out for his own gain.
Unfortunately, he was extremely quick on his feet, and we usually ended up
looking more foolish than he.
It was so infuriating, and he seemed completely oblivious to the possibility of what the Romans might do if that crowd of his got a little too carried away and started rioting.
So this time, we had a plan. We would keep the peace for the sake of the people, no matter the cost.
The same things happen every year. The same people show up for the same ritual celebrations, telling the same stories they’ve always told. Honestly, I’d think it’d get boring.
At least where I come from there are dozens of gods to choose from, a million ways to pay homage and make up for whatever stupid things you’ve done.
But it all changed that Sunday, when Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, was entering the city with all his cavalry on the west side of Jerusalem, and this nobody from the northern backwaters rode a donkey into town from the east.
Guess which parade I got to cover? Not the big, important, fancy one, that’s for sure. But there was something about this guy, and the people who lined the roads to see him. From what I overheard, I guess there was some prophecy in their sacred scrolls about a king who would enter the city like that, a king who would bring peace to the nations. Kind of impressive, I guess.
Not that you’d catch me waiting by roadsides to cheer for the latest celebrity.
I’m no fanatic, no fool. You know, in spite of all the hoopla, I got the impression he wasn’t usually the kind of guy that makes a big show. He seemed kind of quiet, actually. Whatever.
When we came into Jerusalem, I saw that the people were with us. And as scared as I was, I wanted to weep with joy.
When we came into Jerusalem, I didn’t really understand what was happening. We were there for Passover, but he seemed to want to make a statement, too. It was kind of amazing, all those people, cheering, laying down the branches and cloaks in the road, like we were conquerors, like royalty, like we were somebody and we had finally arrived.
It was only later that we realized he’d been saying goodbye all along.
He was always a couple of steps ahead of us; he just seemed to understand the way the world worked and he knew he’d reached the end of the road.
In the beginning there were actually times when I found myself thinking,
“What if he’s right?” What if the law and the prophets are more about showing the loving-kindness of God to all people, than about setting Israel apart as a holy and separate people, kept pure through obedience to every detail of the law? What if God cares less about what is clean or unclean than whether the heart is dedicated to love? But that way creates chaos . What kind of religion, what kind of people can do away with the law? You start to ask questions like that, soon enough you’ve unraveled everything.
He started out on the wrong path, and now he’d reached the end of the road. [exits]
It was only later that I wondered if all those people with their cloaks and palm branches knew something I didn’t know. Saw something I didn’t see. I mean, the rest of that week went from bad to worse, and by Friday he looked anything but kingly. Still, there was something about him that made me wonder: what was he giving his life to? Was it worth it? All that suffering? And why did those women and fools keep following him, to the bitter end of that awful road?
In the beginning it was easy enough to follow. We had such hope.
He was so… inspiring. But it went downhill so fast. He became a danger to our people. And when I saw which way the wind was blowing, I actually thought he’d lost his way. Was he saving us or putting us in jeopardy? I wish… I wish it could have turned out differently. I wish I could have had more faith, or gotten out faster, or had the strength to see it through. As soon as I’d done it, I knew it was the wrong thing. But it was too late. There was no going back. And I couldn’t bear to face him ever again.
It was only later that I realized I was no different from the rest.
No different from the crowd, that cried “Hosanna!” on Sunday and “Crucify!” on Friday. No different from the Pharisees, who were watching out for themselves and the only way of thinking about the world they could imagine.
No different from the Romans, who knew what they wanted –orderly peace, unquestioned power –and didn’t much care what it took to achieve or maintain it.
I was no different even from Judas, though we were all shocked and disgusted that he would betray us all just for money. But what could I say?
I couldn’t even tell the truth about who I was or where I was from, what I was doing there or what I had given my life to. All I wanted to do, that Friday and Sabbath Day, was run away and hide. [exits]
In the beginning, it all seemed so clear and important.
I had never been part of anything, and I found my life with him, with all of them, traveling around together, seeing the way of God come alive in our midst. But it all changed so quickly.
We went to Jerusalem for Passover, remembering the night long ago in the days of Moses, when our children were spared and our oppressors suffered deeply. Why wouldn’t the Angel of Death spare Jesus? Now we are lost.
We have come to the end of the road, and he’s gone.
He seemed so pure and so holy, so full of love and life, I don’t think any of us believed it could possibly end this way.
Now there is nothing to do but wait until the Sabbath is over, and we can dress the body, and someone figures out what we do next. There are so many things we thought we knew. But now we have to rethink everything. [exits]” Script by Rev. Kerry Greenhill, adapted by Jan!)
What happened after the parade of palm branches and hosanna’s was most shocking and spine tingling. Jesus went into the temple and confronted authority….over turning tables and evicting corrupt merchants…creating quite a spectacle…having a temper tantrum….a rage of righteous indignation….when he saw that the authorities and merchants had turned the holy into the profane. He knew this confrontation of authority would seal his fate…guarantee his rejection.
His was a voice of anger….of outrage….. born out of deep sorrow.
Throughout his ministry, Jesus had criticized the corruption of authority, railed against the hypocrisy of religious leaders, and raised the voice of compassion for the downtrodden and oppressed. The desecration of the sacred temple was the last straw! He lost it!
Oppression, corruption, violence, greed confronts us still in 2015. That which is sacred and beautiful gets lost in the hype of the heinous, and we cry out still for a prophet of peace to save us. This much we know for sure…. we are called and empowered to continue his mission of peace….. to raise our individual and collective voices of compassion that all God’s people will live in the Light of freedom and love. Hosanna! God save us. Teach us again how to save ourselves!
POEM: JESUS WEEPING OVER JERUSALEM
There is but one face whose holy eyes
won’t turn away, but focus on us…. and weep…..
Jesus, you! ..like a mother hen yearning to gather us to you,but we would not…for we killed the prophets and stoned the messengers.
Now abandoned and empty,the stones of the temple
waiting to fall around our ankles, we still do not come to you, and , even now, you weep. ( Ann Weems)
We depart, not to betray, but to be vigilant…
to wait with the Spirit to watch what enfolds.
Help us stay awake to that which requires our attention:
injustice, oppression, violence of word or deed.
We will wait and walk with you,
challenged by darkness, upheld by intimacy…
in silence and community
infused with your Love
energized by your Spirit. Hosanna, Lord save us! Amen