Monday, April 06, 2009

Palm Sunday 2009 ... "What Triumph?"

Mark 11:1-11

There are a couple of items related to Mark’s text that should be noted. First, it is said by some scholars that Mark may be the first known Gospel text and that Matthew and Luke both used Mark as a reference. There is also a belief that a disciple named “Mark” may have actually been a disciple of St. Peter’s. Though I don’t know it can be proved, it is believed by some that “Mark” may have actually written this account as told to him by Peter which would give the account substantial credibility. Second, verse 10 of the text may be the truest indicator and best summary of exactly what was on the minds of those who were enthusiastically greeting Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem: “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!”

It finally comes down to this. Jesus is about to enter into the city of Jerusalem and is hailed as something of a conquering hero even though nothing has been conquered … at least not yet. What is worse is that the people who are greeting Him are very likely clueless as to exactly what is taking place or what is about to take place. What they do know is that they are Jews, and the pagan Romans are in charge of their lives and their homeland, the land once known as the “Promised Land”, the land of a Covenant. What they also know is that this Man coming into town on a donkey’s colt is the One often referred to as the “Son of David”, David being the late, great warrior king, the eagerly anticipated “ancestor” and protector of that “Covenant Land”.

What they also know is that theirs is a miserable lot in life living under the thumb screws of the overbearing and secular “state”, a “state” that does not share their values or their God, and they would like to see some changes. Serious, radical, and QUICK changes. For an anxious people of faith, scripture such as Psalm 37:7 should offer some solace: “Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him”, yet patience seems no longer an affordable luxury. And Scripture is not what these people want to hear. It is what they NEED, but it is not what they are after. The LORD is not what they desire at this moment unless the LORD is willing to agree with them and give them what they want.

“Hosanna”, translated, means “Save us, we ask”. It is an invocation of the people and should be a prayerful appeal to the Lord, but I don’t think this is true in this particular instance. And this parade is marked by these same people who are eagerly laying palm branches and even their cloaks on the road in front of Jesus and who are also calling out to Him, “Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord!” It would be easy to characterize this gathering as a prayerful event sort of like a revival, but I think such a characterization would be wrong, or at the very least, misleading. It is an event filled with hope and anticipation, to be sure, but what the people seem to desire – or expect - is not necessarily consistent with the will of the Lord because the true “enemy” has yet to be exposed. For the time being, the Romans will have to do.

So what is happening? This event which is unfolding, commonly referred to as the “triumphal entry”, has often been presented as a sort of “conquest”, a “triumph” as if something has been won. It seems to read as though Jesus is now “large and in charge” and masses of people are finally handing their lives over to Him, but events as they unfold will indicate anything but. We would like to believe that the “kingdom of heaven is at hand” but for all intents and purposes, nothing is really happening. At least, not what the people want or expect. And if we stop and think it through, nothing much really changed after Jesus’ crucifixion … at least not in Jerusalem and certainly not in the lives of those who would herald His arrival now and curse His presence later.

Humans are a fickle bunch, not much given to reason. And over the course of some 2000 years, this reality has not changed. And yet Jesus, knowing this, walked right into the big middle of it. Our own Bishop Crutchfield said it best: He had a decision to make. It was a fear-filled moment. He could give in to the fear and go home to Galilee, or He could trust God and go on into Jerusalem. He chose to trust God. The people gathered around Him like a surging ocean. The shouts of the crowd accented the power of the hope in their hearts. It was a demonstration of power the Romans hated and the religious leaders feared. It was a scene that could provoke a massive reaction. He had a decision to make. He chose not to give way to fear of reprisal. He chose to trust God.

Jesus was about to enter into a very dangerous world, a snake pit really, a world filled with hatred and violence. A world filled with weapons of destruction and men trained and willing to use them. A world in which only a handful of men could make decisions that would affect whole regions filled with people who were powerless to stop them. A powder keg of a world marked by a short fuse. And Jesus surely knew the Pharisees and other religious leaders were walking with a lighted match. It was only a matter of time before the anger, the fear, the hatred, the anticipation of better days that would not come soon, would be ignited.

Yet He pressed on. There was one simple focus that drove Jesus to press on even when He knew He had other options, options that would have saved Him, options that would have been far more pleasing to His physical self AND to those who truly loved Him. The focus, of course, was the Holy Father. It was not for the people who would call on Him and praise Him when they had need or hope but would turn on Him when their own desires were not fulfilled. There was no spite for these “fair weather friends”; only compassion, pity, and mercy. Yet it was still His love for and focus on the Lord God that moved Him forward.

In the Church calendar, we mark such days as if we were there. It is much easier to embrace, even appreciate such things when we can actually find a way to be a part of the whole experience. Yet it is also fair to say that even after hundreds of re-enactments of this fateful day throughout church history, not much has changed nor will it. After this worship service, we will pretty much go on about our lives as before and all will be well. As in Jerusalem, nothing will really change.

Why should it? Why should there be any change? It seems we have it all now. We can have our cake and eat it, too. We can declare our own salvation, and continue as before. No harm, no foul. Nothing much left to do. We can continue to insist that the will of God is best defined as that which pleases us. We can continue to contribute to weapons designed to maim and kill, we can continue to proclaim “In God We Trust” when in reality it is the money upon which such a cheesy motto is imprinted that we actually and truly trust. We can and will continue to fit the Lord in whenver we find the time … after we’ve done everything else. After we have first pleased ourselves and taken care of our own needs.

Yet in spite of this sea of selfishness and greed, we are offered the Blessed Sacrament of Holy Communion. We can choose to come forward and receive this wondrous gift, never truly understanding it, but perhaps appreciating it for what it is: a moment of complete and total union, we with one another and with our brethren around the world – and most certainly with Him who is seated at the Right Hand of our Heavenly Father. He who will, by the compassion of His own heart, grant to us the peace we so desperately need, forgive us our sins and our betrayal – IF we are truly penitent - and ask us to do better while He offers to us the strength of His Blessed and Holy Spirit to endure and persevere. And in the end, all He asks is for us to REMEMBER.

Until or unless we do, nothing will change. Now or ever

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