March 29, 2015
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
Palm Sunday. Only in John’s Gospel do they cut palms. In Mark, they are leaves from the field, in Matthew, branches from trees, and Luke has cloaks placed on the ground. So what is up with palms and why do they get the attention?
We have to go to the books few of us ever read, 1st and 2nd Maccabees. These are part of the apocrypha, secondary Biblical texts, used by the Catholic church and some Eastern churches. They are about the time between the Old and New Testaments, and describe uprisings by Israelites against pagans who were controlling Jerusalem at the time. They describe a foreign army in Jerusalem, and the siege that was laid against it. And when the besieged enemies surrendered, it says,
They carried palm branches [baion]
and praised God with all kinds of songs
and musical instruments.
God had completely crushed their powerful enemy!
This story is still swirling around in the memory of the people of Jerusalem: a great leader defeating the foreign powers that have claimed God’s holy city for their own. And these people are hoping, expecting, wishing, praying for a messiah to come and do to Rome what they have heard and read of the Maccabees.
And a colt? Riding into Jerusalem on the back of an animal when so many times Jesus simply walked everywhere he went. In Matthew and John’s Gospels, they quote the prophet Zechariah, about the coming of one who will destroy the armies and weaponry of warfare:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
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.
He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
and the warhorse from Jerusalem;
and the battle-bow shall be cut off,
and he shall command peace to the nations;
his dominion shall be from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
Some things to notice here:
- The king is already triumphant, even though the battle is not yet joined. He is calmly riding a colt, a donkey, rather than a warhorse, as if the victory is already in hand.
- The purposes of God will destroy the weapons of war. The battle bow was not for hunting to put food on the table, but to pierce armor. The chariot was not how you got your goods to market, it was a vehicle of war. These will be destroyed.
- He shall command peace to the nations.
So there are connections between Jesus, a dusty Galilean, riding a colt into the city, people waving palms around him and laying them down in front of him, and the memory and imagination of the people of a great military victory that will cast Rome out of Jerusalem, out of Israel, and command peace.
It need hardly be pointed out that if they were expecting a military coup under the leadership of Jesus of Nazareth they were sorely disappointed.
A telling moment is that at the end of this parade, when one might expect him to rally the troops and storm the bastions of imperial might, he looks around, and seeing that it is late, he returns to Bethany with the twelve.
What are we to do with such a strange scene? He rallies the crowd, he stirs up all of their nationalistic fervor and partisan hopes of the defeat of Rome and then he goes back to his hotel. It is clearly a public act that Jesus is performing. He is leading a demonstration.
Some have defined integrity as what we do when no one is watching. Stephen L. Carter defines it as what we do when everyone is watching. He says that there are three steps to integrity:
- Take the time to discern what is right.
- Do it publically so that people know what it is you are doing and why.
- It has to involve risk.
Whether or not we agree with his definition, he brings up some very important points:
- Having integrity requires thought and prayer over what we are doing.
- Yes, it requires integrity to do good things privately or without advertising them, and God bless all who do good acts without fanfare, but doing things publically and stating the reason also requires integrity.
- If there is nothing at risk, then no integrity is necessary.
The story of Palm Sunday is about Jesus facing down the empire, as all of the Gospels are, but it is also about Jesus showing us the nature of crowds, which will soon be calling for his crucifixion. I believe it is a story for his disciples, for us, about integrity.
Yes, the powers that be are a danger, but so are crowds. And if we are going to be the church, then we need to take the time to discern what it is we are called to do and to be, and then proclaim it publically. And it will be risky.
Did you know some still think of this as the country club church? Apparently the country club church label has outlasted the Country Club. Did you know some still think of us as the godless liberal gathering? Apparently they haven’t been here enough o complain about how long worship goes some Sundays.
So what if we spent time in thought and prayer, discerning who we are and what we are called to be, and then proclaimed it publically?
We are the church that when a liturgist came out to the congregation that he was gay, there was a spontaneous round of applause from the congregation. The same church that last week, when Dawn announced her one year anniversary with Bea gave another round of applause.
Do others who are worried about whether or not anyone can accept them know there is a place where they would not simply be family but also be reminded every week that they are loved by God?
Do people who do not fit in and are considering suicide know that there is a place where they are welcome at the table?
Or are we the best at keeping secret God’s message of love for all God’s children.
It would be a risk to come out and tell people who we are, whose we are, and whom we welcome. But then, integrity has always been risky. Or maybe if we see the risk, that lets us know that we might be on the path of integrity.
Thanks be to God. Amen.