Passion & Palms. April 9, 2017.
Matthew 21:1-11. Isaiah 50.4-9
It was a blue day, a Mediterranean day. The wind was dry-warm outside the city walls of Jerusalem. Crowds of people were coming to and fro. Some carried large baskets of fresh produce and drink. Others had fashioned their animals with sacks of grain and oil. Food coming to town to share with friends and family in preparation for the Passover feast.
A small group of rather cloth-tattered individuals stood back from the stream of people. They watched, arms empty of any goods, as friends greeted friends and family welcomed relatives to this time of celebration. A time to rejoice and share what little food there was. A time to heap onto Yahweh praise and thanksgiving for freedom found through great risk and profound loss. And even though the Hebrew people remained oppressed and victimized by new captors, they found in these Passover days, reason, however strained, to be thankful. But they had once again waited long enough, and hungered for emancipation.
A few in the small group grew excited in the parade of people. They became caught up in their own memories of Passover with family and friends. They were eager to join in and to share with others their cause for celebration. But their leader, the one who stood behind, watching, did not move forward. He remained still, eyes intent on the inner city. Some of his disciples, those closest to him, noticed his gaze. It was anticipatory, but solemn. There was not eagerness or thanksgiving in those eyes. They seemed filled with both longing and dread. His closest disciples grew in concern for their Master. Had what he’d been trying to tell them for months, really be true? Would this be his final Passover?
Would he leave them now, in the midst of their new story? No, surely they were here in Jerusalem to be a part of the celebration. To be welcomed and to feast and share further this new ministry. But Jesus’ eyes said otherwise.
It is said he rode on a young animal into the gates of the city. From the Hebrew Scriptures the Prophet Zechariah is quoted saying,
“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.” (Zechariah9.9).
Maybe he did ride in on a baby donkey, or maybe this Hebrew scripture has been put into Matthew’s gospel to convince an early church that Jesus was the Messiah. Whatever the reality, when Jesus comes into the gates of the city, he does not come in either triumphantly, or as a king.
He is a man waiting to be executed.
A man innocent of the crimes he has been accused of.
He is merely an upstart, a rebel, an original thinker, and for this he will die.
His last supper, our communion, our time at table, is the meal Jesus eats before he faces the executioner.
Jesus is a death row prisoner, marked by ignorance, and a political regime without integrity or compassion; he faces the hangman’s noose as an innocent man.
It is estimated that close to 30 % of all prisoners in our North American jails are innocent of the crimes they have been accused of and sentenced for.
Almost 1 in 3, that is an awful lot of people being held in institutions, which we admit, are not even suitable for the guilty. Rape, drug use, assault, sickness, threats, blackmail, and many other unsafe living conditions, haunt a number of the institutions in both Canada and the United States. And out of that 30 %, some will lose their lives to the death penalty that is still in effect in 31 states. Some will have their last meals alone, without friends or family, hoping for a miracle that will not come, as they wait on death row.
There were no miracles for Jesus. His life belonged to something greater then himself. His miracle is us.
How are we doing?
How are we continuing the ministry that began as a ‘way of life’ and over a matter of years became an organized institution of doctrine and dogma we call religion?
What do we need to do to return to that ‘way of life’, and leave institutional religion in the dust?
Holy week invites us to walk into Good Friday right alongside our Master and climb up on the cross with him. Something in us must die in order that resurrection happen. However we have chosen to journey through this Lenten time, now, at the beginning of Holy Week, we are invited, encouraged, by Christ himself to turn our hearts toward our cross and seek transformation. To look upon our lives and ask, what in me needs to go? What is holding me back? Even though by doing so we risk rejection, judgment, segregation and ridicule, our Christ-committed lives call us toward the work of God. Our church mates and neighbours might gossip, we may, from time to time feel pretty alone, but when we choose to see that the cross is an inevitable part of life and we accept it in our own lives, we are never alone.
We have curled ourselves up onto God’s lap, for our God is the cross, but also the generous wide arms that hold close all our crosses. The empty cross of Easter is meaningful because we suffer the Good Friday crucifixion.
Our walk on death row begins today. Jesus took advantage of his last days. He preached, prayed and gathered with his closest friends. He continued his ministry until the last minute. And by the time his execution day came, he was ready. So, although scared, alone and in unimaginable pain, he saw forward to what awaited him. New life, a new beginning and a world complete in God. This is our testimony.
Our faith rides the waves of this understanding.
To give up our lives to God, is to receive life from God.
An ocean of hope swirls under this possibility.
It is deep and cool, offering both an ending and a beginning.
Our way this week may be dark and heavy, but we walk it with a trusted friend. One who understands that we often feel weak and helpless.
To know and accept this, is a great beginning, perhaps the only beginning.
To reach Good Friday, ready to be broken in Christ,
is to awaken Easter Morning, transformed.
A new beginning to a new end: This is our resurrection story.