Saturday, 16 April 2011

Yr A Palm Sunday sermon: the whole city was in turmoil

Sermon for Palm Sunday, in the Auditoire Calvin, Geneva...

texts: Matt. 21:1-11; Philip 2: 5-11

Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, o Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

The whole city was in turmoil, asking ‘who is this?’
Some said ‘Jesus’,
Others said ‘the carpenter’s son’ –
or, ‘the Nazarene’,
One joked and said:
‘Can anything good actually come from Nazareth?’
There were grins at that.
Crowds lined the cloak-strewn streets
A crushing, jostling mass of people,
Waving palm branches in the shimmering heat,
Shouting ‘hosanna, hosanna!’
As he rode in.

The whole city was in turmoil, asking ‘who is this?’
Some called him ‘prophet’
Others said ‘the new Elijah’
I didn’t know what to think:
Couldn’t quite pin him down.
Something seemed odd
Out of place.

In amidst the crowds, the palms
the heat and noise and excitement –
the weight of the crowd’s expectations –
in amidst it all,
he seemed strangely alone
a solitary man...
calmly riding into town for the passover,
listening to the roar of hosannas.
‘Hosanna, hosanna!’

I watched him, this man whose friends called him ‘teacher, rabbi’
And who even now, followed him along the processional route,
laughing,
joining in the cheers,
the excitement,
caught up in the moment
some of them singing the age old holy songs –
pilgrim songs of journeying to the temple to worship the Lord...
Their songs and cries mingling with the crowd:
‘hosanna, hosanna, hosanna!’

It was a crazy, busy, crowded time –
People thronging to the city carrying doves,
Tripping over stray animals
Being charged extortionate prices by the street vendors hawking dodgy looking meat,
or selling old vinegary wine warmed by the heat of the sun.
First-time pilgrims from the back of beyond
gawped in awe at the city,
suddenly stopping without warning
to have a closer look at this building,
or that market stall,
slowly plodding along the streets enjoying the atmosphere,
or anxiously hurrying, looking for a place to stay.

The whole city was in turmoil, asking ‘who is this?’
Some said ‘deliverer’.
Several shouted ‘healer – heal us!’
Some said ‘madman’
Some said ‘messiah’...
I ...held my tongue,
Listening to the cries:
‘hosanna, hosanna!
Watching the man who bore the weight of the crowd’s expectations.
Watching, as he rode in on a donkey.
A messiah...
On a donkey?

In the time of my grandfather’s grandfather
Another deliverer rode into Jerusalem
Palm branches waved
Cloaks covered the road...
Cheers sounded
Deliverance, victory, hung in the air:
Judas Maccabeus –
Judas ‘the hammer’ –
Rescuer of his people
Restorer of the temple...
But, he died,
And after an all too brief independence,
another empire filled the power vacuum.
Although free to worship
We were once again under the yoke of the oppressor.

Was it to lead us in an uprising against the Romans
that Jesus came to Jerusalem?
But what kind of uprising...?
The conquering hero,
the mighty longed-for,
hoped-for liberator
not riding proudly in to town on a horse dressed for battle,
but riding in, humbly, on a donkey.
It was an odd symbolism
A strange mis-match
Unexpected
And quietly challenging our assumptions.
‘Hosanna, hosannah!’
‘Free us! Save us!’

Save us from what?
Ourselves,
burdened with a vast storehouse of needs....?
Needing healing of body, mind and soul;
Needing hope to replace despair;
Needing a renewal of spirit;
Needing to rise up and be freed from corrupt puppet kings
propped up by foreign occupying powers? ...
Needing to mould and make this man conform to what we wanted him to be?...

The whole city was in turmoil, asking ‘who is this?’
I wasn’t sure who he was
Or what to call him
How to label him...
But it seemed to me he already had enough labels to last beyond any one person’s lifetime –
Already had enough to carry along that road:
The hopes
The needs
The agendas.
And so, I remained silent, in the midst of it all
watching him pass by,
wondering,
waiting to see what might come of it all....
wondering if the salvation he offered was actually the salvation being expressed by the crowds –
the salvation they wanted.
‘Hosanna, hosanna!’
And he was gone... ... ...

In Jerusalem, so long ago, at the time of the Passover,
the whole city had been in turmoil, asking ‘who is this?’
But underneath the buzz,
behind the festive atmosphere
was a society splitting and fracturing,
ill at ease;
simultaneously colluding with its enemy
whilst surreptitiously stabbing them in the back.
Political factions,
Religious factions,
And people just trying to get on with their lives...
And it was into this particularly volatile mix that Jesus rode ...
A place where people jostled for position, prestige and power, whatever the cost.
He had already managed to offend the religious sensibilities of the Pharisees,
with his unfortunate habit of healing people on the Sabbath,
his seeming lack of concern for purity laws;
talking to the untouchable – the outcasts:
lepers, tax collectors
giving honour to the disregarded:
women, children, Samaritans.

As his popularity grew, and crowds listened to him, he was also becoming a concern for the political power brokers of the day.
Was he yet another rabble-rousing rebel intent on bringing down the system?
As the self-interest of both the pious and the politicians began to merge together,
and the wheels of political machinations began to turn,
was it really such a surprise when the cheers turned to jeers,
when joyful shouts of ‘hosanna!’
became angry cries of ‘crucify him!’
The whole city was in turmoil, asking ‘who is this?’
And wondered what to do about this man in their midst. ... ... ...

Our whole world is in turmoil:
earthquakes rocking the very foundations of the planet;
waves washing people, towns and villages away.
People crying out to be saved:
to be liberated from the oppression of tyrants –
attempting to bring down governments.
And people, clinging onto power regardless of cost.
A world of banks collapsing, financial downturns, government cutbacks, job losses –
People crying out for security in the midst of instability;
People calling out for justice in the face of injustice;
And for fairness in the face of corruption.

Our whole world is in turmoil and perhaps in the midst of it all, we too wonder who Jesus is...
And how a man, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey 2 000 years ago could possibly have any relevance to where we are now;
how this man could possibly have anything useful to tell us about the politics of power,
or of where true security might be found?

And yet...
The very act of riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, not a war-horse,
was a rebuke against a ‘might is right’ mentality –
a reminder that power in and of itself is not bad, but that rather, the way in which we choose to use our power can have disastrous consequences: on the planet, on other people.

Riding into town on a donkey was a subversive act that turned the definition of power onto its head: the all-powerful creator of the universe demonstrating that true power is to be found in service:
Service to God, and to others –
a power that has at its heart utter vulnerability –
That powerful vulnerability seen in the incarnation:
Of God made human:
emptying himself:
Becoming a tiny scrap of human flesh born in a stable,
dependent upon the hospitality of the human heart to take him in...
Of God, made human:
challenging the power-brokers of his time by emptying himself upon a cross
and overturning the horror and power of death in the process.

Our whole world is in turmoil:
and into this broken, messy hurting world
Jesus rides still...
for, all who follow him are his body.
The sixteenth century mystic, Teresa of Avila,
put it best by noting:
Christ has no body now on earth but ours,
no hands but ours,
no feet but ours,
ours are the eyes through which to look out
Christ's compassion to the world
ours are the feet with which he is to go about
doing good;
ours are the hands with which he is to bless all now.

As Christ’s hands, feet, and body,
We are called to challenge systemic structures of sin and injustice – be it political, financial, or ecclesial;
As Christ’s hands, feet, and body,
We are called to be his compassionate community of care...
being at the margins with those dehumanised by the system
standing with the voiceless, the disregarded. The overlooked.
It’s easy to follow Jesus when we simply make him into the person we want to follow.
To mould him to fit around us,
around our needs,
around our expectations.
It‘s a different prospect,
a much harder task,
to follow the one who rides into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey moving steadily towards his death –
a much more frightening task to empty ourselves of our own definitions of power and allow ourselves to be powerfully and utterly vulnerable…
but we don’t do it alone –
we follow the one on the donkey,
we walk the same path as those who have followed him down through the winding years –
a holy company of pilgrims bound together in and through and by his love,
committed to sharing that love with others.

The whole city was in turmoil, asking ‘who is this?’
Our whole world is in turmoil…
And in the midst of it all…
Who do we say Jesus is…
And what impact will that make on our lives,
the lives of others,
And the life of the world? Amen.

1 comment:

Julie said...

thanks for this Nikki
really realy!
you have said what I wanted to say - only more eloquently!

like the thread of turmoil - it speaks to me - to life - to now

blessings x