Monday, April 26, 2010

[sermon 20] Easter 4C - Shepherding Community

[This is the text I preached off of -- though definitely not the verbatim text that actually came out of my mouth; for that, click the mp3 link at the bottom if you want. The Scriptures were all an adaptation of the NRSV and The Inclusive Bible -- with Annie playing Marty Haugen's "Shepherd Me, O God" for Psalm 23 -- and are at the bottom, just before the audiolink.]

Easter 4C - April 25, 2010
Acts 9:36-43
Psalm 23
Revelation 7:9-17
John 10:22-30
Shepherding Community

Will you pray with me?
Jesus, three times you said to Simon Peter, the rock on whom you built your Church: "Do you love me? Feed my sheep." May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be filled with love for you and for each other, may they be food that will nourish and sustain us. Amen.
I promise not to rehash Sean's sermon from last week; I just love that particular bit of lectionary.

I'm not actually going to talk about sheep at all. When I first read today's lectionary, they seemed the obvious connecting thread -- except for the Acts passage -- and I think maybe my literature major self got stuck there. My friend Sophia, in contrast, after I'd told her about my lack of inspiration, read through the assigned lectionary texts and said: "I feel like there's something there, but it's sort of scattered and hard to get at beyond the obvious bent of the lectionary towards 'Jesus shows She is God by healing people, restoring them to community, and freeing them from fear and sorrow, and then bestowing on Her followers the ability to do the same.' "

I kinda just wanna leave it at that and sit down now 'cause that preaches all on its own, but that's a bit of a cheat. So let's dig into this idea a bit more.

Jesus restores people to community and empowers Her disciples to do the same. Okay, that's not exactly what Sophia said, but it's equally true.

At Lenten morning prayer this year at First Church Somerville, UCC, we read through most of the Gospel of Mark, and so when I read, "Tabitha, get up," in today's reading from the Book of Acts, my first thought was of Jesus saying, "Talitha, cum" -- "little girl, get up" (Mark 5:41).

That story is actually strikingly similar to the Acts story we read today. In Mark we read, in part:
They came to Jairus' house and Jesus noticed all the commotion, with people weeping and wailing unrestrainedly. Jesus went in and said to them, "Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping." At this, they began to ridicule Jesus, and Jesus told everyone to leave. Jesus took the child's mother and father and those who had come with Jesus and put them outside and entered the room where the child lay. Taking her hand, Jesus said to her, "Talitha, koum!" which means, "Little girl, get up!" Immediately the girl, who was twelve years old, got up and began to walk about. At this they were overcome with amazement. Jesus strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat. (Mark 5:38-43)
Both times, those who loved the deceased woman are weeping and mourning, and someone begs a healer to come, and having arrived, the healer sends everyone else away and invites the deceased to rise -- as if she had only been sleeping. The healing occurs one-on-one, in private. But after the person is restored to life, the rest of the community re-encounters her. Being restored to life means also being restored to community.

Tabitha, or Dorcas, is identified as a disciple, and my HarperCollins NRSV Study Bible says that this is the only time in the entire New Testament that the female word for "disciple" is used. That's kind of a big deal.

But restoration to community doesn't only happen to "good" people.

The Acts passage last week was the story of Saul's conversion. In persecuting those perceived to be heretics, Saul was serving God the best way Saul knew how. But God appears to Saul in a vision of the Risen Christ and says, "You're persecuting ME."

Christ doesn't just convert Saul on the spot, though. Christ incapacitates Saul and then sends the disciple Ananias to heal Saul.

Ananias, knowing Saul's history of persecuting followers of the Christ, says, "Are you kidding me? This person has authority to KILL us and you want me to not only bring myself before this person but also to bring this person back to full capacity?"

And Christ says to Ananias, "Go anyway. Saul is the instrument I have chosen to bring my Name to Gentiles, to rulers, and to the people of Israel" (The Inclusive Bible).

The resurrection of Tabitha comes in between the story of Saul -- who after his conversion will continue to declare his strong Jewish credentials in many of his letters -- and the story of Peter's vision of clean and unclean food -- the beginning of Peter's ministry to the Gentiles.

Joppa is one of the oldest port cities in the world -- now known as Jaffa, in Tel Aviv.

Port cities are liminal places, right?

Tabitha is singled out both in the Book of Acts and in the lectionary as someone whose discipleship is particularly remarkable. So in some ways we could see her as an "insider" in the early Christian movement.

But she's also identified with both an Aramaic and a Greek name. My friend Sophia wondered whether she was mixed-race, or mixed-identity in some other way. What liminal spaces does she occupy, living here on the edge of the land, known by two different names? Sophia suggested, "There are lots of ways for her to have trouble communicating her whole self to the people around her."

In my reflection the first week of Easter, I reminded us that resurrection changes things -- the risen Christ is not the same as the human Jesus who was crucified. Coming out is also a resurrection idea. We emerge from the oppressive darkness that has kept us from full life and we are transfigured, able to be transparent to the ground of our being, to shine with the light of divine love.

I don't think that any of us are empowered to literally bring people back from the dead, but we are empowered to help people communicate their whole selves to those around them.

In our Welcome here at Cambridge Welcoming Ministries, we often say: "You are welcome here not 'in spite of' who you are, but because of who you are." We invite you to bring your whole self, and hopefully the practice of doing that every week here strengthens us to do that out in the world the other six and a half days a week -- to be honest about our whole selves and to be open to the whole selves of other children of God, including the parts we maybe don't personally like so much in ourselves and in each other, to create a safe space where people can BE their whole selves.

A pastor recently commented to me that being present with people is the essence of pastoral care. Reflecting on that later, I thought about how being present with people in a truly genuine and loving way enables them to be their authentic selves, to live into the fullness of who God created them to be.

And so in these resurrection stories, the healer is genuinely attentively present with the other person, and is empowered to restore them to individual life and to community life, and I think implicitly to a life that is richer and fuller than the one they had before.

In today's Acts passage, we hear that because of Peter's action, many came to believe in Jesus Christ.

They didn't come to believe in Peter -- who was the one who actually showed up in the flesh and raised this woman from the dead. They came to believe in Jesus Christ. They saw the power that Peter had, the power to restore to abundant life, and they gave their hearts to the Source of that power and love. For "credo," which we translate "believe," doesn't mean an intellectual assent to a set of propositions but rather to give one's heart to.

The Mark story I recalled for us earlier contains one of many instances of Mark's Messianic Secret -- Jesus saying, "Don't tell anyone about this." There are a lot of possible explanations for Mark's Messianic Secret, and one of them is that Jesus wanted the focus to be on the good work that was being done, not on the particular human being who was doing it.

In some ways, I think today's John reading echoes the Messianic Secret. People keep hounding Jesus to proclaim, "I am the Messiah," and Jesus says, "You don't get it, do you? You seek declarations in words, but my deeds testify to who I am. It's not about the titles bestowed on me, but about what I do."

Throughout Eastertide we read excerpts from the Acts of the Apostles. Not the "statements of belief" of the apostles. Not the "codified doctrine" of the apostles. But the Acts of the apostles.

In the book Loving Jesus, Mark Allan Powell proposes that "The mission of the church is to love Jesus Christ; everything else is just strategy" (178). And last week's lectionary reminds us that we do this by feeding each other.

A commentary I once heard on the 23rd Psalm that really stuck with me was on the ambiguity of "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies." That the intuitive interpretation is that you get to have a table prepared for you while your enemies look on, displeased at your good fortune, with an implication that your enemies are not partaking of this bounty -- because they're the defeated foe. But what if you were all at table TOGETHER?

This table here, this Communion table, is open to ALL.

That table over there, those tables we will bring out for dinner after our worship service is over, those tables are open to ALL.

There's a quotation I'm always attributing to Corrie ten Boom, but the Internet informs me that the correct attribution is Joanna Macy, a Ph.D. in comparative religion. The quotation is, "The heart that breaks open can contain the whole universe." Apparently the source is a meditation exercise she developed to help people respond to the world's pain. Describing an exercise called "Breathing Through," she writes, "If you experience an ache in the chest, a pressure within the rib case, that is all right. The heart that breaks open can contain the whole universe. Your heart is that large. Trust it. Keep breathing."

Have you ever had that feeling that you feel like your heart is so full -- be it with sorrow or with joy -- that it's going to break your very chest open?

I wonder if that's what God feels like all the time.

God so loved the world that God Incarnated to be with us more fully, and the Incarnate God suffered as humans suffered, even unto death, and conquered death so that we might all partake of the abundant life that God has always desired for us. This is the joyous mystery we celebrate every Easter, every Sunday, and every day. And part of this mystery is that we are empowered to continue Christ's work -- to conquer the forces of death and bring people, ourselves included, into life abundant.

Today's Revelation passage originally says, "washed in the blood of the Lamb," which I suspect you already knew. One of the things that this church, with its discomfort with blood atonement theology, has taught me is to swap out "love" for "blood" in, for example, hymns. You might be surprised at how little this changes the meaning. For God, in the incarnate person of Jesus the Christ and always, pours out abundant love for us.

And Divine Love is sufficient to make anything new -- to make clean and fresh that which has been stained by suffering and pain.

And there is a way in which divine love is poured out like blood shed, because God suffers with us. When we are wounded, God is wounded, too. This reminder both comforts us when we feel alone and also reminds us not to hurt others, for they are beloved children of God just as we are.

Carolyn reminded me that this is Earth Sunday. We are reminded in today's lectionary readings that God's kindom includes green pastures and still waters. God's kindom is a place where no one will suffer scorching heat but will be led to springs of the water life. God's kindom is a place where no one will hunger or thirst.

We're called to bring about that kindom here on Earth. We are called to prepare tables of abundant welcome. We are called to protect all inhabitants of the planet from heat that scorches and kills. And we are called to do all this in love.

And so I send you forth, assured in the love that God has for you, and challenged to share that love with all.


Acts 9:36-43

36Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. 37At that time she became ill and died. They washed her body and laid her in an upstairs room. 38Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two messengers to Peter with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” 39So Peter got up and went with them, and upon arriving was taken to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside Peter, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. 40Peter put all of them outside, and then knelt down and prayed. Peter turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. 41Peter gave her a hand and helped her up. Then calling in all the saints -- including the widows -- Peter showed her to be alive. 42This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in Jesus Christ. 43Meanwhile, Peter stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.

Revelation 7:9-17

9After this I looked, and there was a great multitude beyond number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

13Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?”

14I said to the elder, “You are the one that knows.”

Then the elder said to me, “These are the ones who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the love of the Lamb. 15For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship day and night within the temple, and the One who is seated on the throne will shelter them. 16They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; 17for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

John 10:22-30

22At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23and Jesus was walking in the Temple area, in the portico of Solomon. 24The Temple authorities gathered around Jesus and said, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

25Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Parent’s name testify to me; 26but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 27My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29What my Parent has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Parent’s hand. 30The Parent and I are one.”

audiofile: download or stream (21.4MB, 15:34min)

Monday, April 12, 2010

[sermon 19] Easter 2C - Wounded Healer

[written as if preached on the actual date]

Easter 2C - April 11, 2010
Acts 5:12-16
Psalm 118
Revelation 1:9-19
John 20:19-31
Wounded Healer

Last Sunday, my friend Cole commented, "During the Easter season, we read from the Acts of the Apostles, the only book in the Bible aside from the Gospels and Revelation to actually include Jesus as an explicitly present character."

In fact, each Sunday in Eastertide we read from Acts AND Revelation -- no Old Testament reading other than the Psalm, no Epistle.  Our daily lectionary gives us great Old Testament stories of triumph -- David and Goliath, Esther, etc. -- but we don't read any of them on Sundays.

Last Sunday, Cole commented on Easter Sunday being as much the birthday of the Church as Pentecost is -- perhaps moreso, with Pentecost being "more of a coming into adulthood than a birth."

And so our Eastertide lectionary offers us glimpses of the toddling, gurgling, early church.

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day -- the Jewish observance of Yom HaShoah.  Or tomorrow, rather, as it never falls on a Sunday.

It's the 27th of the Jewish month of Nisan.  Sixty years ago, when the date was being decided, Orthodox Jews disliked the positioning of a day of mourning during a traditionally joyous month.

But Jews, like all humans, know that grief is not bound by lectionary dictates, that sadness falls in even the happiest times.

So too, our Easteride, our season of Resurrection, is not without pain and sorrow.

The disciples encounter the risen Christ; but Thomas, who was not present for this encounter, is skeptical of their story.

Thomas says, "I will not believe until I have put my hands in the Crucifixion wounds."

Thomas does not say, "I will not believe until I hear again the voice of this One who loved me for so long."

Thomas does not say, "I will not believe until I again experience the charisma of this One who lived life so attuned to the rhythm of the Holy."

Thomas isn't looking for the Divinity Incarnate, the perfected humanity they all followed for so long.  Thomas is looking for a broken body.  Thomas wants proof that this is the One who suffered on the Cross.  Thomas says, "If you want me to believe that the Beloved One has conquered death, then I need proof that this One really did suffer death as all humans do.  If this One came back unscathed, then that is not a true journey.  If Jesus isn't scarred by that trauma -- isn't irrevocably changed -- then how can Jesus' suffering mean anything to me?"

The story of Thomas reminds us that we believe in the resurrection of the body.

The risen Christ still bears the physical wounds of the Crucifixion.

The Revelation passage, however, reminds us that Divinity is far beyond our human comprehension.  I'm using the Roman Catholic lectionary option because I like it better today, but it erases part of John of Patmos's opening description of the Child of Humanity, so I'm revising it to put that back in.
I, John, your sibling who share with you in Jesus the persecution and the kindom and the patient endurance, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.  I was in the spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, "Write in a book what you see and send it to the seven churches [...]."  Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands I saw one like the Child of Humanity, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across hir chest.  Hir head and hir hair were white as white wool, white as snow; hir eyes were like a flame of fire, hir feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and hir voice was like the sound of many waters.  In hir hand ze held seven stars, and from hir mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and hir face was like the sun shining with full force.  When I saw hir, I fell at hir feet as though dead.  But ze placed hir hand on me, saying, "Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living one.  I was dead, and see, I am alive forever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of the underworld.  Now write what you have seen, what is, and what is to take place after this."
I love the intensity of this imagery -- so much light and metal, so much power.

I have become this person who has become uncomfortable with masculine pronouns for the Godhead (though an assortment of gendered pronouns in quick succession is fine -- we are created in the image and likeness of God, so God has many many genders), but gender-neutral pronouns seem particularly appropriate for this vision.  John has a vision of the Second Person of the Trinity, a vision, as The Inclusive Bible says, of "a figure of human appearance" (Rev 1:13).  Of human appearance but decidedly not human.  Beyond human.  This is the Second Person of the Trinity, after all.

Just after the lectionary ends, we would have read the Alpha and the Omega saying to John, "As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches" (Revelation 1:20).

In chapters 2 and 3, we read these letters.  Each opens the same way: "To the angel of the church in [thus-and-such place] write: These are the words of [so-and-so]:"

Each letter names the figure who is speaking to John in a slightly different way.

The Inclusive Bible articulates them as follows:
"The One who holds the seven stars in hand and walks among the seven gold lampstands" (2:1)
"The First and the Last, who died and came to life" (2:8)
"The One with the sharp, two-edged sword" (2:12)
"The Only Begotten of God, who has eyes like a blazing flame, and feet like burnished bronze" (2:18)
"The One who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars" (3:1)
"The One who is holy and true, who holds the key of David, who opens what no one can close, who closes what no one can open" (3:7)
"The Amen, the Witness faithful and true, the Source of God's creation" (3:14)

The Divine is so far beyond our comprehension.  What does it mean to say that someone is "the Amen"?  "Amen" means certainty, means truth.  It's used as a responsory indicating assent, and I often think of it as meaning, "So let it be written [or stated], so let it be done."  Easton's 1897 Bible Dictionary says of "amen," "It is found singly and sometimes doubly at the end of prayers (Ps. 41:13; 72:19; 89:52), to confirm the words and invoke the fulfillment of them" [].

So what is the Word that the Risen Christ is confirming and fulfilling?  Well, the Christ *is* the Word.

In John, we read about the risen Christ twice appearing to the disciples in a locked room.  Christ says, "Peace be with you."  Christ's "Amen" is peace.  In the midst of our fear and uncertainty, including our fear and apprehension following trauma and tragedy, we are always offered the peace of our Rock and our Redeemer.

The risen Christ next tells the disciples, "As our Father and Mother, our God and our Creator, has sent me, so I send you" (John 20:21).  Earlier in the Gospel of John we would have read Jesus saying to the disciples, "Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Divine Parent" (John 14:12).

In Acts, we read that many came to the apostles and many came to believe.

People came to the followers of Jesus, because the apostles brought real healing.

After Jesus says, "I send you," we read: "Having said this, Jesus breathed on the disciples and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained' " (John 20:22-23).  I still don't entirely know what to do with this whole forgiving/retaining sins thing -- one of the most appealing aspects to me of Divine Grace is that my forgiveness is not dependent upon other humans who can be flawed and petty.  But this Lent I read Richard Horsley's Jesus and Empire, and Horsley talks about Jesus' releasing people from sin as being part and parcel of the many ways in which Jesus released people from that which oppressed them.  Recall the story (also from John -- Chapter 9) where Jesus and the disciples encounter someone who was blind from birth, and the disciples ask Jesus, "Rabbi, who sinned that this person was born blind -- the child or the parents?" and Jesus answers, "Neither this person nor this person's parents sinned."  Horsley writes:
    Galileans and others of Israelite heritage explained their suffering as punishment for their own or their parents' sins in violation of covenant commandments.  As Jesus heals his paralysis, he declares to the man lowered into the house by his friends, "son, your sins are forgiven" (Mark 2:1-9)---thus freeing up the life energies that had previously been introjected in self-blame and dysfunctional paralysis.
    (p. 109-110)
The Acts passage we read doesn't say anything about the apostles forgiving or retaining sins.  Instead we read that, "A great number of people would also gather from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all cured" (Acts 5:16).

The disciples received the Holy Spirit.  The same Spirit which sustained Jesus' own life and ministry now moves through them.

And so they go out and heal people.  The Risen Christ finds them in a locked room, hiding from those who would persecute them, and today we find them, in the Book of Acts, together out in Solomon's Portico.  Apparently no one else dared to join them, but the people held them in great esteem.

Sometimes we feel very lonely and abandoned -- out there all on our own.  But often we have support we don't even realize.

We are called out of the closed rooms in which we are hiding -- called out into the towns around the Holy City, to cure those who are sick and tormented.  We have encountered the Risen Christ, we have been empowered by the Holy Spirit, and we are called to bring that new resurrection life to the world.

We are called to proclaim peace and liberation, healing and abundance.

We, who still bear the marks of our own sufferings -- perhaps not as deep or as visible as the wounds of the Risen Christ, but marks all the same.

We are called to be vessels of God's healing.

Returning to Psalm 118 for the third Sunday in a row, we read:
God is my strength and my might and has become my salvation. (14)
I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of my God. (17)
God has punished me severely, but did not give me over to death. (18)
God, I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.
This is God's doing; it is marvelous to behold.
This is the day that our God has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. (21-24)

Friday, April 9, 2010

[18.2] Easter Sunday (1C) - "Why do you look for the living among the dead?"

[written as if preached on the actual date]

Easter C - April 4, 2010
Isaiah 65:17-25
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
I Corinthians 15:19-26
Luke 24:1-12
"Why do you look for the living among the dead?"

"Why do you look for the living among the dead?"

Why do we seek the wells of salvation, the water that will never leave us thirsty, in a graveyard?  Why do we torture ourselves hanging on to that which was and that which might have been, when up ahead of us beckons the risen Christ, calling us forth into new life?

I've talked a lot this Lent about letting go of that which does not nourish me, of that which does not give me life.

On Easter morning we visit the tomb where we laid to rest the broken body of the One we thought would save us.  This One is dead, can no longer save us, but still we return.  Where else would we go?  Perhaps we just want to honor this One who meant so much to us, who touched our lives so powerfully.  Perhaps in our deep grief we have that desperate hope that we will find that the past few days have been only a bad dream.

And this is a good thing -- honoring our grieving.  We anoint the dead body with sweet-smelling spices, because bodies matter.  We attend to the tombs of those who have gone before us to say, "I have not forgotten you.  The effects of your life did not cease when you breathed your last."

And sometimes it is in graveyards that we find peace -- that we are able to reconnect with the spirits of those who have gone before us in ways we can't do so in the noisy hustle of everyday life.

But we do not actually find our loved ones in graveyards.

We must not seek the living among the dead.

Yes, living water will spring up anywhere -- this morning we recalled that God fed the Israelites in the desert with water from the rock.

But we are called out into life.

There's an old hymn that goes: "We serve a risen Savior -- [S]he's in the world today."  We serve a risen Savior.  And Christ is in the world today.

We are Christ's body in the world.  The body that was broken on Good Friday has been re-membered in us, the Church universal.

Teresa of Avila wrote:
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which [Christ] looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which [Christ] walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which [Christ] blesses all the world.
Christ has no body now but yours
We are the Body of Christ in the world -- co-creating God's vision of peace and justice for all.

At Cambridge Welcoming's Good Friday service, the cross on the altar was draped with black mesh, which reminded me of nothing so much as a widow's veil. And so if Christ is the one who is mourning, then it is Christ's bride -- the Church, that is to say, us -- who is wounded.

So often we cannot find our way out of these graveyards, and Christ mourns for us.  Mourns for Her lost sheep who cannot hear Her calling their name, who cannot see Her light beckoning them on, who cannot feel that sweet tug of Spirit leading them through the garden.

The angels proclaim, "Do you not remember?  You were told that this is what would happen.  There would be death, but there would also be resurrection."  Yet how often are we like the eleven and the rest, thinking this merely an idle tale?

We are called to be witnesses to resurrection.

On the first day of the week, in the deep dawn, the women came to the tomb, and they found that that which was to keep it safe from all who would defile the memory laid there had been rolled away, and the One whom they came to honor was gone.  And the light of the Word of God came upon them, and they bowed their faces to the ground, and words filtered into their understanding through their fear -- "Why do you seek the living among the dead?  The One you seek is not here but has been raised.  Remember?  You were told that this would happen.  You knew."  And the women remembered.  And they told those others who were mourning Jesus.  They proclaimed the Good News to those who most needed to hear it.  And they were not believed.  But Peter got up and ran to the tomb.

Even when we are not believed, sometimes our words have an effect -- sometimes they still move people to resurrection despite their dismissal of us.

We are called to proclaim resurrection truth.

Which means we have to know the resurrection ourselves.

When we are in the graveyard we have to be able to recognize the presence of those light-bearers -- those whom we in no way expected to encounter.  We have to be able to receive their message.  We have to be able to move through our deep grief, to cast back into the waters of our memory and dig out some of the buried truths that we know -- for our grief is true and real and valid, but it is not the only truth we know.

Last year, Tiffany exhorted us to "practice resurrection."  She talked about how resurrection is not resuscitation, is not just breathing life back into the old, but is rather a radical transformation.

I've talked a lot in Lent about how it's scary and difficult to let go of our old ways, but that God calls us to do so because God has such newer and greater things for us.

Through the prophet Isaiah, God says, "I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating."  No more shall anyone have cause to weep or be distressed.  No one shall die in infancy -- all will live to healthy old age.  People shall live in the dwellings they build, shall eat of what they have planted -- no longer will people be sharecroppers, feeding someone else's luxury while living in scarcity themselves.  People shall enjoy the work of their hands.  This new Creation does not mean the end of labor -- but it means the end of labor that is not fulfilling.

The apostle Paul says, "If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied" (1 Cor 15:19).  If we thought that Jesus was going to overthrow the Roman government, to become a new king like all our earthly rulers only better, we are so so mistaken.  We saw this King of the Jews nailed to a tree like so many other rebels against the Roman Empire before and since.  We heard the taunts and jeers directed at this One as death drew closer through the pain and anguish.  We saw the disciples huddled in the distance, scared to be associated with this One.  We felt the midday darkness descend and the veil of the Temple rent in half.  This was not a triumphal earthly revolution, but it was an overthrow all the same.  God has not come to make the best out of broken systems, but to effect radical transformation -- like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly.

According to Wikipedia, there are two main types of metamorphosis in insects -- a gradual kind where the youngster is a smaller, less-developed, form of the adult; and a complete kind where the youngster is wholly transformed.  Wikipedia cheerfully informs me that insects which undergo this complete metamorphosis "pass through a larval stage, then enter an inactive state called pupa, or chrysalis, and finally emerge as adults. [...] Whilst inside the pupa, the insect will excrete digestive juices, to destroy much of the larva's body, leaving a few cells intact. The remaining cells will begin the growth of the adult, using the nutrients from the broken down larva."  That is some radical, radical change.

And perhaps this is some of what the anguish of Good Friday, and the quiet fearful waiting of Holy Saturday, are about.

All that we had before is turned into pulp -- but from those nutrients grows something new, something more mature, something with capabilities its predecessor never dreamed of.

Two weeks ago, on Lent 5, I commented that: In Trina Paulus' book Hope for the Flowers, we learn that in order to become a butterfly, "You must want to fly so much that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar."

On Easter Sunday we are confronted with an empty tomb.  All that we thought we had known and loved is gone.  But there is something new in its place.  For we are never abandoned, we are never forsaken.

We return today to Psalm 118, which we read some of last week, on Palm Sunday.  Both Sundays we are exhorted:
O give thanks to God, for God is good; God's steadfast love endures forever!
Let Israel say, "God's steadfast love endures forever."
Know, believe, and proclaim, that God's love endures forever -- endures even through death.

Paul tells us that for as all die in Adam and Eve, so all will be made alive in Christ (1 Cor 15:22).

The resurrection truth is for ALL people.

The resurrection is for you, and for me -- for all who are gathered here this moment and for all who are not.

Receive again this message of Easter hope.  Receive it, and believe it, and stake your life on it.

Live the resurrection -- being a witness for all who need it.


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

[18.1] Easter Wednesday reflection - "It's spring, even at night."

Weeks ago, Keith invited me to offer the Reflection at Rest and Bread on this date.  It took until late this afternoon for this sermon to finish coming together, but as I've been writing catchup sermons in recent weeks, I've come to appreciate that a sermon I write today I couldn't have written last week or last month, that things happen that inform my engagement with a particular text, and that sermons don't have to be posted on the exact Sunday their lectionary is for.  My friend Scott said a while ago (IIRC), that a foxtrot is still beautiful even when it's to waltz music -- that I don't have to keep exactly to the lectionary calendar.  (Though this is one of the daily lectionary readings for today -- which is why I picked it in the first place.)
John 20:1-18

1Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.  2So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken Jesus out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid the body.”  3Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb.  4The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.  5That disciple bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but did not go in.  6Then Simon Peter came, following the other disciple, and went into the tomb.  Peter saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself.  8Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and saw and believed; 9for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that Jesus must rise from the dead.  10Then the disciples returned to their homes.

11But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb.  As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet.  13They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”  She said to them, “They have taken away my Jesus, and I do not know where they have laid the body.”  14When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.  15Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?  Whom are you looking for?”  Supposing this person to be the gardener, she said, “Please, if you have carried Jesus away, tell me where you have laid the body, and I will take it away.”  16Jesus said to her, “Mary!”  She turned and said in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).  17Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Parent.  But go to my siblings and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Parent and your Parent, to my God and your God.’”  18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Christ”; and she told them that Jesus had said these things to her.

(NRSV, edited)
"Do not hold onto me."

Jesus calls Mary of Magdala by name, and she responds in recognition, and then the next words the risen Christ proclaims to her are: "Do not hold onto me."

The whole point of Easter is that even death cannot keep Christ from us -- that She loved us so much that She passed through even death to bring us through to salvation with Her.

Easter, more than of the other holy days, is about abundance.

We vigil through the night.  We hear again the story of how God created the heavens and the earth and everything in them -- the seas and the lands, the plants and the animals, the fish and the birds, humankind --  and proclaimed ALL of Creation GOOD.  We hear again the story of how the Israelites just freed from Egypt cried out "It would have been better for us to be slaves to the Egyptians than to die here in the wilderness," and in response God proclaimed "The captors whom you see today you will NEVER see again" and parted the sea so that the Israelites could cross through, never again to taste Egyptian slavery.  We hear again the story of the prophet Ezekiel's vision of dry bones growing sinew and flesh, moving once again with the breath of God -- of the whole house of Israel being brought up from the grave.  And after hearing all those stories, perhaps we commemorate the sacrament of baptism -- welcoming catechumens into the new and abundant life that is the Body of Christ.  And it is at that moment -- after we welcome the newly baptized into the Body of Christ that is the Church universal, that we declare, though it still be dark night on Holy Saturday, "Alleluia.  Christ is risen!"  (Audience: "Christ is risen indeed!  Alleluia.")  We have increased the wholeness and fullness of the Body of Christ, and in that way we resurrect the Christ anew.  The dark of Lent is over and the light of Easter is come.  Having baptized this catechumen in a dark sanctuary, we now turn on all the lights -- for our light has come.

Some hours later, we greet the rising sun (with a "u") with alleluias for the risen Son (with an "o").

We co-opted a pagan celebration of spring for this holy day of ours [edit: or possibly we didn't].  We consume foods rich with fat and sugar -- those things that we have been lacking all Lent because in our forebears' time, here in the Northern Hemisphere, we wouldn't have had any this late in the winter -- fat and sugar in the shape of bunnies and eggs, more symbols of fertility.

The weary world rejoices that death does not last forever -- that life always triumphs over death, life abundant and life everlasting.

The One who has loved and led us returns, to love and lead us for all eternity.

And yet the Christ who has, in some traditions, literally been to Hell and back on our behalf, says, "Do not hold onto me."  I have work yet to do, work I cannot do if I stay here with you in the way that I was with you before.

I've talked a lot this Lent about letting go of things.  Things that do not feed us, that do not give us life.

I find it interesting that the Easter story is about letting go of our leaders, of our saviors.

I will soon be saying goodbye to my second pastor in less than six months.

It doesn't really make me feel any better to know that Mary had to say goodbye to someone who was so much more to her than Tiffany or Laura Ruth have been to me.

John is not especially helpful here.  We just hear that "Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, 'I have seen the Christ.' "  We don't read any more about Mary's mourning for the Jesus she has lost.

My best friend points out that Mary's loss -- the loss of the Jesus she had journeyed with for so long -- was made tolerable BECAUSE she had encountered the risen Christ.

Those who have touched us, who have changed our lives -- that effect doesn't end just because their physical presence departs from us.

I don't get to keep my pastors forever, but I can carry with me the things they have taught me, and I am indeed a new creation because of them (and because of lots of other people as well, of course).

We are an Easter people -- forever transformed by our experience of the resurrection.  And so we are called to be an Easter people not just on Sunday, not just in church, but every day and every where -- to carry that new life to the world, to carry into a wounded weeping world the assurance that new life DOES come ... and to carry that assurance into our own wounded weeping souls as well.

There's a poem I read today -- "Black Dress" by Laura Kasischke (from Gardening in the Dark) -- and here is part of what it says:
When Herod sat down at the dinner table, the roasted
bird flew from the platter crying, "Christ lives! He is alive!"
It's spring, even at night.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Rite of Blessing (Easter sunrise)

Molly invited me to represent CWM in the Somerville multi-church Easter sunrise service this year.
How about the Rite of Blessing--sprinkling the crowd with baptismal water, using a budding branch (lots of homage to our Pagan roots), to symbolize our new life. If you say yes, I'll send you the order I usually use to do it, which you can adapt as you wish.


I tell people that this is one of the more ancient rites of the church, a reminder of baptism.

I take a big bowl of water (sometimes I'll use local water--say, from the Mystic, or even better, salt water from the ocean), dip a branch in it (all the better if it's budding). Say one of the following prayers.

Then I walk around the circle sprinkling people with the branch dipped in water and telling them in turn (maybe 3-4 at a time) that they are God's beloved, with whom God is well pleased.
I took the longer prayer of the two she sent and ... almost entirely rewrote it.

I was telling Ari this yesterday, and she said isn't it great that we both have church communities where we can be given a text in advance and entirely rewrite it and that's okay.

After the service was over, I thanked Molly for inviting me to participate in the service.

She said, "Thank you, for being one of our ministers."


my prayer:
O God, Source and Breath of all being,
receive the prayers of your people:
We celebrate our creation and redemption;
receive our prayers and bless this water
which gives fruitfulness to the fields
and refreshment and cleansing to all people.
After you led your people to freedom through the Red Sea,
You satisfied their thirst in the desert with water from the rock.
In the waters of baptism and blessing, we are renewed and transformed;
we are washed clean of our old lives,
of all that obscures the spark of Divinity within each of us;
we are brought through darkness and water
into the light of new life.
May this water be a reminder to us of the covenant You have made
with each of us and with the whole communion of saints.
May this water bring us up from the ground of stagnancy and death,
into the light and breath of new life,
of life abundant,
of life everlasting.
We ask this in the name of God our Creator,
Jesus our Redeemer,
and the Spirit our Sustainer.
(and the people of God said) AMEN.

the prayer Molly sent:
Lord God almighty,
Hear the prayers of your people:
We celebrate our creation and redemption
Hear our prayers and bless + this water
Which gives fruitfulness to the fields
And refreshment and cleansing to all men, women and children
You chose water to show your goodness when you led your people to freedom
Through the red sea
And satisfied their thirst in the desert with water from the rock.
Water was the symbol used by the prophets to foretell your new covenant with man
You made the water of baptism holy
By Christ’s baptism in the Jordan
By it you give us a new birth
And renew us in holiness
May this water remind us of our baptism
And let us share in the joy of all who have been baptized at Easter
And who will be baptized today, this easter
We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord

Saturday, April 3, 2010

[sermon 17] Palm Sunday C - Hosanna (Save Us)

[written as if preached on the actual date]

Liturgy of the Palms C - March 28, 2010
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
Luke 19:28-40
John 12:12-16
Hosanna (Save Us)

I was surprised to see in today's lectionary that there's only a Psalm portion and a Gospel reading (albeit two of the latter to choose from).  We're basically just handed the Palm Sunday story, as if to say, "No explanation necessary."

We do have a Psalm -- reminding us that God's steadfast love endures forever and offering us great liturgical lines like, "The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone" (v. 22), "This is the day that our God has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it" (v. 24), "Blessed is the one who comes in the name of our God" (v. 26a).

This Psalm also offers us the plea, "Save us."

Which is what "hosanna" originally meant -- from the Hebrew "hosha'na," likely derived from Yeshua, meaning "salvation, deliverance, welfare."  (Matthew 1:21: "She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus (in the Greek; Yeshua in the Hebrew) for he will save his people from their sins.")

We utter "hosanna" in celebration, a meaningless collection of sounds we learned as children, but when we utter it we are crying out, "Save us" -- acknowledging our own need for salvation and also acknowledging Christ as one who can save us.

In John we read:
The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Yeshua was coming to Jerusalem.  So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Yeshua, shouting, "Hosanna!  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of our God—the Sovereign of Israel!"  Yeshua found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written: "Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion.  Look, your sovereign is coming, sitting on a donkey's colt!"  Yeshua's disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Yeshua was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of and done to Yeshua.  (John 12:12-16)
As so often, the disciples don't understand.  But the great crowd does.

"Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion."

The phrase "daughter of Zion" makes me think of "Daughters of Jerusalem," which in turn makes me thing of Song of Songs.

"I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if you find my beloved, tell him this: I am faint with love" (Song of Songs 5:8).

The people of Jerusalem and of all Israel have been faint with desire for a savior.  In the book Jesus and Empire, Richard Horsley writes, "By the time of Jesus, the Galilean, Samaritan, and Judean people had lived under the rule of one empire after another for six hundred years, except for one brief interlude of less than a century" (16).  The Assyrians.  The Babylonians.  The Persians.  The Greeks.  And finally the Romans.

Having grown up in white middle-class twentieth-century America, I'd never really thought about the New Testament characters as living under Roman rule.  All of the stories seemed to be about religion.  Sure, there's wee Zaccheus the tax collector, the ruling officials who mark in historical time the date of Jesus' birth, and so on, but the occasional times they show up they seem like set pieces.  All of Jesus' conflicts seem to be with religious leaders.

But Biblical Palestine didn't have the separation of church and state that is so much a part of my personal experience.  Nor was it wholly theocratic in a way that meant that Judaism was the dominant power structure affecting the people's lives.

In Palestine, as in many of its conquered lands, the Roman Empire utilized the native structures of rule to keep control over the lands and people it had conquered.

Horsley writes:
    Herod retained the high priesthood and Temple apparatus as part of his regime.  After eliminating the last members of the Hasmonean family, he installed high-priestly families of his own choosing, even families from the diaspora in Egypt and Babylon.  Even more ominously, he completely rebuilt the Temple in grand Hellenistic fashion.  "Herod's" Temple became one of the "wonders of the world," famous as a tourist site for wealthy Romans and a pilgrimage destination for well-off Jews from diaspora communities in the Hellenistic cities of the eastern empire.  That meant, however, that the Judean, Samaritan, and Galilean peasants who had previously lived under only one set of rulers, the Hasmonean high priests, were suddenly subject to three layers of rules and the economic demands of all three: tribute to the Romans and taxes to Herod on top of the tithes and offerings to the temple-state.  Herod (and his successors) also took steps to integrate Palestine into the larger imperial economy.
  (p. 32)

    After Herod's death, the Romans left the high-priestly rulers in place under the watchful eye and political-military backing of Roman governors in Judea (and Samaria).  The governors usually held the power to appoint their own nominee to the high-priestly office itself, hence the high-priestly incumbents were directly beholden to the governors.
  (p. 33)
So not only were the Jews subject to the rule of an occupying government, but that occupying power also controlled the religious establishment.

We read in Luke:
As Yeshua rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road.  As Yeshua was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, "Blessed is the sovereign who comes in the name of our God!  Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!"  Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Yeshua, "Teacher, order your disciples to stop."  Yeshua answered, "I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out."  (Luke 19:36-40)
Here the disciples do get it -- though I'm unclear if the gathered crowd is being conflated with the smaller group of disciples who have traveled the countryside with Yeshua these many months -- but I'm more interested in Yeshua's declaration: "I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out."

The Savior has come, and all creation knows it.  And perhaps the Pharisees know it, too.  Yeshua will be crucified by the end of the week -- a punishment the Romans used on rebels.  The Pharisees are saying, "Keep it quiet.  Don't draw attention to yourself.  Don't look like a rebel leader.  What, are you trying to get yourself killed?"

Four weeks ago we read:
At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to Yeshua, "Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you."  Yeshua said to them, "Go and tell that fox for me, 'Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.  Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.'  Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!  How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!  See, your house is left to you.  And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, 'Blessed is the one who comes in the name of our God.' " (Luke 13:32-35)
It's easy to miss, given all that comes later in the passage, but this passage opens with the Pharisees saying, "Herod wants to kill you -- get away from here."  The Pharisees are warning Yeshua.

Yeshua says, "I'm not trying to get myself killed, but I am going to confront the very center of this domination system, which I know probably will get myself killed -- but do you not see that I am doing this to save you?"

And indeed, the gathered crowds at that entrance to Jerusalem do recognize it.  They cry out, "Hosanna!  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of our God!"

And it is so easy for us to get caught up in that celebration, to move from celebration to celebration -- Yeshua's celebrated entrance into the holy city at the time of festival, Yeshua's triumphant emergence from the empty tomb on Easter.

But we're still a week away from Easter.

We are still on this Lenten journey, drawing ever closer to that final confrontation and overthrow.

I know of a pastor who said, two weeks ago, on Lent 4, "Next Sunday is the last Sunday in Lent, and then it's Palm Sunday."

And indeed we are no longer in the desert -- we have entered the city of Jerusalem.  So our Lenten desert days are at an end, so to speak.

We don't sing that (h)alle-- word yet, but we do shout loud hosannas -- celebrating the coming of Yeshua, coming from that itinerant Galilean ministry in to the city, in to the heart of the religious institutional life.

But we are not at Easter yet.  Last Sunday was not the last Sunday in Lent.  It's important to me to remember this.  This is not the end of the story.  We are still preparing for Easter.

I've never been very good at Lent -- probably in part because I grew up so Low Church that I didn't even know some Protestants did Lent until I was in college -- but the idea of Lent as a time when we consciously draw closer to the Divine -- shedding that which separates us and cultivating that which unites us -- has been seeping into me.

Laura Ruth, in response to an update email I sent her last weekend, said to me: "Lord, you know when Jesus said you have to give up your life to gain your life, maybe he meant give up the part of life that gives no life."

Lent this year has coincided with my relinquishing -- or beginning to relinquish -- various things that do not give me life.  Relationships that are not possible.  Communities that only frustrate and do not feed me.  Material goods that fill my space but never get any actual use.

It's a journey that's definitely not over yet.  This weekend, for example, I had a resurgence of grief over a relationship I know it is healthiest to let go of but which I still crave having in my life.

Letting go of our old lives is hard.  And it is like death in a way.  Yeshua says, "Whoever loses their life for my sake will gain it."  Whoever is willing to give up old ways of being in the world, old habits of living, will find a new way of living.  "And whoever wants to save their life will lose it."  If the waters are rising up around you and you are trying to save from the floodwaters something too heavy for you to carry, you will drown unless you let go.

That first crowd which welcomed Yeshua into Jerusalem cried out, "Save us!"  Is that what we cry?  Do we recognize how much we are in need of salvation, of being lifted up out of the mire of our habits and our addictions, how much we long to have oppressive yokes lifted from us?  Or are we just looking for someone to pass us by on their way to somewhere else, to leave us alone, to not call us into radical risk-taking new life?  Are we comfortable where we are, happy to wave palm branches from the sidelines and then return to our old lives?

I've heard a lot of talk this Palm Sunday weekend about Jesus' "triumphal" entry into Jerusalem.  This throws me, because the rejoicing on Palm Sunday feels expectant -- the Savior has come, and we are so excited about what zie will do here in Jerusalem, here at the center of religious and political power.  We are so looking forward to an overthrow of all the earthly powers that oppress us.  And of course, Yeshua is forever confounding expectations.  Yeshua submits to the authorities, submits to betrayal, abandonment, suffering, and even death.  The triumphal moment is Easter morning -- when Yeshua arises having confronted death and demonstrating that death need not hold us captive forever.

To see Palm Sunday as a triumphal moment seems premature to me.  We know the hard work that lies ahead.  It is the work of confronting the death-dealing forces of the world and ultimately death itself.

One sermon I heard this Sunday suggested that this week -- Holy Week -- we begin a journey into the heart of that which oppresses us.

Does that journey change us?  Do we decide that this struggle isn't worth the cost?

We encounter a crowd crying out again on Good Friday, but this time they are not crying "Hosanna!" but rather, "Crucify!"

In their book on Holy Week, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan suggest that the crowds in front of Pilate, the crowds who call for the release of Barrabas, were hand-picked by the authorities -- that they are not the peasants who have been following Yeshua and who rejoiced on Palm Sunday.
Pilate asks, "Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews [that is, Jesus]?"  But, Mark tells us, the temple authorities "stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead" (15:11).
    Almost certainly, this is not the same crowd that heard Jesus with delight during the week; Mark gives us no reason to think that crowd has turned against Jesus.  Moreover, it is highly unlikely that the crowd from earlier in the week would be allowed into Herod's palace, where this scene is set.  This crowd, the crowd stirred up by the chief priests, must have been much smaller and is best understood as provided by the authorities (somebody had to lead them into the palace).
The interpretation I'm used to merely assumes that the welcoming rejoicing crowd turned on Jesus -- just as Judas, one of the Twelve, betrayed Jesus; just as the disciples will abandon Jesus at the Cross.  Either way, the question remains: which crowd are we in?

Rodney A. Whitacre, in a book on the Gospel of John, notes that according to some manuscripts of Matthew 27:16-17, Barrabas's personal name was Jesus.  "So the crowd had to choose between two men, both of whom were named Jesus and were identified as 'son of Abba' yet who represented two different understandings of God's salvation."  The NRSV tells us that, "Barrabas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder in the insurrection" (Matthew 15:7).  Certainly a different kind of action against the forces of oppression than Jesus' -- but can you blame an occupied people for finding that appealing?  Which kind of Savior are we seeking?  Which crowd are we in?

Where are we when Yeshua celebrates the Passover seder?  Where are we when Yeshua goes to pray and asks the disciples, "Stay here and keep watch with me"?  Where are we when Pilate asks, "Whom do you wish me to release to you?"

Are we in that Upper Room, close at table with Yeshua and so many friends, partaking of the fruit of the vine, of the parsley dipped in salt water, of the unleavened bread, of the bitter horseradish and the sweet haroset?

Do we understand that when we commemorate that Last Supper we are echoing God's deliverance of the Hebrews from the Mitzrayim, the tight places, of Egypt, and also declaring God's deliverance of all of us from our own Mitzrayim?

Borg and Crossan's book on Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday, and closes with a reiteration of the questions, "Which journey are we on?  Which procession are we in?"

For at the same time as Yeshua was entering Jerusalem on a donkey, Pilate was entering by another way.

Borg and Crossan summarize:
From the East, Jesus rode a donkey down the Mount of Olives, cheered by his followers.  Jesus was from the peasant village of Nazareth, his message was about the kingdom of God, and his followers came from the peasant class.  They had journeyed to Jerusalem from Galilee, about a hundred miles to the north [...]  On the opposite side of the city, from the west, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Idumea, Judea, and Samaria, entered Jerusalem at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers.  (2)
"Which journey are we on?  Which procession are we in?"  Do we journey through peasant villages, casting out the demons that oppress and afflict people, healing them of their ailments?  Do we cross the sea, going back and forth "to the other side"?  Do we feed the hungry, making abundance out of scarcity?

Or do we come from places of power?  Are we representatives of an occupying power, of death-dealing forces?  Do we come to keep the peace ("and where they make a desolation, they call it peace," says a Caledonian chieftan of the Roman Empire, in Tacitus) or to bring true peace ("The opposite of war isn't peace, it's creation" -- RENT)?

The early followers of Yeshua were called followers of The Way.  The Way.  Not a stagnant commoditizable item, not a single moment, but a journey.

When we cry, "Hosanna!" are we celebrating the entrance of a triumphant king or a humble savior?

"Which journey are we on?  Which procession are we in?"

Let us carry these questions with us as we journey through Holy Week.