Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
I walked through the church this week. I tried to remember what it was like to be in the sanctuary with other people in worship.
I felt much older.
I looked around. I remembered myself here, preaching, chatting with people, sitting with the children, and I look back at pre-pandemic me, as being somewhat naive. She had no idea what was coming.
Maybe I was just extra tired that day. But I think this year has done this to us. Made us tired. In ways probably a lot of us haven’t been tired before.
And now, just when the vaccines are starting to come more quickly we hear the categories expanding, I’m hearing of more and more of you getting yours- and hope starts to creep up that it won’t be too much longer and all of this will be behind us-
And then we experienced Three mass shootings within the space of two weeks. I had a dark thought- is that what back to normal will mean, hearing regularly of mass shootings again? Then news that the COVID cases are starting to go back up, the hospitalizations, too, and we wonder about the new strains and whether this will ever really be behind us. At least I do.
Save us, Jesus!
That’s what the people were crying out as they made their makeshift parade with palm branches and the clothes off their backs. That’s what Hosanna means: Save us!
At the same time, according to historians and theologians John Dominc Crossan and Marcus Borg, on the other side of Jerusalem, another man who liked for people to call him Savior, the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate entered Jerusalem on a horse, not a little one but a full grown muscular one, with all the pomp and circumstance of the Roman Empire. It was the week of the festival of Passover, and Jerusalem would swell in population from around 50,000 people to 200,000. The Roman governor would take the opportunity to remind people- yes they may be celebrating that long ago liberation from slavery to the Egyptians, but it is done still under the foot of the occupying Romans. Don’t get any ideas while you are telling your liberation stories.
That would happen every year. This one year, as Mark and the other gospels tell us, Jesus made his own arrangements to ride a colt, and his followers and others joined in the mockery of Roman power with a kind of street theatre slash protest. Coming in from the East while Pilate rode in from the West. They were poking fun but they were also in a way, dead serious. The ones so long trampled by occupying forces were truly desperate for a savior, earnest in their crying out, Save us!
They were longing for a change. They were longing for true freedom. They were longing for God to act and make things right. Similar to how we are also crying out in our hearts for God to act, to save us right here and right now.
Jesus would save. He would save by being crucified at the hands of the Romans the people wanted to be freed from. It is the complete reversal in the story, so unexpected that sometimes I wonder if we really grasp it. He truly was the rejected building block who would become the cornerstone of the new thing God was doing.
The people cried out for Jesus to save them. For a new liberation like their ancestors had experienced from Pharoah. Jesus would save. He would save by being crucified at the hands of the Romans the Israelite people wanted to be freed from.
The characteristics of white supremacy culture we are repenting from, out of these stories are objectivity and defensiveness.
Jesus is never defensive. Have you noticed that? Jesus is the ultimate dispeller of defensiveness. Philippians paints this beautiful portrait of the incarnation and crucifixion of Jesus. He was God in the flesh, but he did not try to defend that status or title. He emptied himself. He gave away every iota of power and privilege that was rightfully his. All so that we could understand what God and God’s love really are.
The apostle Paul admonishes us in this letter, to adopt this same attitude of complete humility. That is quite a difference from the displays of power that many of us consciously or unconsciously copy- the sports star who has won the most championships, the politicians who brag of accomplishments and avoid accountability. Pilate on his steed declaring his power with every hoof print. The way of Christ is in opposition to this “way of the world” of trying to increase power and defend it. Jesus gives it all away, even his life.
In the supper with his disciples, it is right after Jesus tells his disciples how they will betray him, that he foreshadows the giving of his life. To them. For them. You are going to betray me, you are going to falter and fail me- here, take my life. Eat this bread.
He pours himself out, gives himself away completely and does not try to keep them from doing these things, betraying and denying, doesn’t make them feel guilty or ashamed, just says what will happen and expresses his willingness to give himself away, pour himself out. Just like the unnamed woman came and broke open her whole jar of pure nard perfume to anoint Jesus. Whatever her social class, this perfume was worth a huge sum of money, probably her life savings or maybe an inheritance. She did not hold it back- she recognized that in Jesus this pouring out was about to happen, and she also foreshadowed Jesus being both true king, and about to die.
The disciples pretend to take an objective stance was that this was wasteful. A keeping of accounts. That’s worth a year of wages- it could have helped a lot of poor people eat! And that, also was true.
Objectivity tries to erase human emotion, tries to say there is only one right way to understand any given situation. The sacrifice of this woman is pronounced good by Jesus. She does not seem to be invited to this dinner but enters anyway. Unlike other tellings of a woman anointing Jesus we really do not know in Mark what her motivation might be- but it seems to be an urge she is following, and not any calculations that go with objectivity. Jesus does defend her actions. There is a time and place to defend; those with less power and privilege. Those who follow an urge to generously pour out love, for they are living the way of Christ.
This story, these stories are so rich, we could go on and on through them. I will make some more attempts on Thursday and Friday this week, Holy Week, to lead us in reflecting on them.
But we know this: Jesus does save. He saves by giving himself away. He begins a new ritual of sharing food, praises a woman who gives away her life savings, after mocking the entrenched political power of oppressing Romans who want to eliminate threat and consolidate their power. Jesus saves, but it is not at all how we expect.
It is not in conquering. It is not in defending or calculating. Just giving and giving and giving himself in love. Defensiveness and so-called Objectivity are on the side of the chief priests, and Pilate. They calculate how to retain power, how to appease the crowd just enough and get rid of the trouble-maker who is upsetting their careful ordering with themselves at the top.
We may be tired of these times, beloved, I know I am. Tired of pandemic but also tired of human capacity to maim and kill – on crosses, and with bullets but also with words. All of the sin, all of the racism and self indulgence and ways power is misused and people get hurt.
But also, there was more that day that I was at church this week. Volunteers gave of their time to help others. To make giving out the Covid grants possible. We gathered outside to just visit and pray, and it was good. Volunteers came To make the video of the flowering of the cross and persist placing the flowers to make it truly beautiful. Other volunteers are doing more behind the scenes things and others are giving generously. You, beautiful saints, are following this self-giving way and you lifted my spirits this week.
The self giving way is the way we proclaim when we say Jesus is Lord, when we call ourselves Christians. And so while from time to time we do feel tired in our soul, we do not grow weary of persisting in this way. It is the way of the name God honors. Just as Jesus honored that sacrifice of the woman pouring out her perfume, God honored the sacrifice of Jesus and gave him a name above all names.