Last year our Palm Sunday worship began outside in the bright sunshine of the first morning of springtime, where we spoke of the reenactment of one of the two parades that took place in Jerusalem nearly 2000 years ago. Embracing Jesus’ political act of performance art we processed into the sanctuary waving our palm branches and shouting our hosannas. Rather than the familiar Palm Sunday readings our worship included the story from Genesis chapter 32 which tells of Jacob wrestling with God, Psalm 118, and John 12:12-15. you can read them here and listen to the sermon here
Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna! Save us! Save us! Save us! Once again, we travel back to Jerusalem to welcome Jesus into the city where we all know that the powers of empire will execute him. Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna: save us from this story that has the power to turn us into cheerleaders for an abysmal, obscene, cruel, madness that portrays the creator of everything that is, was, and ever shall be as a maniacal child killer who cannot bring himself to forgive the very ones he has created unless the most beloved of his children sacrifices himself upon a cross on a hill far away.
It happens every Palm Sunday. Over and over again, we hear atrocious interpretations of the meaning of Jesus’ execution which continue to distract us from the power that embodied LOVE might have to resurrect the world in ways which will see the violence end, as justice climbs out of the empty tombs into which we have tossed our dying dreams of peace. In our darkness, we have wrestled with the ONE who gave us light. Like Jacob of old, we too have fought, demanding a blessing from the divinity of our creation. We have wrestled in the night to find the god who will save us from ourselves. Praying for peace, longing for justice, shouting to the heavens for a blessing which will save us, save us from our hunger and greed, restore justice, and lead us forth to peace. Like Jacob, we long to know the name of our Creator, so that we will recognize our saviour when the saviour comes. Like Jacob we too have been wounded by the very sight of the face of God. For in the darkness of the night, we have wrestled our God to the ground only to discover that the blessing this God delivers, leaves us limping into the future wounded, stumbling forth with as many more questions than simply to know the name of the One whose blessing we seek. As the first light of sunrise shines on a new day, we too can but limp along injured, still seeking the One whose reluctant blessing we carry forth into an uncertain future. Hosanna, save us! Save us from our woundedness. Save us from the desires that haunt us, over power us and fracture our humanity.
We continue to shout our Hosannas as the parade moves on toward the Jerusalem of our nightmares. Some of us have cried out for salvation so many times that our cries Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna have become our “Yada yada, yada” because we know that despite our pleas, Jerusalem awaits and ahead, up there we too shall die. Death lies ahead of us just as surely as death has always waited to meet us, in every Jerusalem we have ever faced.
So, why not join that other parade. At least there we might stand a chance of success. Hail Caesar! Let the powers that be lead us forth, with power and might to conquer our enemies with the force and security that sheer numbers brings. Let’s join the parade where the chances of winning will at least guarantee us some success. Let’s join the parade that promises to distract us from the reality that awaits us in the darkness of the deepest night. Let’s join the parade that promises order in the face of chaos. At least there on that other path, in that other parade we will know the safety of numbers, the strength that power brings, the light that money can buy, the order that violence can bring and the peace that distractions can offer, if only for a moment we too can march among the powerful, trusting our future to saviours who have proven that they can deliver us. At least in that other parade the pomp and circumstance will distract us from the reality of our Jerusalem.
Yada, yada, yada, we’ve heard it all before. We know where Jesus is leading us on that blessed donkey. Up there on that ass, he is not the saviour we long for. Asking us to create a path for a parade into Jerusalem with no more than our own clothing. What kind of saviour would ask of us the very shirts on our backs, to be paraded upon by a beast of burden? Save us from the darkness indeed. Save us from all that oppresses us. Save us from our deepest fears. Save us, Hosanna, Hosanna, yada, yada, yada. We’ve heard it all before Jesus, and we know full well that your parade is leading us straight into the darkness, only to be blessed by One whose blessing leaves us wounded, and limping on into the unknown.
You are not the Messiah we were hoping for. We want someone who will do the bleeding for us. We want someone who will wrestle our God to the ground and show us a Face of God that we can worship because he is all powerful, capable of doing our bidding and while keeping his distance. Not a God who comes to us like a stranger in the night. Not a God whose blessing leaves us to carry wounds into the future.
We want a God of our own making and a Messiah, a saviour who will do our bidding, be what who we want, so that we can feel safe and secure and march in parades were we can hold our heads up high, trusting that we are the chosen ones, the ones who can march into any Jerusalem, and wield our power like we own the pace, and fear nothing because our saviour goes before us, and our god stands behind us, and we are capable of slaying our fears, laying low anyone who might dare to threaten our power.
It is a strange sort of place that we find ourselves each year. Re-enacting these two parades. Do we hail Caesar as lord and follow the powers that be, trusting military might, wealth and riches, to save us from the darkness that lies before us, or do we cast off our garments and lay them before this Jesus fellow; an unlikely saviour if ever there was one, knowing full well that the parade Jesus is leading goes straight into the darkness, to face our Jerusalem clothed only in our woundedness? Can we trust the strange God who comes to us in the depths of our darkest night, this One whom we continue to wrestle with over and over again, this One from whom we seek a blessing that we know will leave us wounded?
The reality is that Jerusalem lies before us. Each and every one of us must encounter the darkness of the death that is coming to us. We can distract ourselves with in the big splashy parade for a while, but Jerusalem and all that it represents, all that we fear at the very core of who we are will still be there to meet us at the end of the parade route. The god, the all-powerful one of our making, that god will probably be there to distract us in the end and might even bring us some comfort. We can embrace the distractions of our own making, an embrace that might just be comfort enough for us or we can take a chance on this Jesus fellow and toss our cloaks onto the path, and wrestle with the One who will leave us wounded.
Jerusalem is here, right here, and those two parades are ours for the choosing, endless distraction has its appeal and those who choose it, well may God bless you. But as for those who choose the path less travelled, following a messiah who promises little more than the kind of blessing that gives us but a glimpse of the Face of God, and a wound powerful enough that people will notice it in the way you walk, well now that’s the kind of blessing that isn’t for the faint of heart. That’s the kind of blessing that once shared, continues to haunt, each and every moment of each and every day, the kind of blessing that promises, only resurrection. Resurrection, a daunting possibility of salvation here and now. Resurrection – a kind of shalom, a peace that is beyond understanding, a peace in which everything is upside down, and inside out, the kind of peace that comes not through power and might, but through the justice that only the wounded have the courage to embrace, the kind of justice that can only be discovered in the struggles that happen in the darkness of our very being, with a Creator who promises nothing more than to be present in our wounded attempts to be all that we are created to be.
Out there, ahead of us on the way, sits an unlikely saviour, a messiah, who lived into the fullness of his being, that it terrified the powers that be. Could it be that this unlikely saviour’s tiny little parade exposed the grand majestic parade of power and might as the distraction that our displays of power really are, just a distraction from the darkness that awaits us all?
Up there on that ass, living into the fullness of his being, Jesus exposed the powerlessness of their parade, the powerlessness of our grandest distractions. Out there, ahead of us on the way, is our salvation, the pathway that we must create for ourselves, through the darkness that awaits us all. One way or another we must all journey forth on our way to Jerusalem.
Hosanna. Blessed is the One who comes in the name of our God, the one who is willing to wrestle with us alone the way, so that we might catch a glimpse of the Face of God. Hosanna. Save us. Save us from our distractions. Hosanna. Save us. So that we wounded ones might create a pathway capable of carrying us beyond the darkness. Hosanna. Save us! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of our God. Amen.