Strong enough to care.
Strong enough to respect others.
Strong enough to listen.
Strong enough to change one’s mind.
Strong enough to rely on another.
Strong enough to learn.
Strong enough to say “I’m sorry.”
Strong enough to say “Thank you.”
Strong enough to let another go first.
Strong enough to practice compassion.
Strong enough to be gracious.
Strong enough to be kind.
Strong enough to help others.
Strong enough to let others take the credit.
Strong enough to sacrifice.
Strong enough to bear disappointment.
Strong enough to risk.
Strong enough to be empathetic.
Strong enough to kneel down in order to look a child in the eye.
Strong enough to extend a hand.
Strong enough for tears.
Strong enough to forgive.
Strong enough to share.
Strong enough to lift another up.
Strong enough to be generous.
Forget for a moment what you know or think you know about today.
Or, what you think it might mean.
Forget the pageantry. The music. The palms. The familiar words and readings.
Forget all the “Hosannas” and “Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord.”
Forget the idea of a “triumphal entry.”
For a moment, forget all that and focus on the reality of what took place that day.
After living and teaching and going from town to town in the region of Galilee among the fishermen and the farmers and all those who eked out a living each day talking to them about God’s Kingdom, where all had enough and all had a place, and included even…especially….the likes of them. And demonstrating through what he did and how treated others God’s love which embraced each and every one of them from outcast to sinner to sick to stranger. After being out there and with those, Jesus turns towards Jerusalem.
That great , holy city.
Built on a hill.
Surrounded by walls with gated and guarded entryways.
The seat of power.
Both religious and political.
Power which had a vested interest in maintaining the status quo and no qualms about eliminating any and all who threaten its rule. Roman crosses lined the roads. And, into the midst of all that comes Jesus.
At one of the most holy times of the Jewish year when Jews, not only from the surrounding countryside, but from across the Roman Empire made their way to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration. Each of them remembering and retelling and reclaiming that ancient story of the Israelites’ struggle against and eventual escape from slavery in Egypt. For those in power Passover was one of the most fearful and uncertain and unsettled times in Jerusalem. Everyone, from Passover pilgrims to the Roman overlords, lived each day on edge and on guard. In that mix of religious fervor and unsettled politics, Jesus mounts a donkey and rides into the city. “Hosanna. Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord.”
The traditional understanding of the story goes something like this.
Jesus knew what he was doing and what was going to happen.
God knew what Jesus was doing and what was going to happen.
In fact, everything that happened took place according God’s preordained plan.
The betrayal. The arrest. Peter’s denial. The trial. The crucifixion. The death.
Jesus entered Jerusalem as God’s sacrifice for the sins of the people.
Jesus entered Jerusalem as God’s sacrifice for you and for me.
Some of that understanding can be found there in the story.
It is not by chance, the way the Gospel writers tell it, that all this took place during Passover. Let me remind you of the story of Passover. While slaves in Egypt, Moses instructed the Israelites to sacrifice a lamb and to spread the blood of the sacrifice above the doors of their home. Seeing the blood the angel of God passed over the homes of the Israelites, but in the homes of the Egyptians, without the blood above the door, the firstborn in their household from children to animals were destroyed (Exodus 12). The celebration of the Passover still involved sacrifice. The blood of the sacrifice, which represented the sins of the people, was poured on a lamb which was then driven out of the city and into the wilderness as a symbolic act of the sins of the people being cast out of their lives.
And, here was Jesus.
Passover. Jerusalem. Temple. Sacrifice.
But, truth be told…
I have always had a hard time with that understanding of Jesus.
And with the belief that God would purposefully sacrifice Jesus.
I know the background.
I understand the theology.
But, that way of thinking about God and that understanding of Jesus, has never sat very well in my heart.
I remember saying something like that a number of years ago when we had a 9:00 worship service in the Chapel Room where the time and format provided 10-15 minutes each Sunday to have a conversation about the sermon. One Sunday morning, Wally Doud, a long time member of BPC who had moved to Florida, was back for a visit. After my comment about sacrifice, Wally said, “Parents willingly sacrifice their children all the time. That is what so many parents did during the Second World War.” I didn’t know how to respond to his comment then. I don’t really know how to respond to that comment now, but my uncomfortableness with the notion of Jesus as God’s sacrifice remains.
So, if not that understanding of Jesus and this story, then what?
As I was thinking and reading in preparation for this morning, one of the writers commenting on the account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem described it as an “acted out parable.” A parable, as you know, is a simple story told to illustrate a spiritual lesson or to teach some truth. Jesus was a master of parables.
The Good Samaritan.
The lost sheep.
Faith the size of a mustard seed.
Here, rather than telling a parable, Jesus was living it.
Embodying the truth he had been trying to teach.
Thinking about it this way, especially in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus’ entire life becomes a parable.
Illustrating a lesson. Presenting a choice.
One way of living vs. another way of living.
One set of values vs. another set of values.
The Kingdom of God vs. the power of Rome.
So here, as Jesus enters Jerusalem, the parable of his life continues to unfold. Up one road and through the gate on one side of the city comes Jesus. On the opposite side of the city and through another gate come the Roman authorities bent on keeping the peace. Jesus on a donkey which is what one road when coming in peace. Rome on horses to demonstrate their power. Those welcoming Jesus waved branches they cut. On the other side of the city the royal banners were unfurled. And, those who went ahead of Jesus and those who followed behind shouted, “Hosanna” which means “God save us” or “God saves” which meant turning one’s life towards the Kingdom of God rather than bowing and submitting to power of Rome.
As you know, the story continues to unfold in the days to come.
Upper room and Last Supper.
Praying in the garden.
Arrest. Betrayal. Trial. Crucifixion.
And, we are left to ponder…
What lesson is here for us to learn?
Here we are one week away from Holy Week arguably the most important and most sacred time of the year for Christians. It is that week when we remember and re-enact the final week of Jesus’ life.
Palm Sunday when we remember Jesus’ going to Jerusalem to stand toe to toe with the religious and political forces of his day placing his vision of the Kingdom of God alongside the Roman Empire’s vision of kingdom; God’s peace alongside Pax Romana.
Maundy Thursday when Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples. That shared meal becoming the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper for Christians.
Good Friday when Jesus was executed by the Roman authorities.
All leading up to the celebration of Easter.
For as important and meaningful as those days are, I approach them cautiously. Not because what took place during that week or what those events mean for us today are not important, but because, in my opinion, the language we commonly use in talking about those events and about what they mean is often misused or misunderstood.
We talk about Jesus dying for our sins…for your sins and mine.
We talk about the idea that for you and me to be accepted by God or loved by God, God required the sacrifice of an innocent victim – Jesus.
We talk about Jesus giving his life for us.
Underneath that way of thinking lays what scholars identify as the myth of redemptive violence; the premise that violence or another’s sacrifice is somehow necessary for our salvation.
All of which is the understanding with which I grew up.
And, which is still deeply ingrained in the language and imagery of not only Holy Week, but the larger Christian message. And, an understanding which, I have come to believe, is a misreading and a misunderstanding of the Biblical witness, and of who Jesus was…and is.
And, so I am careful.
I do have an understanding of and a belief in Jesus giving his life for us. Or, better yet…Jesus giving his life to us. Not so much as a sacrifice in the way it usually talked about in Christian circles, but, he gave his life for us in a way similar to the way a parent gives her or his life for their child.
In raising children, there are sacrifices yes…
But not because our children are bad and somehow in need of redemption, but our sacrifices are out of love, and in terms of time and dreams and the hopes we have for our children and for the future. We give life to our children and I understand Jesus giving his life for us and to us in this way.
And, I understand Jesus giving his life for us in the way you give something of your life for another.
The part of yourself you give when you listen to a friend.
The time you give when you teach a child.
The strength you give when you help another with food.
The hope you give when you rebuild a home.
The witness you give when you practice generosity.
The vision you give when you stand alongside those who are, too often left standing alone.
Jesus gave his life for us and to us in that way, as well.
His understanding of God…
His dream of God’s Kingdom come…
His vision of community and neighbor and who is included in the circle of God’s love.
All of that which was so much a part of what he taught and how he lived;
All of which was so wrapped up in his life and being.
This is the life he gave…
The life he offered to those who would take it.
And today, if we allow it and make room for it and believe that it might be so it becomes or can become a part of your life and mine.
Helping to make us both more human and more holy.
So we might not only live our lives, but give our lives;
And, pass on Jesus’ life…
That is what I understand the meaning of Holy Week to be about.
And, if that is so…
And, I am right…
Then this is where Lent meets the commercial for Ft. Lauderdale, FL. Maybe you have seen it.
The commercial highlights the reasons business and individuals should relocate to Ft. Lauderdale.
Several airports in the area.
Easy access to commercial shipping ports.
And, it ends with this…
A local business person looking directly at the camera; directly at you and me and saying:
“After all, it’s not what you make, it’s what you keep.”
To the extent that commercials like this are professionally researched and produced, that tag line is not a mistake or a “throw away” line, but reflects an attitude and way of thinking that is at play at least in the lives of those for whom the commercial is intended if not in the larger culture, as well.
But for those of us in the Christian community whose responsibility it is to allow the witness of the Bible and the words of Jesus to be a lens through which we see our lives and the larger communities and culture in which we live that attitude and way of thinking raises questions.
On one side is this:
After all, it is not what you make, it is what you keep.
And, on the other side is this…
Those who save their lives will lose it, and those who give their lives away will save them.
And so, a week away from Holy Week we are left to decide…
Which of those two is true?
Which of those two will shape who we are and how we live?