Mark 11: 1-11
“The invisible more” by Rev. Stacy Swain
Of all of the Sundays throughout the year where I have the privilege of trying to offer you a word in the sermons I preach, I have to say that I find this Sunday the hardest to do so.
It feels important to offer you a good word about this week since what happens between this Sunday and Easter morning will be a kind of crucible from which much of what will be known as Christianity emerges. Like the Exodus from them tyranny of Pharaoh is the seminal event for the Jewish people, the events of this week will come to shape what it is to be Christian.
But as important and defining as this week is, it is also one about which we tend to have the most questions. So as hard as it is for me to offer a word for you today I imagine it is even harder for you listen to what it is I say. In fact, I love the story one of you told recently about how during a past Palm Sunday (or maybe it was an Easter morning service) you leaned over to your pew mate and whispered quite earnestly “Do you believe this?” and received in return a reassuring “Let’s talk about it later.”
I love that because I think we do ourselves and our faith a disservice if we do not grapple seriously with what this week means. I am going to go ahead and try to offer a word for you today but even as I do I would encourage you go ahead and keep wondering about what it is that Jesus is doing? And what any of it has to do with us? And if you feel the urge, please go ahead and lean over to the one next to you and with your questions and your wonderings.
But before we go any further, let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts not only be acceptable to you our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
I am sure those so long ago were wondering. Those so long ago I am sure were asking themselves “What is Jesus doing?”
For the crowd that first Palm Sunday, what Jesus was doing was exciting. He was a provocative preacher, enigmatic prophet, would be King. He was unlike anyone they had ever known before. He looked at them with something so fierce and yet so tender that it summoned to life the very best of who they knew they could be.
In him they saw the possibility for freedom. To escape from the cruel tyranny of Rome and to stand again in dignity. So excited were they that the time of their deliverance was at hand that they picked up palms and laid down clocks and greeted him as they would a King returning successful from battle. Hosanna! Hossana! Blessed is he who comes in the names of the Lord.
For the religious authorities that day, however, what Jesus was doing was a threat. It was their responsibility to maintain the precarious peace with the powers of Rome and this back water preacher from Galilee was stirring up the hopes and imaginations of the people in ways that threatened all they were working hard to maintain. Claiming to know the heart of God, speaking with authority, Jesus was teaching of a Way where the last would be first, where the meek would inherit the earth; where those that hunger and thirsted would be filled; where the kingdom of God was at hand. He was speaking and teaching outside of the bounds that those in power had decided was acceptable. To the religious elite, he was a heretic and blasphemer. Someone who no longer could be tolerated. Someone who had to be stopped.
For Rome, what Jesus was doing turned out to be convenient. For, every year during the Passover festival would spark the People’s dream for deliverance. So every year, Rome would send legions of soldiers into the city with shields shining and spears sharpened to remind the people of current reality, to awaken them from their dreaming. What could be a better way to remind the people of who was in control of whose land this was, of whose values reigned and who was in power than to cut down the one they were doing their best to raise up. Crucifying their would be king up was a powerful reminder for the rest of them of what they too can expect if they dare to counter the prevailing powers.
For the disciples, what Jesus doing that week was a challenge. They had come to love Jesus deeply and they sought to follow him truly but even after three years of walking by his side they did not fully understand him or fully comprehend to what he was pointing. They saw the amazing things he was doing. How he was changing people’s lives and they wanted more of that. But when he started talking about sacrifice, and dying and rising again? None of that made any sense. They wanted to see this Kingdom of God and were willing to fight for it. What was this language of sacrifice? That did not make any sense at all.
We know that each one of these narratives, each of these ways that the crowd, and the religious elite, the Roman authorities and the disciples themselves had understood what they thought Jesus was doing would ultimately unravel. What Jesus was doing, what God is doing through Jesus will turn out to be not at all what any of them thought.
And in that resides the power of Holy Week. For the events of this week will deconstruct prevailing understandings of what is and what is possible. Holy week is and will continue to be a great corrective, a liberating event, a rewriting, remaking, reconstructing, resurrecting event lifting us out of failed narratives of how we think the world is and setting us down again and again in the narrative of what Jesus knew the world could be.
Jesus, the word made flesh, lived a new narrative. Where others said take, he said give. Where others said fight, he said love. Where others said, judge he said forgive. Where others said death, he said life. Jesus was so convinced of this narrative, this narrative of God, the narrative of life, that he was willing to stay faithful to it even when doing so would ask everything of him.
As all the other narratives that week unraveled, the narrative that Jesus lived not only held fast but has gained new voice and new witness. This narrative that God calls us to live in the world, this way of love, compassion, forgiveness, redemption and new life is one that will not die despite all of the evil, hatred, and violence that the history of human kind heaves upon it.
How do I know that to be true? Not because of the books I have read or the theories I have studied. I know that the Way that Jesus lived, the narrative of love he enfleshed not only survived but thrives because of how I have seen it alive in the world now, alive in you.
Just this week alone, in you, I saw the compassion of Jesus alive as someone you loved turned from you in your moment of need. Of how the tears of your eyes washed that person in forgiveness and how you refused to harden your heart and hate.
In another, just this week alone, I saw in another the courage and conviction of Jesus alive as you faced betrayal from those whom you thought where on your side and how through your pain you found voice for the voiceless and the strength to stand again the abuse of the powerful.
And just yesterday, I saw Jesus’ vision of the beloved community alive in our leadership as Council came together bringing all of themselves forward in love to serve this church with humility and passion.
As we lift our eyes and gaze out across the span of history and around the globe today, we will great pain and violence but we will also see woven through it all in every place and ever time great crowd of witnesses who in so many ways are living out this powerful, life affirming and world changing way of love.
Living the counter narrative to that of our time is not easy. It takes everything we’ve got. But the good news is the strength to do so comes not from us alone. The strength to do so comes from the that same invisible more, that same current of God and goodness that Jesus tapped into and lived and that through him is alive for us today.
Let us use the narratives of this Holy week to help us to scrutinize the tangle of narratives, collision of world views and power plays that are still very much with us today. And as we do so, let us hold fast to the narrative of love that threads its way through them all so that in the midst of all that we face, in the midst of all that is facing our world, we too may bear witness to the undying power of that which Jesus lived, the power God’s love that is wholly present to us now and forever.
For our work is not to just believe in a story long ago, it is to live that story now. The love that Jesus lived stays alive in our willingness to live in and for it. May that living love, that invisible more, be present to us now and always. Amen.