Readings and reflection from Sunshine Cathedral in Second Life on Sunday, March 29, 2015 Palm Sunday.
Visit us in Second Life, (http://www.secondlife.com) and search for Sunshine Cathedral.
The Call to Worship
Jesus is coming, He’s riding on a donkey
All: Shout Hosanna
Open the gates, open the ancient doors
All: Shout Hosanna
Do not be afraid, wave the branches, spread out your coats
All: Shout Hosanna
Peace on earth, Glory in the highest heaven
All: Shout Hosanna
Before this week ends, the Palm branches will be drying on the roadside.
The joyful crowd will become an angry mob,
and Jesus will replace robes of victory with a crown of thorns.
So then, go in the knowledge that whatever comes to you in this week,
you are held in the hand of God, hugged tight, held close,
and may God, the Three-in One,
bless you, uphold you and give you strength for the journey ahead. Amen.
(Palm Sunday Call to Worship and Prayer from: http://www.ucc.org/worship/worship-ways/year-a/le/lent-service-prayers-2.html)
A reading from the Psalter (118.24-27)
This is the day that has been given to us; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Save us, we beseech you, O God! We beseech you, give us success! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of our God. We bless you from the Holy Place. God has given us light. Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar.
A reading from the Gospel According to Mark (11:1-11)
When they were approaching Jerusalem…near the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Teacher needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it.
Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of our God! Blessed is the coming realm of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” Then Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
Click on the audio bar below to hear the audio.
“Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of our God!... Hosanna!” I was taught that this shouting from the crowd was to honor Jesus as a recognition that he was, in fact, the King of the Jews. I was taught that Jesus riding into Jerusalem the week before the Passover was a triumphant entry and that the people responded with acts of honor by shouting “Hosanna!” and lying palm fronds and cloaks on the ground before him so that even the animal upon which he was riding would not touch the ground.
Only much later did I learn that this was assuredly not the case. In fact this parade was more like Mardi Gras than the triumphant entry of a king. Days before Roman soldiers had accompanied Pilot, the governor of the district of Jerusalem, into the city. The people were required to make a show of the entry of a Roman official because Pilot as governor was the symbol of Caesar himself. And Caesar was the Roman image of God.
When Jesus told his followers to go and get the little donkey he must have known what he was doing. He was making a farce of the entry of the oppressors into Jerusalem. He put himself, a peasant teacher, in the place of the representative of Caesar to illustrate the ridiculous nature of elevating one human being over another. And the people shouting “Hosanna!” were not shouting a greeting of honor. Rather they were shouting out to Jesus “Save Us!” from the Romans who are occupying our land. “Save Us!” from the tyranny of the Empire that enslaves us. “Save Us!” from those who think they have the power to “allow” us to worship the God of creation. “Save Us!”
This demonstration, this protest, against the Roman occupation and oppression of the people did not go unnoticed. Rome did not have enough soldiers in Jerusalem to keep the peace. So they co-opted the religious authorities to keep the peace. They told the religious leaders that they could continue to practice their faith and publicly worship and participate in their festivals ONLY if they kept the peace and kept the people under control. Jesus disrupted all of that.
It’s important to understand that Jesus was not trying to establish a new religion. He was trying to reform his own. He was trying to awaken a thirst for justice and a hunger for righteousness in the people. He was showing this how ridiculous the Roman show of force really was and how much power they really had to over throw them. He was motivating them to recover their own sacred worth and return to a way of life where the dignity of every person is acknowledged and respected, not just the ones with power and prestige.
Palm Sunday reminds us that we, too, have a responsibility to stand up and speak out against injustice wherever we find it. This week we saw one of the 50 states of the United States of America pass a law that allows, and some would say promotes, inequality, discrimination, and hatred. The new law in Indiana allows any business owner to refuse service to anyone they say their religion deems unworthy, second-class, or sinful.
Some things never change it seems. When I was a child white business owners refused to allow people of color to enter their businesses. Black people traveling through the south never knew when they would encounter “Whites Only” signs in a restaurant or be refused service in a humiliating way. They slept in their cars because hotels would not rent them rooms. They had to know well where black owned businesses were so that they could buy food or rest for the night.
That was more than 50 years ago in the US. We thought those days were over. But they’re more alive than ever. And what are we to do? Are we supposed to give up our jobs and do acts of sedition against the government that could get us imprisoned or killed? Is that the message we should take from Palm Sunday and Jesus subversive demonstration? I don’t think so.
We are expected to call our injustice. We are expected to do what we can. We are expected to awaken our friends when they say things like, “Yes but how often do you think this will really happen?” It doesn’t matter how often. It only matters that a so-called law exists that could allow such a thing 15 years into the 21st century in the United States of America.
These well meaning and misguided people who think only of themselves have actually given validity to the Islamic State who wants to institute sharia law throughout the world. They have unwittingly set a precedent for allowing the particular interpretation of the religion of those who govern to impose that religion and their own interpretation upon others. Anytime we advocate for elevating one group of people over another in the name of religion, we are running the risk that one day someone will take away our right to practice our religion and work for justice for all people.
Jesus pushed back against the injustice of Roman rule over the people of Jerusalem by staging the farcical parade into Jerusalem. He did the only thing he could do in his day to help wake the people up to their own dignity and worth. But his seditious acts did not go unnoticed. The Romans ultimately crucified him less than a week later on the very eve of the Sabbath. He gave his life to stand up for economic justice and freedom of religion.
As we enter this Holy Week let us consider the price that others have paid throughout history to work for justice. Let us consider what we can do in our own time. I don’t believe we are expected to give our lives but who knows if someone will take it from us as we work? We are expected to live our lives respecting the dignity of every human being, standing up for those who are so beaten down that they cannot stand and speaking up for those who have no voice.
If we do not act, we are complicit in the oppression and injustice that exists in this world. Let us look around us and do what we can this Holy Week to honor Jesus example and live into our own call to spread the love of God throughout the world by working for justice. Amen