May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be aligned with your love, Oh God. Amen.
Good Morning. Welcome to the Sunday of the Passion, the Sunday of Big Emotion, the Sunday of Highs and the Lowest of Lows. This is the beginning of Holy Week, of our march toward the cross before God’s response is revealed on Easter morning.
What we hear in today’s passage from the gospel of Mark is the beginning of this march, the beginning of the closing chapter of Jesus’ earthly life.
Most of the people marching alongside Jesus don’t realize this is the beginning of the march toward the cross, of course. They are marching into the city of Jerusalem in joy, because they have been empowered. They are calling for a change, an upheaval of the status quo, a new era. They cheer on Jesus because he has been leading the charge. He has been welcoming exactly the people who have been hurt by the status quo, he has been preaching good news to the poor, he has been healing the deathly sick, and he has been speaking up to those in power and calling them out for forgetting basic compassion and care. Jesus has been sticking up for them, helping them, and, they believe, is going to rescue them, is going to be their new king.
And the people bring Jesus into the capital city like a king, riding high on a donkey, rolling out the red carpet in front of him by laying their cloaks and branches down on the dusty road for him to march on top of, and raising big palm branches like flags in a parade. Their big celebration is an explicit and very visible rejection of the current leaders and the values they have promoted.
Fast forward 2,000 years to yesterday, when crowds of people marched into a capital city raising big signs like flags and announcing a change, an upheaval of the status quo, a new era. A march where people with little political power spoke up to current leaders and explicitly and very visibly rejected them and the values they promoted.
The parallels between yesterday’s March for Our Lives to end gun violence, falling as it did on Palm Sunday weekend, and that first Palm Sunday march 2,000 years ago, have been uncanny to me.
Like the crowd 2,000 years ago, I followed the leaders of yesterday’s march to speak truth to power and call for a new era of peace, an era that values people more than political power, children more than economic power.
Also, I imagine like that crowd 2,000 years ago, I left yesterday’s march inspired, high from the strength and hope of the voices and actions of so many people who were calling for an end to a status quo that, quite literally, kills people. 800,000 people marched in Washington, DC, and there were hundreds of parallel marches around the world, including 10,000 people here in Portland.
I imagine that the followers of Jesus felt energized by strength and hope too. Their parade into Jerusalem meant that they were rejecting the powerlessness their religious authorities and the Roman empire had forced upon them. Jesus, through his preaching and teaching and ministry had shown them that they were, in fact, each and every one of them, a beloved child of God, no less valuable to God than the people in power. When the crowd chanted, “Hosanna in the highest heaven! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”, they were cheering the reality that they were worth more than how they had been treated their whole lives. They were cheering the hope that a new era based on that was dawning. With Jesus at their side, the people marched right into Jerusalem, right in front of the authorities. In essence, they were telling those in power, “We are not going to let things continue the way they’ve always been, the way that benefits you at the expense of us. We are worth more than this.”
Like Jesus, these people were rejecting the values of domination that benefitted a few at the expense of many, and they laid claim to values of peace and compassion, especially for the weak and the suffering.
This is how I felt yesterday too. I carried a sign I had made, which read, “Children First, Gun Profits Last,” because those in the business of manufacturing and selling automatic rifles seem more interested in sales than in the safety of children, and I wanted to proclaim the value of those children. It was empowering.
The thing is, though, the gospel of Mark does not end with the triumphal march into Jerusalem. God did not simply kick the Pharisees out of the Temple and the Roman soldiers out of the country and replace them with the woman at the well and the blind man Bartimaeus. No. God rejected the entire system that places some people over others. And God did this by letting the system burn itself out until only God’s love remained. And that burning out is not pretty; it is the crucifixion.
Two thousand years ago, the story did not end with the triumphal march into Jerusalem, and today, the story does not end with the march to end gun violence. The crucifixion is coming. Just as happened on that Palm Sunday so many years ago, those who benefit from the current system will push back; they will try to silence and squash those who work to change it.
Before yesterday’s march even began, people were saying cruel, mean, homophobic things about some of the student survivors who spoke at the march in Washington. A spokesperson for the NRA taunted them by saying that the only reason they were famous was because they had been in the school shooting and that they didn’t know what they were talking about. Their lives may become threatened, if they haven’t been already.
The crucifixion comes.
We cannot challenge systems of domination and not expect those systems to push back. We are met by disapproval, hostility, even violence.
And we also cannot help but challenge these systems anyway. It is what we are called to do. It isn’t about anger, though that sometimes comes up, and it isn’t about obligation, though sometimes it helps to have encouragement. It is simply about following in the footsteps of those people 2,000 years ago who realized that they were as utterly important children of God as everyone else.
Now, you may not be called to march against gun violence. Maybe you are called to walk with people as they break the bonds of addiction, or with their families, or maybe you are called to reverse climate change, or maybe you are called to feed people who are hungry, or to protect children from abuse, or to help people find housing. Or maybe you are called to create a safe workplace—a safe every place—for women, or maybe you are called to do one of a thousand other things that reclaim the Garden of Eden. I don’t know what you are called to, but I know you are called.
We are all called.
It does not matter how old we are, what our limitations are, or how weak and afraid we are. Abraham and Sarah were in their 90s, Moses had a stutter, and Jesus’ followers were poor people and women.
What matters is that we stick together and we walk forward. Some days our steps are baby steps; some days we march in the capitol. But if we lean on each other and we lean on God, we will always be moving forward.
Forward to the cross, and forward into glory.