Palm Sunday 2020
As I sit down to write this sermon on the first day of a new month, I wonder how your life has changed over the last few weeks. Though it might feel more like a year than a month ago, on the 1st day of last month, leeks and daffodils were all the rage; Castle Square held their AGM over hot drinks and welsh cakes; St. David’s Uniting enjoyed quizzes in the morning and bring and share worship in the evening; we all gathered together with smiles and zero social distancing as we celebrated St. David, Welsh culture and the 81st Birthday of one of our fold.
Today, just 31 days later, those scenes feel a world away…and I wonder how your life has changed over the last few weeks. Some changes are common to us all…common to almost all of humanity the world over – the hand washing, the isolating, the anxieties – but many more will be dependent upon our individual context – our accommodation and living arrangements, our vocation and responsibilities, our age and health. I wonder how your life has changed over the last few weeks. For me, there’s been some significant changes – adjusting my work routine; having to embrace more technology; sharing my beauty on YouTube; taking on more funerals than ever…but there have been quieter, more subtle changes too. Perhaps, like me, you’ve been far more aware of what you eat and drink – being more careful than ever not to waste anything, even if that means using up that jar of chutney that’s been in your fridge since Jesus walked the Earth. [If you eat around the mould, you’ll be fine!].
Perhaps, like me, you’ve pressed pause on holiday plans and have ceased researching the best airfares on comparison sites.
Perhaps, like me, you’ve curtailed your regular use of non-essential online delivery services, realizing that your need for the latest whatnot is not as great as the health and wellbeing of warehouse workers and delivery drivers.
Perhaps, like me, you’ve said prayers for, or sent notes of thanks to, friends and family members who work in the public services alongside refuse collectors, supermarket workers and all those oft overlooked groups of people who enable our daily living.
Perhaps, like me, you’ve considered how each journey you take, each purchase you make, has to make sense for the whole – of how our daily living affects the health and happiness of those in our communities and across the other side of the world.
And perhaps, like me, you’re slowly coming round to the realization that it’s always been this way! Perhaps it’s beginning to dawn on you, as it is me, that you never should have been overeating or wasting food; never have been booking flights or online deliveries without thinking; never should have taken the work of others for granted, instead realizing and relishing the fact that our lives have always been interconnected and inseparable.
The fact that I – perhaps we – have not always been so aware of this speaks to the power and privilege that I unwittingly carry with me daily. The power to choose how to spend disposable income; to choose when and where I will go on holiday; to choose what I will buy so I might eat, drink and be merry. The privilege of an education; of good health; of living in a society where the ill and vulnerable are meant to be cared for…in such contrast to those scenes that we’re seeing in India; hearing about in Palestine, South Africa and across the less economically developed world.
This Sunday is Palm Sunday – can you believe it? The day when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. A day when some of you might use the holy week literature that we hurriedly emailed and posted out when we knew lockdown was on the horizon. And if you’re using that material, you’ll be following the account of holy week found in the gospel according to Mark, along with some comments on that gospel by the theologians Marcus Borg and John Crossan. They helpfully remind us that Jesus’ journey into Jerusalem was preplanned by him. “Go get this colt,” he says to his disciples – “I’ve arranged for it to be tied up at the next village for us. If anyone asks, tell them I’ve sent you.”
And they do…and we know the rest…cloaks laid, branches spread, Hosannas shouted, as Jesus rides the donkey into town.
But, as most Biblical scholars suggest, Jesus’ palm parade was likely witnessed by only a few folk and most of those were already following him, for, on the other side of Jerusalem, another, far more grand parade was taking place. A great, imperial procession was carrying the Roman governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate, into the capital, ready to protect the city from any Passover nonsense. Drums would be beating and stallions neighing; banners flying and helmets gleaming. Soldiers would have marched the streets, striking fear and awe into all who saw. This was a march of might – a pageant of power from the ruling elite and it was a sight that those in Jerusalem had grown accustomed to, having witnessed so many great world leaders – from King Solomon to Alexander the Great – do the same. This was how a true leader made their entrance. This was how to evoke pride from your supporters, fear from your enemies, respect from all.
In comparison, Jesus’ parade was a joke! An ass took the place of a stallion; a gang of tax collectors, unemployed fishermen and women of ill repute were the army; a wandering pacifist from Nazareth, the mighty leader. This wasn’t a parade of power and privilege but of humility and solidarity. On that day in Jerusalem, Jesus was living out a very different kind of kingdom in which authority was shown through humility; where branches, not swords, were waved; where joy and humour took the place of fear and resentment. In his parade, Jesus was identifying with the outcast and overlooked; he was undermining the power of the Empire; he was challenging the expectations of his followers.
Quite simply, as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, he was revealing a God who loved those whom society deemed the least and last and whom God would make first. He was revealing a God who had liberated slaves in Egypt before and who would continue to shake the unjust systems of Empire. He was revealing a God who forgoes power and privilege and instead uses the smaller, often overlooked things of life – a baby in swaddling clothes, a man on a donkey, a criminal on a cross and a friend in a garden – to transform this whole interconnected world with love. This is the mind-blowing story that we’ll hear again this week. This is the journey that we get to go on, even from our own sofas.
And when it’s all over, when the cross is bare and the tomb is empty; when we’re allowed out of homes to walk freely once more, we’ll be invited to join in a parade once again. The question then will be, which parade will we choose to join?
When this is over,
may we never again
take for granted
A handshake with a stranger
Full shelves at the store
Conversations with neighbors
A crowded theater
Friday night out
The taste of communion
A routine checkup
The school rush each morning
Coffee with a friend
The stadium roaring
Each deep breath
A boring Tuesday
When this ends,
may we find
that we have become
more like the people
we wanted to be
we were called to be
we hoped to be
and may we stay
for each other
because of the worst.
Laura Kelly Fanucci