Palm Sunday March 29, 2015
Welcoming the Wrong Jesus Luke 19:28-40
Rev. Diane K. Hooge
Last November we offered our support and blessing on the delegation that went to Georgia to participate in the 25th non-violent march outside of Fort Benning. This year, which marked the twenty fifth anniversary of the massacre of six Jesuit priests and two women, brought folks from around the world to once again demand that the School of the Americas located at Fort Benning be closed.
It’s easy to wonder if any of those marches matter…it’s easy to want to sit down together and ask, “Is there a better way to make a difference?” However, I read an article this week about Eve Tetaz and Nashua Chantal who were arrested last November during the march and recently went before Judge Stephen Hyles in Columbia, Georgia. Eve is 83. She has taught school all around the world, and she gave a most compelling speech. Nashua, an art teacher, a volunteer working with International youth groups, spoke about how Christ plays an important role in guiding him in his pursuit of justice.
The prosecution called for Eve and Nashua to be incarcerated for 6 months. Judge Hyles, notorious for imposing prison sentences on non-violent activists imposed a $5,000. Fine on Eve. Nashua received 5 years’ probation. For the School of the Americas watch, this is deemed a victory. What we know about justice making, is that it often demands a tenacious spirit. It can demand the better part of a lifetime to see any significant shift in disordered systems.
This story reminded me of my first public stand against the building of nuclear weapons. The setting was an ecumenical march that took place on Good Friday, in front of the Livermore Laboratories in Northern California. The march, which has taken place for over 30 years was originally designed around the 14 Stations of the Cross. It was a re-enactment of the journey of Jesus to Jerusalem where he was ultimately crucified. At each station, the marchers were to stop to reflect on a portion of the biblical story, or a piece of Church tradition. I was part of a group that was to give leadership at the 6th Station of the Cross. We arrived early. I was shocked at the size of the laboratories, but my stomach did a flip when we turned the last corner and the police officers came into view—not one or two of them on the corner to make sure that the traffic flowed smoothly, but there were officers five abreast and six deep down the middle of the street wearing full riot gear.
The laboratories own security force was perched behind the chain link fences and on top of the roof. They were filming the crowd. In the ecumenical gathering, there was a varied assortment of religious communities represented: priests, nuns, pastors, lay people, students, babies in strollers and young children playing along the way.
There were those in the Good Friday march that became very nervous when the reporters with their roving cameras started scanning the crowd asking for names to use in their stories. I suspect that in Jesus’ march there were those who were still ardent followers of John the Baptist, and weren’t ready to be totally behind Jesus, especially if it was perceived to be dangerous to be his follower. Not everyone at the Livermore March made it all the way to the end of the march. And, not everyone who started out with Jesus made it all the way to Jerusalem. It’s risky to take a stand—it’s risky to go public with one’s beliefs—particularly in the presence of those who hold the power and believe differently.
In a society that savored and relished the excitement of a returning conquering hero on their stately Arabian steed or being carried in an ornate chariot drawn by a pair of matched stallions, those of Jesus’ day knew the unwritten rules of a royal parade.
They left the burdens of working long hours and barely scraping by in life in order to cling to the hope of what this march represented. For just a short period of time they allowed themselves to forget the drudgery of the constant strain of keeping food on the table. The energy of the cries of “Hosanna: which translated was a plea to God to “save us now!” created an altered state of consciousness.
It didn’t matter that this king wasn’t on a stallion, but on a homely, lowly donkey, for they knew the game plan. As Jesus neared the Mount of Olives, the people went wild. The energy of the crowd escalated and they began yanking off their coats and jackets and waved them in the air like pompoms. Those who didn’t sling their coats used the traditional branches to wave their welcome to this royal figure. In the Asian tradition, they rushed to spread their coats on the road creating a royal carpet honoring the new king. They were convinced that they were at the right place and the right time to watch history unfold.
As Jesus moved along the road past Herod’s palace, the Roman Fortress of Antonia, the High Priest’s residence and the grandeur of the Temple, he was aware that all of those structures and systems were against him. Up until this day, Jesus’ identify had only been hinted at, obscurely indicated, or revealed to a chosen few, but today, this march makes a very loud statement.
The reality was nobody could fathom that the kingdom could be anything except a typical hierarchical structure where Jesus would reign. The bottom line was, they just didn’t get it. They were welcoming the wrong Jesus. They had created an illusion of a king that would fit the old system. Even if they knew things weren’t good, they were at least known and everyone knew what the rules were.
Jesus taught servanthood which wasn’t popular then and it isn’t popular now. Even some of his disciples who had witnessed his miracles and who could quote his truths had gotten caught up in this day of illusion. They desperately wanted to be considered the entourage of a “real king.” Let’s face it, believing that one has an inside track to a new kingdom is pretty heady stuff.
I wonder how many of those folks who were part of the crowd to Jerusalem still acknowledged having been his disciple a few days later: after Jesus’ arrest, after his conviction and after his crucifixion.
How many of them were still showing their grandchildren their garments with the hoof prints still visible…garments that had been spread for the new king? How many went into silence and blocked the day out altogether? How many could not cope with feeling betrayed and abandoned along with their lost hope?
The Church’s historical title for this event is “The Triumphant March”, however, it is not the pinnacle…it is a part of the process. It is not designed to bring in a new royal family and new systems, but it is a march that is chosen for its liberating qualities.
When our youngest son, Matt, was four years old, we were living in the River Road area of Eugene. Matt fell out of our tree house and broke his femur. He spent a week in the hospital in traction and then was put into a body cast for another six weeks. When the great day finally arrived for him to be set free, I couldn’t wait for him to get his cast off and get him and the rest of the family back to “normal living.” However, when we arrived at Dr. Singer’s office, he took me aside and said, “Now, Mrs. Hooge, I want you to know that removing a cast from a young child can be a traumatic transition. I want you to let Matt remain in the open cast as long as he desires until he is ready to move out of it.
So, I watched as the cast room technician split the cast in two. The top half of the cast was removed, and then Matt was put on a gurney and wheeled out to our car—sort of a Matt on the half shell. We loaded him into the back seat, drove home, carried him into the house, placed him on his now very familiar couch, handed him his trust blue blanket, and began the wait. As I worked feverishly in the kitchen attempting to reduce my stress, I was anxious to see just when this transition would take place. There were some tense moments as the minutes moved into hours. Finally, the moment came when he did start to get out of the cast, and he and we slowly resumed life.
For me, there was a lesson in grace. The triumphant march is the process of learning to step out of the confines and comfort of our bondage in order to achieve growth and be all that we are called to be. There is a big part of me that would like it to be easy—simple—without risk. I’d like to google a web site and read about a guaranteed outcome before I take the steps. The paradox of the Christian faith is that we are required to surrender ourselves. We’re asked to live out the surrendering process through a relationship with the Divine. Although we are not asked to leave our intellect behind, we’re asked to come as children and be received into the kinship of God. We’re called to trust—not an easy task for the original team of disciples, and not easy for us.
If we don’t choose to break out of our protective shells, whatever they might be, we are stuck in our “shoulds and oughts” barriers which make up the very laws that Jesus came to enable us to break out of…to break through to liberation. We are then invited to walk with others. Being with someone in the dark night of the soul isn’t about “fixing;” it’s about being a presence—it’s about listening beyond their words. It’s about listening underneath the moans and the groans. However, just as the breaking out of the cast has risks, so the march has risks.
When one goes against the established order, one faces barriers. There is no guarantee of status if one chooses to work outside of the cultural norms.
To break out of our cast, we no longer have an excuse for our limited life. We have to find out who we are designed by God to be. In order to do that, we have to learn to listen to God. And, it’s out of listening that we can determine our actions. It is in the process of seeking God that we ultimately find ourselves. Our hope for liberation is to see ourselves as God sees us. Where is the darkness hurting God’s children and what light can we shine? There are so many places to make a difference: environmental, climate change, justice making, supporting one another through life’s challenges. Our hope for liberation is to trust the fact that God believes in us and wants more for us than we want for ourselves.
The march is toward the rein of God within.
The march is the ultimate in peacemaking.
The march is available to all humankind.
The march towards the way of the authentic Jesus provides authentic hope. Amen.