Saturday, March 31, 2007

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday – 1 April 2007
Luke 22:14 – 23:56 – The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, St. Peter’s at Ellicott Mills

Bread For The Journey

Life often turns on a dime. Such is the character of our liturgy today. The excitement of Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem after a long and challenging journey from Galilee soon turns into arrest, trial and capital punishment by crucifixion – the most terrible form of Roman execution saved only for the lowest of the low: slaves and lower classes, soldiers (but not generals), the violently rebellious and treasonous. Strangely fitting since the lowest of the low were those with whom Jesus spent much of his time.

Luke’s version of this all too familiar story begins at a supper commanded by Torah, and ends with Sabbath rest commanded by Torah. What falls in between is an outline of the typical machinations of an occupying power – ritual division and domination of a subject people. This time the empire of Rome is the occupying power and Israel the subject people.

To dominate a subject people, you must first create a liaison caste, some official link between the colonizing power and the local population. To be effective, this liaison group needs to be close to the heart of the people guaranteeing that orders will be heard and listened to by the subject people, and at the same time undermining the subject people at its very heart. Rome chose well. Rome chose the royal Temple priesthood who tended Jewish life at the very center of the Jewish world, Jerusalem. By choosing the priests, Rome compromised their standing with the people fostering resentment against the very heart of the people. At the same time the priests are aware at every moment that any disturbance in what Rome wants and they are dead. And what Rome wants is peace – pax Romana. Yet, this pax Romana is a cruel peace.

The journey of thousands to Jerusalem for Passover is a recipe for unrest. Passover is the quintessential observance and collective memory of history’s most significant divine liberation of a subject people – the Exodus of Hebrew slaves from the empire of Egypt. The Biblical theme of escape from the controlling power of the Empire is on everyone’s mind – that is the sole purpose of this annual festival: to remember we once were slaves and now are free. To find themselves back in Egypt at the hands of Rome was in everyone’s heart and mind. They are hoping, praying and looking for a new Exodus, a new Moses, and a new liberating act of God. If it all sounds strangely familiar, it should. It is a narrative that plays itself out repeatedly throughout human history, our modern era being no exception.

With such a background, we might hear the story a little differently. We might note how Pilate and Herod are not at all impressed by the assertions of their liaison priests, and certainly are not prepared to be ordered around by them! They toy with the priests just as they toy with Jesus. For them this is all a cruel joke. We might note how fearful these priests are to see the kind of adoration and power Jesus seems to command among the populace – a populace that is distrustful of the priesthood in every regard. Fearful and desperate enough are the accusers that they simply make up the charges: Jesus never forbid paying taxes to the emperor, nor did he claim to be Messiah and King.

We might also note that the populace may have its own reasons for wanting the release of Barabas – he is a popular leader of insurrection against the Roman occupation. Such a person might be more useful to their desires and needs than a teacher and healer who urges peaceful reconciliation and forgiveness.

We might note that Jesus has less concern for his own safety than for the safety of the people and city of Jerusalem. His seemingly enigmatic reply to the bewailing women (who were essentially professional mourners) seems already to know of the later burning of Jerusalem by Rome some 40 years later: “…what will happen when the wood is dry?” I am just one man, he seems to say – the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 will take up to a million Jewish lives.

And isn’t it just like Jesus that he whose mission is to find the lost and scattered does so to the end of his life. He has found observant Jews in the oddest of places – among sinners, in tax stands, the blind, the sick, the poor and the lame – and now he finds one nailed on the cross next to him.

Today I find myself most intrigued by the comment that Herod “had been wanting to see him for a long time because he had heard about him.” How badly do we want to see Jesus? How badly do I want to see Jesus? I also find the comment on Sabbath rest to be compelling. Perhaps if we took more time for true Sabbath rest we might more easily see the Jesus we so badly need to know and see.

Marilyn J. Salmon, Associate Professor of New Testament at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities sums it all up in words that should have special resonance for those of us who see our mission as being Bread for the Journey. Those who follow Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem, including the women, witness his death on the cross – making his words addressed to them at the Last Supper seem less ironic than prophetic: “You have stood by me in my trials.” Through Luke’s passion, words are addressed to later audiences as well, from the first to the twenty-first century, to those gathered on Passion Sunday who begin once again the Journey of Holy Week. We walk the way of the cross. We grieve. We fall asleep on the way. We fail. We betray one another and deny our Lord. We repent. Forgiven and renewed in the ritual of breaking bread, we begin again, strengthened for the journey. (New Proclamation: Year C Advent through Holy Week [Fortess Press, Minneapolis:2006] p.245)

Bread for the journey – we find ourselves back where it all begins, the Last Supper.
The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ According to Saint Luke....

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