1st Scripture Reading: Mark 11:1-11
Mark is considered by many scholars to be the oldest of the gospels. It is certainly the shortest, and most concise. It may well be the least tampered with of all the stories of Jesus’ life and works.
In this gospel, up to now, we have heard many stories of Jesus’ miracles and healings. Now we move into the last part of his life, and we notice a different emphasis. He has established his credentials with the people as the Son of God. He has consistently pointed his finger beyond himself to God as Creator and the power behind all his doings.
And now, knowing that the end is near, he takes control of the events of this part of his life and commandeers the colt of someone who knows – who understands – that the Lord has need of it.
As the Messiah, the anointed One, the chosen of God, he must connect with the people on a symbolic level. He makes a triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Riding a horse, with his followers all around him, Jesus rides to Jerusalem – Israel’s capital city, where the Temple is situated. Those who know him, who have been healed by him, who have seen the works of power that he has performed, these celebrate his entry into the very power centre of the Jews. They shout and sing his praises, they throw cloaks down on the road ahead of him and palm branches.
For this moment in time, they know who he is and they sense the presence of God with them. The sacred has entered their reality, has become something they recognize in someone they have come to know as God’s own son.
“Hosanna,” the people sing. “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” Blessed is the one who brings the promises of the Living God right up close to them in these joyful moments. Such a special time! Such a celebration! God is as close as this children’s song says, and we will now sing.
Hymn # 92 MV “Like a Rock”
2nd Scripture Reading: Mark 14:1-2, 10-25 & Mark 15: 1-15, 33-39
But the celebratory tone doesn’t last. You don’t directly and openly challenge the very seat of worldly power, as Jesus did by his bold and popular entry into Jerusalem, without stirring up a little resentment, maybe even a little fear on the part of those who value the status quo.
The religious leaders of the Jews held a great deal of power. It was the practice of the Roman conquerors to collaborate with the power elite of a vanquished people in order to establish control that would be more acceptable to them, and thus require less time and energy on the part of the Roman government to assure compliance and a sort of peace in their empire. Let me say that again: the power elite of a conquered people continued to be the power elite so long as they agreed to cooperate with the government in Rome.
The very public celebration of this itinerant preacher, Jesus, as the Messiah, the very Son of God, must have struck dread into the hearts of the collaborators. This is real power, this is the kind of leadership that is not easily controlled. With public sentiment behind him, Jesus had become a real threat to the status quo.
They had to kill him. We had to kill him. The disciples had to deny him, out of their fear. The women were afraid to tell anyone that he had risen. The public turned against him when the very real threat of repercussions became clear.
Think for a moment, how you might react to the threat of public whipping, stoning, beheading, crucifixion, torture of many kinds. How brave are we when faced with the real possibility of imprisonment and abuse? If annihilation is the alternative, how many of us might rationalize collaboration?
The Easter Passion story drops us deeply into the darkness of who we are as humans. Torturers, collaborators, betrayers, dictators. We can say, that’s not me….but these people exist, and they are human beings, and we are kin. By dying the death he did, Jesus shows us in ways we can’t turn our eyes from, the very nature of humanity. We are that.
But that’s only part of the story, isn’t it? For today we are asked to be brave. We are asked to be willing to look at the more unsavory aspects of being human. Perhaps this is one way of understanding the doctrine of Original Sin. Most of us, looking at a newborn baby have real problems imagining that this child could possibly have any sin. But maybe it makes more sense to see ourselves as part of a collective, called “humanity” - a species, if you like, with a long history of attachment to war and violence, revenge and punishment. We are asked to look at that, and ask ourselves: “Is that the best we can be?” For myself, is that the best choice I can make for expressing as human in this lifetime – or do the teachings and example of Jesus the Christ offer me a better way, a more loving way, a more just way to be in the world? If we are willing to sit with the pain – to acknowledge the truth of who we are as a people – then perhaps the purifying fire of truth will cleanse us, heal us, and lead us out of fear. I think it’s worth a try.
Hymn # 90 MV “Don’t Be Afraid”