Palm Sunday, Karen Bowles

Matthew 21:1-11

We have heard the reading describing Jesus entry into Jerusalem at the beginning of the Jewish festival of the Passover – the marking of the Jews release and eventual flight from Egypt.  Tensions are high – the Romans are in control – the Jews are searching for a Promised One – a Messiah to release them from yet another bondage.  In our present day, think any group of people, nation or religion that are restive under outside rule or any group of people, nation or religion that are seeking to assert the legitimacy of their rule, their power, their kingdom.  In the march of human history there are no end to these scenarios and they have been played out since we began gathering in groups and encountering others gathered also in groups.  And in most of these there is a strong one – one that comes to the fore to ride out in front of the parade, the march, the victory.  And often the strong one is the one who should not be riding in front.  Often the strong one is most full of fear and least able to lead – the one full of his/her own power and glory, seeking kingdom.

But it not so for Jesus for this march this parade of Jesus entering Jerusalem – this parade of the Palms.  Interestingly enough, there are no palms mentioned in this reading not once and yet we have waved palm branches on Palm Sunday for many years.  And also there is a comic element to this story – somehow Jesus manages to ride both a donkey and a colt – perhaps a mistranslation of the earlier hebrew text of Zechariah written some 600 years before that describes the coming of a chosen one to save the Jews from another overlord.  “Tell the daughter of Zion – look your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’  The key word here is ‘humble’. The strong one in this parade is not one who wields power or glory or kingdom as we have seen these terms understood.

Think back on some of the marches or the parades you have been to or heard about.  There was the hallowe’en parade at my kids school where all the kids parade through the school and around the grounds in their costumes while parents ooh and aah at their own handiwork or in my case, the lack of it.  There is the small town parade with the Sally Ann band and the local high school marching band with wagons pulled by tractors announcing the delights of the local restaurant and the constancy of the local feed mill. These are innocuous parades. They do no harm and they do celebrate human community.

There is the gay pride parade, the Santa Claus parade, the Chinese new year parade,  parades that celebrate a cause an occasion a yearly festival.  These are parades of shared or remembered experience bonding a community together.  These are the parades of different sorts of kingdoms.

There are parades that divide us and ones that unite us and ones that excite us.  I witnessed just lst year a rag tag bunch joining in an Orangemen parade in Scotland.   The potential for conflict was evident in the faces of those watching and those marching and the police presence was heavy.  There are protest marches, like Idle No more or the G20 marches we saw in our own city.  There are marches protesting political leaders and political decisions like the recent marches in the US protesting presidential vetos on immigration. These are parades for taking sides – for wielding of, or protesting about the lack of, power.

And there are also the parades that mark the end of conflict the end of war – the ticker tape parades we see in grainy footage now – that some of you remember – the relief the joy the marking of victory carrying a banner saying ‘never again.’  Today is the 100th anniversary of the start of the battle of Vimy Ridge in 1917.  10,000 canadians were wounded and of those 4,000 died in that one battle – but they took the ridge. These are the victory parades.  And in every victory parade whether it be in Russia or Syria, Germany or Holland, victory in conflict is always accompanied by brokenness, by loss in the faces of those who line the parade route.  These are usually the most honest parades because they hold both the best and the worst of us humans in constant tension.

And at all parades where many are gathered there is always community.  It takes many to make a march and it takes many to create a kingdom, and it takes many to keep a kingdom in place; it takes many to take power and it takes many to overthrow a power – it takes many to celebrate a victory and it takes many to protest a victory.

Over the last week’s in our lenten reflections, Kristin Doug and myself have been pondering the last line of the Jesus prayer “For thine is the kingdom the power and the glory for ever and ever.”  And we have been asking what kind of power what kind of kingdom what kind of glory?  And before Jesus was co-opted in much of our Christian history by the kind of power that brooks no opposition, by the kind of kingdom that rejected all other expressions of faith and by the kind of glory that found its origin in pomp and circumstance of a very human kind, there was the kingdom and the power and the glory that belonged to God alone, the kingdom and the power and the glory Jesus riding into Jerusalem, on a donkey and a colt, advocated, lived for and eventually died for.  And this week I have been delving into the poetry and prose of Leonard Cohen to ponder, to reflect and to pray in those Lenten reflections on the kingdom the power and the glory as I think Jesus understood these terms and we will hear Cohen this morning.

Those words – power kindgom and glory are our words – are our attempt to portray victory. But victory always has a victor and victory always presumes a vanquished in the way we understand the word.

Love is not this victory march.

But if shift our focus, if we reframe our attention, to understand these words of power, kingdom and glory as prayer then we are closer to Jesus’ victory march into Jerusalem.  From Leonard Cohen “Prayer is translation. A man translates himself into a child asking for all there is in a language he has barely mastered.”  We pray that Your will God be done we pray that your kingdom God come we pray that Your power God move us from hurting one another, to forgiving one another and we pray to be delivered through your glory, from the evil we do to ourselves and to one another.

Love is this victory march.

Jesus has called over the centuries to all who will listen and hear his words to an understanding of kingdom power and glory that are often the polar opposites of the way we understand these words, asking us, pleading with us to amend our understandings, to widen our horizons, to embrace our longings  and our brokenness and turn them into shared prayers and then into reality.

Again from Cohen:

Oh, I am the little Jew who wrote the Bible. ‘You don’t know me from the wind/You never will, you never did.’ I’m saying this to the nations. I’m the little Jew who wrote the Bible. I’m that little one. ‘I’ve seen the nations rise and fall/I’ve heard their stories, heard them all/But love’s the only engine of survival.’ …

Into the heart of every Christian, Christ comes, and Christ goes. When, by Grace, the landscape of the heart becomes vast and deep and limitless, then Christ makes His abode in that graceful heart, and His Will prevails. The experience is recognized as Peace. In the absence of this experience much activity arises, divisions of every sort. Outside of the organizational enterprise, which some applaud and some mistrust, stands the figure of Jesus, nailed to a human predicament, summoning the heart to comprehend its own suffering by dissolving itself in a radical confession of hospitality.

And so as we move toward the end of this season of Lent and into Holy Week we move today from the Liturgy of the Palms to the Liturgy of the Passion.  These two occupy the same stage today as they have always done in parades that touch us to the core.  And we are asked yet again today to make difficult and human emotional shifts – encompassing celebration and praise, grief and loss, imagining strength as vulnerability and power as humbleness, knowing victory as speaking truth, and glory as the readiness to sacrifice.  Are you ready for the events of this week?  Will you allow this week to change you?  Are we ready?

We move from one parade, one march to the beginning of another with the words of Cohen and the voices of the choir and the cantor this morning.

You want it darker.  We are ready, My Lord.

We are ready, My Lord.