Palm C, 2007
A Liturgy is also available
WHEN THE TWO JOHNNY’S COME MARCHING INTO TOWN!
There was an interesting story on ‘TodayTonight’ during the week.
A forensic scientist and a medical doctor were suggesting
the modern TV programs built around their respective crafts,
both helped and hindered their work.
Helped, because viewers could get some information about what they did.
Hindered, because the programs created unrealistic expectations
of their work for viewers.
Both claimed in the real world, things were always very different.
I want to make a similar claim for today’s theme: Palm Sunday.
The problem for us is, we have heard the stories so often,
or been hoodwinked by the likes of Mel Gibson's film, The Passion of the Christ,
that we combine bits and pieces of all of them
into one big Palm Sunday story,
and think we know what’s going on.
Well, you have already heard in this morning’s liturgy
where I have tried to suggest otherwise…
On the simple matter of ‘leafly branches’ or ‘palms’.
So what can we do with this story.
This time last year I indicated I was reading Stephen Patterson's book:
Beyond the Passion: Rethinking the Death and Life of Jesus.
This Lent I have been reading again… Still. This year it is Borg and Crossan’s:
The Last Week: A day-by-day account of Jesus’ final week in Jerusalem.
Both are, I reckon, excellent books
and worthy of a place in your personal library.
And both books suggest that to understand the stories around
the death of Jesus on what we call Good Friday
and the other bit of the bookend, called Palm Sunday,
we must first have some realistic idea of what happened to Jesus.
So today it’s Borg and Crossan’s comments around what we call Palm Sunday.
The Jewish event indicated is Passover. The really big-deal religious event
on the local synagogue calendar.
Thousands of pilgrims would journey to Jerusalem,
swelling its numbers from around 40,000 to probably 300,000.
Jesus and the disciples are included in that mass of human movement.
And our Palm Sunday stories, convey a variety of pictures
and smells and actions on one part of that movement:
the so-called Jesus procession into Jerusalem.
But what we don’t hear is, there was another procession in town.
The 'real' procession. When the Roman Prefect who governed Palestine,
arrived in town "to make sure that the celebration remained focused on the past, not the present or future" (Patterson 2004:28).
So let’s imagine the imperial procession’s arrival in Jerusalem.
“A visual panopy of imperial power: cavalry on horses, foot soldiers, leather armor, helmets, weapons, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, sun glinting on metal and gold. Sounds: the marching of feet, the creaking of leather, the clinking of bridles, the beating of drums. The swirling of dust. The eyes of the silent onlookers, some curious, some awed, some resentful” (Borg & Crossan 2006:3).
A display of imperial power and imperial theology.
There were two processions that day.
One was about the empire of Rome.
One was about the empire of God.
Borg and Crossan write:
“Jesus’ procession deliberately countered what was happening on the other side of the city. Pilate’s procession embodied the power, glory, and violence of the empire that rules the world. Jesus’ procession embodied an alternative vision, the [empire] of God… The confrontation between these two kingdoms [or empires] continues through the last week of Jesus’ life” (Borg & Crossan 2006:4-5).
Well, all that is about way back then. What about now?
What can we resonate with in 2007?
There continues to be two visions of how we are to be human, religiously.
Sometimes the vision from both the empire and the church seem very similar.
As in the prosperity theology of such places as Hillsong - the AOG mega-church in Sydney.
And from such people as those of the “hysterically religious” (Spong 2007:9),
such as Carl McIntire and Charles Jones in the USA, who preach a violent God…
“Some day we may blow ourselves up with the bombs… But I still believe God’s going to be in control… If he chooses to use nuclear war, then who am I to argue with that” (Jones, Quoted in Crossan 2007:199).
Sometimes the church has just got it wrong about Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem,
which has resulted in a racist theology and overt racism.
Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem was not against Judaism,
not against the Temple as such,
not against the priesthood or Temple leaders.
It was, suggests biblical scholar Dom Crossan, a protest by one within Jewish society
“against Jewish religious co-operation with Roman imperial control” (Crossan 2007:132).
As has there been many within the Australian society who have protested
against imperial control which has led us:
• to detain refugees and boat people in prison-like conditions,
• to wage war on Iraq, through the spectacles of terrorism,
but really through the hip pocket of 'oil'
• to abandon Australian citizens overseas, for political ‘mateship’.
And most times the church has misunderstood Jesus’ journey,
calling it ‘the triumphal entry into Jerusalem’.
It was not. Actually it was an anti-triumphal entry.
But regardless, sections of the church decide to take to the city streets to
‘march… demonstrating the power of Easter’
in gatherings of piety and triumphalism!
But… and you will probably recall I often have a ‘but’.
But this is all very serious. What if there is just a touch of humour in all this?
In a couple of weeks time it will be April Fool’s Day.
And the Feast of Fools was a time of fantasy and festivity and social criticism.
An unmasking of the pretence of the powerful
which exposed the “arbitrary quality of social rank” (Cox 1969:5).
Jesus’ stories – we call them parables – often had a humorous side to them.
So what if his ‘Palm Sunday’ procession (to coin a phrase) also had a touch of humour to it?
‘Taking the mickey’ out of the other, pompous procession?
Maybe the emperor is not wearing any clothes after all!
Palm Sunday, if it is anything, draws us into the reality of this world.
It is an invitation to continue to view the world differently.
Barbara Brown Taylor in her article in this month’s The Christian Century, writes:
“When I listen to the most devoted followers of Jesus, they tell me what it costs to love unconditionally, to forgive 70-times-seven, to offer hospitality to strangers, and to show compassion for the poor. These are essential hallmarks of Jesus' ministry, which no followers of his can ignore… What I hear less about from Jesus' followers is what it costs to oppose the traditions of the elders, to upset pious expectations of what a child of God should say or do, to subvert religious certainty, and to make people responsible for their own lives. Yet all of these are present in his example too” (Taylor 2007).
And sometimes that can take some real doing!
Borg, M; J. D. Crossan. 2006. The Last Week: A day-by-day account of Jesus’ final week in Jerusalem. New York. HarperSanFrancisco.
Cox, H. 1969. The Feast of Fools. A Theological Essay on Festivity and Fantasy. Cambridge. Harvard University Press.
Crossan, J. D. 2007. God and Empire. Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now. New York. HarperSanFrancisco.
Patterson, S. J. 2004. Beyond the Passion: Rethinking the Death and Life of Jesus. Minneapolis. Fortress Press.
Spong, J. S. 2007. Jesus for the Non-religious. New York. HarperSanFrancisco.
Taylor, B. B. 2007. “Something about Jesus” in The Christian Century, 3 April. Web site.