Saturday, April 4, 2009

Sunday Sermon

Passion Sunday 2009: "Which Procession are you in? – A Monologue"

It was the time of the Festival: the Festival of the Passover, and everyone was going up to Jerusalem. I come up for the Festival every year. I suppose you would call me a pilgrim, journeying with a purpose. But this year it was special, because I came up with Jesus. You see, I’m one of his disciples. You probably wouldn’t consider me a very important disciple; if your look in your Bible, you won’t find my name written down anywhere. You see, I’m one of the women, and nobody knows most of our names. We usually end up staying in the background, too. The men are always reminding us that it’s our job to serve, that we shouldn’t get in the way – we get the message, believe me! Sometimes, though, I think that, even though I’m not one of the twelve, and even though I don’t get to be in on all of the secret conversations, that Jesus still considers me important, a part of his plan.

Let me tell you a little bit about how I became one of Jesus’ followers. He is very popular in Galilee, where I am from. He tells stories and says things that make people think – like "no one puts new wine into old wineskins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskines" – what do you think he meant by that? – we’re still talking about it! And oh! – he heals people, too. I remember one day that we were in the synagogue and he healed a man with a withered hand. I remember it so well, because he said two things, "Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath or to kill?" He said this because some people said he shouldn’t do a healing on the sabbath, in the synagogue. Then he said to the man, "Stretch out your hand!" I’ll always remember seeing that withered hand stretch out. I don’t even remember his face – the man’s, I mean. I just remember his hand, withered and then whole.

That’s not why I followed him though. I followed Jesus because – for a lot of reasons. I think I followed because of his Voice, his confidence, the way he called to people, and the message about the "Kingdom of God". I wanted to be a part of that Kingdom! And he said that somehow, it was here! It seems like he can see it, even when I can’t. And it seems that his kingdom has to do with peace, with servanthood, with healing – not like the other Kingdoms I know. There’s Caesar’s kingdom, first of all. That Kingdom is all about power over other people. We’re an occupied people, and they like to take every opportunity to remind us. You see the poles that line the main street out of Jerusalem? Those are for crosses, for crucifixions.

They always leave the poles in the ground to remind people what it means to go against the Roman Empire. That’s one kingdom. And then there is Herod’s kingdom. They are the Jewish leaders, and they’re in Rome’s pockets. They aren’t much better than Rome, in my opinion. They are supposed to keep us safe, but they keep most of us poor and in debt. That’s another Kingdom. Jesus’ Kingdom is different, it’s hard to explain. Let me give you an example: when Jesus has a dinner, he will invite anybody – poor, rich, Pharisee, sinner, even me. And he takes what we have: even a few crumby loaves and fish, and makes it into something. If I can just stay with Jesus, maybe I can see what he sees, even if just for a little while.

So, I followed him to Jerusalem, where there was a grand procession as he entered the town. Well, you know what it was like! People were putting palm branches on the ground, and they were shouting, "Hosanna!" He came in riding on a donkey, which might seem odd to you. It might not seem very "Royal" – but that’s the point. Jesus is going to be a humble King. This procession, as grand and exciting as it was to me, I fully admit was nothing compared to what was happening in another part of town. You see, everyone knew that Someone Else was coming into town as well. Pontius Pilate, our Roman governor, was coming to town; he always did, for the festival.

There are always some who like to make trouble at this time of year, and he hopes to prevent a riot. Pontius Pilate’s procession would have been splendid and awe-inspiring, the full force of Rome behind him. I’m sure there were many people watching that parade. Maybe some of them were even shouting out to him, the way we shouted out to Jesus, "Hosanna!" (Save us!)
I stayed with Jesus throughout the week, listening to him as the religious leaders argued with him and tried to trick him and trap him. He won every time, and I could tell they were getting angrier and angrier. But they couldn’t do anything, because there were so many people who followed him.

I heard they had to arrest him in the dead of night. One of the twelve – one of those who had heard the secret conversations and been with him always – was the one who betrayed him. And everyone else ran away. Where were all of those who cried "O Save us!" now? Where were the people waving palm branches? They were gone, afraid of the power of the Roman Empire, their power to kill and destroy. Maybe they were afraid that Rome would find out that they had been in that procession, naming Jesus as the true King. Instead, the only people there were soldiers, and mockers, and a few bystanders, not taking sides. And me.

A few of us women watched too, but from a distance. We stayed in the distance. I suppose we were afraid too. We heard the people laugh and mock him, say, "If you are – the son of God, come down from the cross." But he didn’t. He cried a terrible cry, and he died. The one who healed the withered hand, the one who fed so many people with so little, the one who invited everyone – died. Rome won. That’s how it looks.

I’m not sure what to do now. I can go back home, I suppose. It’s no use hanging around here, dreaming of things that are never going to happen, hoping for changes in the world and in my life. And yet – somehow I think that Jesus was right, that his vision was right, that his Kingdom is the one I want to live in. Even so, I want to be in his procession, even though it led him – and me – here, to the cross, to death.

What about you? Whose procession are you in? Are you in Pilate’s procession? I’ll admit, it has its advantages. He’s powerful, he’s successful: I suppose that if you are on your way up, you can’t ignore him. Or are you in Jesus’ procession? "He saved others," they said. Why couldn’t he save himself? I wonder about that. And it makes me, honestly, afraid to follow him, sometimes. But it also makes me wonder: Maybe, in some strange way, that is the way it is in Jesus’ kingdom. "He saved others." Who else can say that?

I suppose I’m still a pilgrim, even though I’m not sure where I’m going next. I’ll wait here, for a little while. But what about you? Whose procession are you in? Who are you following – really?


mompriest said...

beautiful....I hope you feel better too!

FranIAm said...

Oh Diane, this is a great sermon, wow.

And I too hope that you are feeling better.

Jan said...

This is so good that I linked it to my post today. Thank you. Get well!

Barbara B. said...

I like this perspective!

(I also hope you are feeling better.)