Sunday, March 23, 2018
Prayer of the Day
Let us pray. Sovereign God, you have established your rule in the human heart through the servanthood of Jesus Christ. By your Spirit, keep us in the joyful procession of those who with their tongues confess Jesus as Lord and with their lives praise him as Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen
Processional Gospel Mark 11:1-11
First Reading Isaiah 50:4-9a
Second Reading Philippians 2:5-11
Gospel Mark 14:1-9
Title: A Fearless Face in the Crowd
Perhaps it is because we come into this Holy Week having layered our Lenten journey with our series of facing our fears, that I see so much fear in the gathered crowds on the streets of Jerusalem as we reenact and remember that first Palm Sunday so many centuries ago. Look around and imagine the various fear-filled parties present as Jesus enters the great city of Jerusalem.
I’m not sure I have ever really considered how fearful those disciples must have been. Keep in mind that Jesus has been talking about what will happen to him when he goes to Jerusalem while he was teaching about love and peace, trust and faithfulness. His passion predictions were those parts of his message that the disciples did not want to hear. And, of course, we can’t blame them. No one wants to hear their friend talk about some future suffering. Suffering that can be avoided if they just act right. Act responsibly. Not confront the powers that be. Maybe there were days that they kidded themselves into thinking that Jesus was getting so wrapped up in his rural ministry, into caring for those good earthy people of Galilee that he would never get to Jerusalem. That he would just stay in familiar territory. Familiar to themselves, certainly. Most of them were country folk who didn’t trust that big city slickers. They would be out of their element in the city.
But then came that day, when he told a couple of disciples to go and grab the first donkey they see. He didn’t even have a plan? They must of thought. Is he making this up as he goes along? They asked, only increasing their fear. But they go, following Jesus in the tension of fear and faith that we know only too well.
Now those shouting, palm waving crowds probably appear to be quite fearless. Like hundreds of thousands of young people and their supporters who filled city streets around the country yesterday, those hosanna shouters wear not afraid to speak truth to power. They were not afraid to hope for a brighter future. But it was fear that drove both crowds – the one in Jerusalem and the ones yesterday – into the streets. The people of Jerusalem were afraid of their Roman occupiers. They were looking for someone who would lead the revolt and help them throw off this mantle of oppression. In their fear they figured this could only be done with a violent uprising. Meet might with a fight. Those of us yesterday were and are fearing that elected leaders, under the enormous influence of lobbyists, are failing to build a just and safe society. While no one was suggesting a violent uprising, except at the polls. The streets in both cases were filled with that tension of fear and hope that we know only too well.
And speaking of those fear-inducing Romans, they are there too. Not mentioned in Mark’s account, but there none the less. They were always there, watching, policing, oppressing, punishing. And they were there in Jerusalem in bigger force that usual that day. Because their usual fear around keeping control of their conquered subjects was ramped up that day. For Passover was approaching. Not only would the city population double or triple in size with pilgrims coming to celebrate this holiest of festivals, but the stories that would be told in their celebrations would be of slaves being freed by God from their Egyptian masters. The Romans feared how easy it was to change the enemy in the story from Egypt to Rome – creating the inspiration for an uprising. So the Romans sought to comfort their fears with a show of strength. The governor Pontius Pilate paraded into the city, moving from the comfort of his seaside home and headquarters at Caesarea Maritima into the Praetorium in the smelly grimy city. Their parade of entry into the city was far more impressive than Jesus’. He had a donkey. One donkey. The Romans had horses. Lots of horses. The followers of Jesus carried palm branches. Those marching with Pilate carried spear and shield. They wore armor. The crowds with Jesus sang songs. The troops with Pilate seethed threats. They did a convincing job of covering their fear with force, but we also know how to do that all too well.
Also, not mentioned in Mark, but we know they are there from other accounts, from their comments in our other reading from Mark, and from how the rest of the week is going to play out, and we know they are filled with a lot of fear. I speak of the religious leaders. They see themselves as protectors of the tradition. So, this popular new teacher is a threat. They were also collaborators with the Roman occupiers. The power that held and enjoyed was at the pleasure of Roman. In exchange, Roman expected them to keep the peace, keep things under control. It wasn’t just that this young upstart from the country was becoming too popular, he was busting up their monopoly on access to God. The temple – that they ran – was they place one encountered God, was the place where one came too for forgiveness, was the place were sacrifices were bought, taxes were paid, fear was cultivated.
But like John before him, Jesus was going around offering the forgiveness of sins apart from the Temple, apart from the costly sacrificial system. He was teaching people new prayers, a new relationship with God, and steering them away from strict adherence to the laws. He was teaching of God’s mercy, grace, and justice. They were witnessing the fear of losing control, losing power. We know that one all too well.
But there is one face in the crowd of this overpopulated, over fear-full day that doesn’t seem to be possessed with fear. I speak of that woman that we read of. Unnamed. Unclear of her profession or place in the community. But being unnamed and a woman, it must have been pretty low. Not only does she crash a fancy dinner party that she has not been invited to, but she offers a display of faith that we just don’t see from anyone else. She has heard Jesus’ words, his predictions of what is to happen to him, even accepted the reality that he is going to die. She doesn’t shrink in fear, but rather offers Jesus assistance in preparing for what lies ahead. And, as an even greater testimony to her faith, her bold an faith-filled actions suggest that she also believed what Jesus had said about his resurrection that would follow his death. She was beginning to celebrate the impending victory before she saw the empty tomb evidence.
She believed in the word and promise of God proclaimed by Jesus. A word that dispels fear, a word that builds up faith and that feeds hope. It is a word that calls us to seek power in the paradox of humility, and sacrifice control for the sake of servanthood. It is the word that calls us to follow not because of what we will get, but because of what he has given.
Join this unnamed and unafraid woman at Jesus’ feet. Through the faith-building power of the Holy Spirit, hear and believe the promises made to each of us as word is joined with water at the font. Find the hope and the strength that is fed at the table when word is joined with bread and wine. Walk together in humility and servitude as the word gathers us to be Christ’s body and sends us out into the world. The word of God revealed in Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen one, and that sustains through the power of the Holy Spirit is ours by the grace of God so that we need not be another fear-filled face in the crowd.
The Rev. Mark Erson,