Posted on Mon, Apr 9, 2012
Rev. Dr. Merritt's Sermon of April 1, 2012 - PALM SUNDAY
“A Hero’s Welcome”
Rev. Dr. Jim Merritt
April 1, 2012 – Palm Sunday
Picture it: The Lakeland Civic Center now called The Lakeland Center. I was there with my mother and a friend when The Happy Goodman’s took the stage. They were old now, very old, and without a moment’s thought I stood up and yelled, “I love you, Sister Vestal.” She looked up and said, “I love you too, honey.” She was one of my sheroes. On another night Al and I found ourselves delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles California. It was a big night. Al and Tipper Gore took the stage and before long we all witnessed that big kiss that was broadcast around the world. People yelled and screamed and applauded and kissed each other. It was magical. Another gay man and I kissed each other as CSPAN broadcast around the world while the boy scouts, an organization known for discrimination against us, led the pledge of allegiance. Finally, many years later I was sitting in the Meditation Hall at Plum Village just outside Bordeaux, France when Buddhist Zen Master entered the room. The only words I can use to describe it to this very day are these, “This must be what it would feel like when Jesus walked into a room.” I have many heroes, sheroes, and spiritual role models. I hope you do, too. And so this morning the question of the hour is this; “How do we offer A Hero’s Welcome?” Would you pray with me?
Jesus, Son of God, son of humankind, you are the very center of our joy this morning. We know that every good and perfect thing comes from you. You are the source of our contentment hope for all we do, and so we’ve come to worship you, to give you thanks and praise and, as best we are able, to offer you our most heartfelt Hero’s Welcome. Be powerfully present among us we pray, inhabit the praises of your people in this place. In your many names we pray; AMEN.
We could spend all morning thinking about the symbolism in this reading from the Gospel of Mark today. Near the Mount of Olives is where Zechariah (14.4) imagines the final battle of nations will be held. To place Jesus at this location suggests something of extreme importance is occurring. A colt: reminds us of the apocalyptic imaginings of Zechariah (9.9). Also, coronation ceremonies for monarchs of Israel may have included the use of colts (Genesis 49.11). Mark is writing circa 70 CE, as or immediately after the Temple is destroyed. This “war” on the holy city and its temple has ended the world as Mark and his contemporaries have known it. Some five decades earlier, Jesus was executed. To now imagine Jesus riding triumphantly into the city (after both Jesus and the city have been brutalized by Rome) is a dramatic cathartic tale where one might imagine Jesus as being Lord (over against Lord Caesar) and therefore, Caesar cannot have the last word. Will Jesus return with an angelic army to out-Caesar, or is the drama only meant to suggest that imperial domination can’t ultimately have the last word and justice must one day prevail? Whichever the writer believes or hopes for, the story offers a creative way to deal with the pain and disappointment with which his community is burdened. Leafy branches: “On the twenty-third day of the second month, in the year 171, there was a great
celebration in the city because this terrible threat to the security of Israel had come to an end. Simon and his men entered the fort singing hymns of praise and thanksgiving, while carrying palm branches and playing harps, cymbals, and lyres.” Mark is remembering the sacred story of Israel surviving a threat and celebrating its security with singing, instruments, and the waving of palm branches like pom-poms. This continues to the cathartic drama of imagining how things ought to be and hoping how they might one day be even if in the present moment things are very disappointing. Hosanna: from the 118th Psalm, it means “save us.” Having lost everything in the year 70, a desperate hope that somehow they could be saved from Rome’s wrath and seeming unstoppable power is the prayer of the hearts of the oppressed. By the world’s standards, Caesar has won, Rome has one, and we know the rest of the story. We know the final outcome.
I love the way Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins summarizes the outcome, “Jesus subverts the systems of power and privilege. In God’s realm, the so-called scum are the disciples, the prophets, the saints, the children of God! Hated tax collectors, people who fish for a living or who tend sheep, prostitutes, lepers, the poor, children, women, Samaritans…God shows no partiality. In God’s realm the last are first and the first are last. In the story of God’s realm, the star rides a borrowed colt. In God’s realm, not even death and destruction get to have the last word. In the realm of God, people like you and me ride in with Jesus for a hero’s welcome. We all experience it together as the crowds cry out, “Hosanna, Hosanna in the highest, blessed are they that come in the name of our God!” See yourself there with Jesus. Offer Jesus a Hero’s welcome knowing full well that this is your welcome, too. Ride in, Child of God! Ride on, Daughter of God! Ride on Son of God. Ride on with Jesus knowing that you receive a hero’s welcome, too.
And be careful. Because we know that hero’s pay high prices for the service they offer. You see Jesus’ Jerusalem and our Jerusalem right here in Gainesville offer two choices. At the beginning of Passover there would have been a procession by Pilate to demonstrate Roman imperial power and theology. Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem is a counter procession—a peasant procession. As John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg suggest, “following Jesus means following him on the way; the way leads to Jerusalem; Jerusalem is the place of confrontation with the authorities; Jerusalem is the place of death and (Jerusalem is a place of) resurrection.” Borg and Crossan poignantly as us, “Borg and Crossan point out that today’s Christian, at the beginning of Holy Week, is faced with the same question as those early followers, “Which procession do we want to be in?”
Which way will you choose today for your Hero’s Welcome? Will you choose the Caesar way that celebrates imperial power and theology? Do you choose the us against them way that leads to labels like insider and outside, we and they, us and them? Or will you choose the Jesus way that may lead to some death-like experiences, but that ultimately leads to resurrection and life everlasting full and free, not just for me, not just for us, but for the whole world. Jesus says, “I have come that you might have life, life more abundantly.”
In closing, let me simply say, Ride on with Jesus! Experience your hero’s welcome with Jesus and let it lead you to the path of resurrection life everlasting for all of us! I pray that this Holy Week will lead all of us to a deep and mindful place of readiness for what God is about to do all over again right here in our very midst.
Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!