Sunday, March 20, 2016

Palm Sunday

Luke 19
32 Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?”
34 They replied, “The Lord needs it.”
35 They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. 36 As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.
37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:
38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”[a]
“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

With preaching—like everything else in life—there are rules to observe.

For example, never preach about yourself unless you are the fool in story.
Be humble before the text, never saying things like “Jesus said, and I think he was right...”
If you plan to put your partner on the spot, don’t tell her in advance.
Avoid excessive blame, and don’t tell the people they have made the baby Jesus cry.
You can have fun with the Bible, but don’t make fun of the Bible.
And don’t preach longer than 15 minutes unless the pews are padded.

Going back to the item about fun with the Bible, there is a sub-clause that says ‘pointing out something foolish that the author has included is okay, but tread very carefully.’ And so we will.

Take, for example, the way in which the crowd mysteriously grows with each retelling of the story of the triumphant entry into Jerusalem. With each Gospel (beginning with Mark) the crowd seems to expand, from many to a multitude to many multitudes. And ‘like the one that got away,’ we can expect this when someone is retelling a really good story.

Or the problem with two animals, which seems only to trouble Matthew. In the other Gospels, Jesus appears riding a donkey, a gesture that seems to mock the great kings and generals that have gone this way before—signaling that something else is happening here. It’s all quite nice and rich with meaning. Until Matthew tries to tell the story.

You see, poor Matthew remembers the story, and remembers the prophecy from Zechariah, but forgets how Hebrew poetry is supposed to work. First, let’s recall the prophecy:

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

If Carmen were up here, rather than luxuriating in her padded pew, she would tell us that Hebrew poetry tells you something, them tells you so much more about something. It’s a simple movement. See he comes to you on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. One animal, Matthew, not two.

So Matthew has poor Jesus riding in on two animals, and while there is another rule that says we should never psychologize Jesus, I bet he felt pretty foolish in that moment. So it’s one animal, not two, and a simple reminder to pay attention when you’re a Gospel writer and you’re learning from Hebrew poetry.

And the lesson continues, because the passage contains another famous bit of poetry, this time quoting Psalm 118:

Save now, I beseech thee, O Lord:
O Lord, I beseech thee, send now prosperity.

This is where we get the evangelist’s translation “hosanna, hosanna in the highest.” So much, and so much more. And again:

Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord:
we have blessed you out of the house of the Lord.

So much, and so much more. In this case, so much blessing, and so much more blessing. And at the risk of sounding like I’m selling something on late night television, there’s still more!

The stone which the builders refused
is become the head stone of the corner.

This is a bit of a variation on the theme, since the metaphor changes as it expands the meaning. More on that in a moment. But the verses that follow the chief cornerstone give us yet another example of the ‘so much and so much more‘ movement:

23 This is the Lord’s doing;
it is marvellous in our eyes.
24 This is the day which the Lord hath made;
we will rejoice and be glad in it.

This poetic increase is meant to draw us higher, toward God, and increase our sense of the meaning and majesty we can find if we remain open to the God revealed in poetry. So much, and so much more.

And this movement has been happening around us for some time, living in our imagination without being so explicit that it lose the poetic quality of the story. So much and so much more has been happening since the Gospels began: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”

Or the boy Jesus in the Temple (thanks Lang): “And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and all people.”

Or John the Baptist: "I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

Or his ministry of healing: “And all the people were trying to touch Him, for power was coming from Him and healing them all.”

Or his place in the larger story: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.”

This example, of course, is a little different. It is so much, then so much more, but with a twist. Jesus—we will soon learn—is the stone that the builders rejected. He will go from dusty roadway to hasty trial to rugged cross in short order, and so we know that he will suffer rejection. We know that the very crowds that shout “hosanna, save us!” will soon shout “we have Caesar as king” and “crucify him!”

He is the stone that the builders rejected, so much, yet he is the chief cornerstone, so much more. He is a symbolic king riding on a donkey and he is the king of heaven. He is friend to tax collectors sinners and that makes him friend of all. He is the one who comes in the name of the Lord and he is Lord, all at the same time.

And so leave it to Paul, always St. Paul, to have the last word. He was more of prose guy, but he quoted poetry, particularly hymns and poems that added meaning to his message. Here and there in Paul’s letters there are fragments saved for us, fragments of verse that are the earliest examples of proclamation, the foundation of our faith.

And while is might seem like jumping ahead, his letter to the church at Philippi contains just such a fragment. We don’t know if it was part of a liturgy, or something sung, or both, but it uses ‘so much and so much more’ to sum up everything we will do this coming week:

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!

And in a final ‘so much more’ Paul concludes:

Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord.



Post a Comment

<< Home