Sunday, March 29, 2015

Of Pickups, Peace, & Palm Sunday

I need to share that any post I ever write is a collaborative effort -- often unbeknownst to my collaborators. Events of my week, conversations with friends, a word from my pastor, a road war with a fellow driver -- all plays in. The graduate student in me struggles against the instinct to cite every single phrase and nuance. Lucky me, to have so many wonderful opportunities to learn and grow.  

Hosanna! Our sweet kiddos processing with palms.
(photo by our youth minister, Hannah Lampi)
I made a triumphant entry into my old home town today. On my way to church, I got into a dogfight with a massive red pickup that wouldn't let me into traffic. I decided to engage in the power struggle, show him what a Honda CRV is made of, and pulled ahead of him just in time to make it onto the ramp. I came, I conquered, I acted like an ass. And, immediately felt ashamed.

You see, I had been pondering the first Palm Sunday all morning, preparing to deliver the welcome and opening prayer for services. I was thinking about this most publicly triumphant moment of Jesus' ministry, and how remarkably subversive and humble it was. How the Kingdom of God juxtaposes humility to pride, service to conquering, peace to war. How it makes room for humanity to collide with divinity, how it leaves space for grief in the midst of joy. It all seemed meaningless intellectual pursuit in the moment, as my neanderthal brain exerted itself over my spiritual thinking. I engaged in the same imperial, showy, forceful maneuvering -- a Roman procession with Pontius Pilate -- that Marcus Borg says was happening at the West gate of Jerusalem, just as Jesus entered the East gate with his rag-tag band of followers.

Doesn't life keep us honest, if we let it?

Jesus rode into Jerusalem, to fanfare, on a lowly donkey. Famed theologian Wikipedia tells me the donkey was a symbol of peace, while horses symbolized war and subjugation (Prophet Zechariah reinforces this interpretation in chapter 9 of his book). The gospels also tell us that Jesus paused to weep over Jerusalem as he entered.

All these seeming contradictions...

The crowds are celebrating, but in less than a week will be witness to, maybe even participants in, his death. The man is the source of great joy, but pauses to express grief. He's the King of the moment, but he rides in on a donkey colt.

Celebration is complex. We feel it most because we've experienced its opposite. Joy is highlighted because of the sadness we live through. The sting of pain throws the soothing power of grace into greater relief. The suffering brought about by corrupt kingdoms and regimes and religions heightens the hope of the pure, peaceful kingdom of God. The recognition of our sins enriches our gratitude and experience of forgiveness.

My pastor asked us today which procession we will join: the imperial, politically aggressive party on the West, or the band of underdogs, the subversives in the East.

As Christians, we are no longer the underdogs -- at least in America. We hold more power than the Jesus followers of the first Palm Sunday. As my pastor said, we hold the reins to the horses of war. And, that's a dangerous place to be. We risk becoming blind to the practice of violence, of experiencing the truth as a confrontation, and truth-revealers as political threats. It is harder to address our need of Jesus, and to recognize how his message and life embraced weakness, and undermined power. How he specifically questioned the "good enough" religious lives of his day, while hanging out with the "losers."

Jesus lived totally upside down to our expectations, to our American dreams, to our striving for triumph and success.

As we choose our procession, may we fully celebrate his arrival. Let's just party in it. But, not as champions, or conquerors, or victors. Rather, as recipients of grace. As extenders of grace. As people bereft of power, but willing to throw down whatever we have, palms, coats, blankets, hearts, souls, pride to pave the way for his upside down kingdom of peace and humility and grace. May we bravely confront oppression, wage peace, and, as he did, champion the people lost in the shuffle of power and living and sin.