The Way of Peace

Psalm 118:1-5, 19-29 & Mark 11:1-11

The psalmist writes:

Out of my distress I called on The Lord;
the Lord answered me and set me in a broad place.”

 What does it meant to be set in a broad space?

Two years ago, during Lent, my friend and colleague Jennifer Zogg
came to Essex and shared the story of her journey
on an ancient pilgrimage path
known as El Camino,
which is Spanish for The Way.
She walked hundreds of mile –
from the Pyrenees Mountains
on the border of France,
across Spain to the Spanish sea side.
Each day, she would rise and walk out onto the path,
gazing at the dirt path
and immensity of the horizon
stretching before her.
At that time, she was grieving;
one of her dear family members had recently died.
Her life, she says, felt constrained and uncertain.
Yet, she says as she walked
something shifted inside of her;
the expansiveness of the horizon before her,
reminded her of the expansiveness
of the life God was inviting her into.

What does it meant to be set in a broad space?

What are the narrow places that we find ourselves in?

That is a question not only for us,
but also for the disciples of Jesus.

The writer of Mark tells us that,
before Jesus enters Jerusalem this week
and people wave their branches,
two of Jesus’ disciples – James and John –
approach him.

James and John have been following Jesus
for three years now.
They have traveled all over Judea with him,
leaving behind both family and possessions,
and they are ready to reap the reward!
They say to Jesus, when you come in your glory,
let one of us sit on your right
and one of us sit on your left.

Give us the places of honor, they say.
A natural inclination.
Yet, their desire to be lifted above others,
causes division among the other followers.
They wonder: Why can’t we be the ones to sit by Jesus?

Jesus responds that those who want to become truly great,
must be willing to become a servant to others,
for even he had come, not to be served
but to serve.

I am here, Jesus is telling them,
because I bring about a new kind of commonwealth –
one measured not by success and wealth and power,
but by compassion, grace, dignity and generosity.

If you want to become great, Jesus says
          you must be willing to serve others.

When we are confined
by the cramped-ness of our thinking,
Jesus invites us to dream bigger,
love boundlessly
and give passionately.

Jesus comes to us and sets us in a broad place.

What are the constricting places of our lives?

I was pondering that question this week
as I read Psalm 118.

It is a song of ascent:
This means it was one of the songs
sung by the ancient Israelite pilgrims
as they journeyed to the Temple.
The temple in Jerusalem was on a hill;
with each step, as they drew closer,
those on the pilgrimage
would sing these songs of ascent
as a way to prepare their hearts and bodies
to enter into the presence of God.

They prepared their hearts.

I recently attended a choral performance by Coro Allegro
of these songs of ascent,
which come from the psalms.
The performance begins with this gentle melody
rising from the orchestra.
Then a woman sings,
“Let us go into the house of the Lord.”
She continues, pray for the peace of Jerusalem.
The tones here are so soothing they could lull you to sleep.
Then these two male soloist stand up
and, in baritone voices,
they begin to sing as if in a duel.
They each resound forcefully.
One sings:
“If it hadn’t been for God who was on our side.”
The other echoes:
“If it hadn’t been for God who was on our side.”
Each more insistent that God is on their side.
The dueling baritone voices reverberate through the room,
and they reverberate through my soul.
How often have we have been so insistent about our side
that we have missed the essence of what God came to teach?

The way the baritones sing from their souls,
it sounds like are offering a confession,
like it is a moment for us too
to offer from our hearts
the times when we, like the Israelites,
have found ourselves in a narrow place.

I wonder:
How often have I hardened our hearts
like these baritone singers,
failing to see the humanity in the person beside me?
How often have I been like James and John,
so caught up in what I want
that I forget the point of what
Jesus has come to teach?

This choral piece reminds me of Holy Week,
which begins with Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem.
The people are desperate:
conquered by Rome, enduring daily struggles.
As Jesus enters, the people shout hosanna,
which means save us.
Save us!
The people are desperate.

Jesus enters Jerusalem
as the city is preparing to celebrate Passover.
Passover commemorates God’s liberation
of the Jewish people from Egypt.
It recalls a time when God freed the people
from the constrained space of Pharaoh.
Literally, God through Moses and Miriam and Aaron
took the people from Egypt
and led them to a vast, expansive place.

Jesus enters Jerusalem during Passover.
During this festival, the population often swelled
from 50,000 to 200,000.
In response, the Roman governor – Pontius Pilate –
would come with an imperial show of might,
to remind the people:
Rome is in charge.

Pilate enters with
“calvary on horses, foot soldiers,
leather armor, helmets, weapons.” (1)

You could hear:

“the marching of feet, the creaking of leather,
the clinking of bridles, the beating of drums.” (2)

These sights and sounds
convey the message to the people:
Liberation will not come a second time.

Biblical scholars Marcus Borg & John Crossan
think that Pilate enters from the west,
and Jesus, at the same time, from the east.

Jesus enters and the people say:
Hosanna! Save us!
“Blessed is the coming kingdom
of our ancestor David!”

They see Jesus as the one
who will be a king, like David,
who will start a revolution
and  will overthrow Rome.
They hunger for one whose power
outmatches that of the empire.

Enter Jesus.

Jesus comes at the same time as Pilate,
looking ragtag and absurd.
Jesus comes on a young colt.
Jesus comes bringing a different kind of kin-dom.
For Jesus has a broader vision for us,
one that isn’t about pitting
one person against the other,
but is about liberation, about transformation,
about salvation
for all people,
not just for some.
Jesus heals the Romans and the Judeans and the Canaanites.
Jesus leaves no one out.

Enter Jesus.

When Jesus is arrested later in the week,
Peter tries to save him,
by grabbing a sword and cutting off the ear of a Roman soldier.
How does Jesus respond?
Jesus takes the ear and heals it.
He says, “live by the sword, die by the sword.”
Jesus offers us a different kind of kin-dom.

They crucify Jesus,
and on the cross, what does he say?

Jesus sees Mary his mother and one of the disciples
and he says,
“Woman, behold your son.”
To the disciple, he says, “Behold your mother.”
Even on the cross, Jesus reminds us that we are kin.

Pilate tries to say: Liberation will not come a second time.

Jesus tells us: Yes it will.

It will come in the form of children,
welcoming Jesus to Jerusalem,
It will come in the form of a young nursing colt,
It will come in the form of Jesus,
who welcomes the fullness of who we are.
It will come in the tenderness with which
Jesus heals the soldier’s ear,
It will come in the compassion with which
he speaks the words:
Father, forgive them they know not what they do.
It will come in the honesty, when Jesus bellows,
my God, my God why have you forsaken me.
It will come in the brave hours
when the women show up at Jesus’ grave,
even though they do not know what will come next.
It will come in the form of revolution
that overthrows every power
that seeks to tell us that who we are
and what we are is not enough.

Pilate tries to tell us:
Liberation will not come a second time.

Jesus shows us with his life: Yes it will.

No matter how narrow minded our thinking may be,
nothing cannot stop the broad, broad love of Jesus.

In the choral performance I heard the other,
after the baritones finish their solos,
The choir rises up and sings,

“I lift up mine eyes to the hills,
from whence cometh my help.
My help, it cometh from the Lord.”
They sing,
“There is forgiveness with thee.”
They continue, until at last,
the baritone soloists join them,
resounding in unison.
The choir responds,

“Behold, how good, how pleasant,
for brethren to dwell together in unity.
[It is] like the precious ointment upon the head,
that ran down the beard of Aaron,
and down to the hem of his garments.”

Behold, God answers us and sets us in a broad place.

This Holy Week,
how do we prepare our hearts
for the presence of God?

How do we prepare to open ourselves
to the one who comes in the name of Love?

Amen.

(1) Borg, M. & Dominican, J.D. (2006) The last week: What the Gospels really teach us about Jesus’ final days. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

(2) Borg, M. & Dominican, J.D. (2006) The last week: What the Gospels really teach us about Jesus’ final days. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

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