Last week I wrote what I thought would be a pretty controversial post. You can find it here, if you haven't read it already.
I thought I would get some comments - I hoped someone would say, "This changes everything!" I thought someone would accuse me of blasphemy. I heard nothing - but that is OK. I realized something - after writing that post I began to see Jesus as more human. No less divine, but more human. Suddenly I could picture Jesus buckling himself into the passenger seat of my car to ride to Parker's house with me. I like this more accessible Jesus.
Yesterday was Palm Sunday. I didn't go to church because, you know, COVID, but in years past we would wave palm branches and sing Hosanna. Thursday is Maundy Thursday. We would gather for communion to commemorate Jesus' last supper with his disciples, and his betrayal. Friday is Good Friday - I always thought it should be "bad Friday," because it is the day Jesus was crucified and died. Sunday is Easter - a day for new clothes, egg hunts, bunnies, baskets, ham, deviled eggs, lilies, daffodils, tulips - a big celebration. And to be honest, that is what Easter has always been. Jesus rose from the dead and defeated the grave? Great! But I'm not dying yet so I don't really get it. I love dying Easter eggs though so let's do that!
The county where I was a school librarian always had spring break between Palm Sunday and Easter. Monday mornings at my school were for class meetings, and as a specialist I was assigned to a second grade class. The teacher was still traveling home so I was running the meeting, and of course I asked what everybody did over spring break. Some traveled. Almost everyone went to an egg hunt, and then came the boasts about what they found on their egg hunts. Toys, money, candy ... finally I couldn't stand it any more and I asked, "Did anyone go to church?" A few did, but one boy said he was pretty sure his church was closed because it was a holiday.
Since it was public school I couldn't say much more than that, but really - his church was closed because Easter was a holiday? Clearly he needed to spend a little more time there, and I've never forgotten that. It is kind of funny, but kind of sad, too.
This week, Holy Week, starts with promise and joy. It is Passover! The Messiah is here! In our town! He will make everything right and overthrow the Romans who oppress us! The Savior is here! Hosanna!
Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? (Psalm 10:1, NRSV)
But I don't feel like Hosanna-ing, only partly because of COVID. I've been thinking of lament. 18 people have been shot to death in the last two weeks, doing their normal, every day things. Actually it is probably more but if it is one at a time it doesn't even make the news any more. Even before the shooting in Atlanta, my daughter-in-law, Vianne, who is Filipino, has been writing and sharing her pain at discrimination against AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) people. I hope I said that right. My grandson is biracial, and it never occurred to me that anyone would ever see him as other than the adorable child that he is, but Jeff and Vianne are very deliberate about where they live and worship, because they want him to grow up in a safe environment. I'm sad to say it, but that probably lets out my town. Discrimination against AAPIs has increased as some blame anyone who is of Asian descent for the pandemic. Never mind that these are Americans. Vianne has visited the Philippines once in her life.
So, back to lament. A few weeks ago, my post asked the question, "Where've you been, God?" You can find it here. It was meant to be a lament - we have just come through, and continue to experience, national trauma. A lament is a passionate expression of grief or sorrow. The psalmist in Psalm 10 is lamenting, "Where are you? We need you! We are in trouble and you don't come to us!" That is how the Jewish people felt under Roman occupation - oppressed and in trouble, But on Palm Sunday - now the Messiah has come!
But wait - the Messiah is on a donkey? How is this guy going to overthrow anyone? What can he do? He must not be God after all. Who cares that he is smart and tells great stories, and seems to know God really well - he's not the Messiah - he is a threat to the patriarchy as we know it. We want him to be something he is not - CRUCIFY HIM!
This morning I wondered why the Lord is standing so far off, and not coming to us in our time of need - not coming to the people who are starving, who are dying, who are fleeing unspeakable violence and are now separated from their children. People of Asian descent must wonder where God is as discrimination against them increases. Black Americans are worried about how the Derek Chauvin trial will end. Where is God?
Why does the Lord seem to be on the side of the patriarchal, powerful few? The ones who insist that their right to bear arms outweighs the rights of existence of those who were killed last week and the week before. The ones who insist that it must be easier to buy a gun than to vote. The ones who insist that they have a right to control what goes into their bodies so COVID vaccines can't be mandated, but are perfectly willing to allow those of us who haven't yet or can't yet get the vaccine to inhale COVID, While we're at it, the ones who think they get to tell women what we can do with our bodies. Surely they know they are hypocrites (they must, right?), but will do whatever it takes to maintain their power - why does God seem to be on their side, since they are succeeding so well? Maybe not on their side, but not intervening either.
So my new friend, Jesus, gave me an answer. When I asked, "Why, O Lord, do you stand so far off?" he said, "Well, I've been busy, you see, being crucified."
We want God, our Messiah, to be the God we expect. We want God to look like us, talk like us, think like us. We want God to do our bidding. We want God to be majestic and unapproachable, except that we also insist that we know what God thinks and wants. We want a God to overthrow our enemies, and when God isn't who we think God should be, who we have made God out to be, we crucify him and then wonder why he doesn't come.
And Jesus, as he was nailed to the cross, prayed to his Father: "Forgive them, for they know not what they are doing." (Luke 23:34, NRSV)
Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing.
I got some Easter cards ready to mail this morning. We had some Christmas stamps left over so I used those. Since I'd been thinking of what I would write today, I noticed the irony of putting stamps with Mary and the infant Jesus looking regal in their rich robes and crowns on Easter cards the day after Palm Sunday.
The patriarchy wants us to believe that Jesus is all-powerful and a king. Well, he is all-powerful, but we need to think about the king thing. When I think of a king, I think of the monarchy, with all its trappings and traditions. One doesn't need to look much further than Britain's royal family to see how different their lives are from ours.
I am learning that far from being a monarchical, patriarchal king, Jesus (and Mary, too) are approachable, regular people. Sure, Jesus is the son of God (I say that like it is no big deal, but it is), but he didn't come to earth to be one of the powerful few. He came to earth to live with people like me, and like you. He came to live with the poor, the lame, the imprisoned. He came to live with people who are oppressed, and to overturn those that are oppressors. He came not to march into Jerusalem with soldiers, chariots, and military marching bands, but riding on a donkey. He entered Jerusalem all those years ago exactly the way he wanted to, and the way he was supposed to. It was the people who turned on him for not being who they wanted. Jesus never broke a promise.
Jesus didn't look like what people expected. They wanted someone to overthrow the powerful Romans. He did, but not the way people expected. What could be more powerful and overthrowing than being crucified, dead, and buried, rising on the third day and ascending into heaven and sitting at the right hand of God? So we paint him with halos and purple robes and sing Hosanna, and celebrate Christ the King Sunday.
But Jesus rode on a donkey. He ate bread and drank wine. He washed the feet of his friends. If we forget that, if we make him regal and royal and patriarchal, we make him into our own image. Every time we do that, we crucify him.
Why do you stand far away, O Lord?
Because I am busy being crucified. And I forgive you, because I love you.
We need to trust that God knows what God is doing, that God is right here with us suffering as we crucify him, and each other, over and over and over again. God forgives us over and over and over again, but it must be so painful and tiring to have nails hammered into open wounds, spears thrust into already pierced sides, and to die again, all because we the people still can't or won't accept Jesus for who he is, not who we want him to be. Jesus is who he is, and it is time we begin to follow him and stop expecting him to follow us.
I wish you all a blessed Easter. In the midst of egg hunts, flowers, and Easter dinner, please find some time to sit with Jesus, and to think of all that he did for you. All that he does for you. Invite him to your table and listen to what he has to say. Maybe Jesus likes chocolate bunnies and deviled eggs, too, or maybe he'd just like a roll and a glass of wine. One thing is sure - he would love to share it with you.
Image. https://cdn.ghanaweb.com/imagelib/src/palm-sunday1.jpg. Accessed March 29, 2021.
Image. http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-v4lRKpP5KK4/ULHkr-b2jVI/AAAAAAAAB-I/xnjLe9zq16c/s1600/Christ+the+King,+3.jpg. Accessed March 29, 2021.