Sunday, April 1, 2012

A Carefully Managed Drama - A Homily for Palm Sunday, Year B, 2012

Homily for Palm Sunday, Year B, 2012
Sunday, April 1, 2012
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford ON,
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Mark 11:1-11
“Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”
--Mark 11:9

One commentator has noted that the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is an act of “street theatre.”  When we hear the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem proclaimed once again it is not hard to imagine how radically political it all would have seemed to those who witnessed it. The theatre of the triumphal entry is a carefully managed one.  Jesus sends disciples to find a young donkey that has never been ridden to be brought to him.  The owner of that donkey seems to have been “prepped” secretly for such an event.  He has been given a secret phrase and when he hears it he will hand over the donkey.  It is all very clandestine up until the moment the street theatre is to unfold.  And when all is in order, when the disciples have been given their lines of “Hosanna,”  and “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord,” and “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David,” when the props of cloaks and palm branches are in place, the symbolic curtain is drawn and the play begins.  The eyes of an unwitting audience are turned as the procession forms; shouting and singing are heard, and suddenly the audience is held captive to the spectacle of the event. 

If Jesus and his band have done their job well, and thanks to the witness of the four evangelists, we have every reason to believe they have, the crowd will witness an extraordinary thing.  Before their very eyes, if Jesus’ scripting and stage direction are up to the task, they will witness an enactment of the prophecy of Zechariah.  Before their very eyes, the throngs that make up the impromptu audience, will see and hear the ancient prophecy unfold:

“ Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
  Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
   triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
   on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
   and the warhorse from Jerusalem;
and the battle-bow shall be cut off,
   and he shall command peace to the nations;
his dominion shall be from sea to sea,
                and from the River to the ends of the earth.”

And before long, the unwitting audience is not an audience any longer.  Before long, they find themselves drawn into the drama, joining the parade and the cries of the disciples, themselves shouting “Hosanna.”   “Save, Lord!” which is what Hosanna means, became the cry that formed on their lips.  Before long, they were entreating Jesus as if he were the Son of David, as if he were their expected king.  It was as if what had been foretold by Zechariah was coming true before their very eyes, and they, themselves, were a part of it!

After entering the Holy city, it is likely that the crowd would have been dispersed by the authorities.  We are not told of that, but no protest or street drama lasts forever.  It is likely that many would have stayed and followed Jesus along the next steps of the way.  Those who followed would have shortly thereafter witnessed another piece of activist drama unfold -- Jesus turning the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple.  And even those who did not continue to follow him after the parade might still have heard of the event and thought of the final line of the book of Zechariah, “And there shall no longer be traders in the house of the Lord of host on that day.”  Suddenly, the penny would drop for them; the triumphal entry was but the first act of a great holy and political drama that was unfolding.  It did not end with the parade, but was continuing.  Who was the central player (and author and director) of this drama?  It was Jesus.  When the faithful Jew of the first century read Zechariah closely, he realized Zechariah was prophesying a great divine warrior, who would save his people from domination and oppression.  Perhaps, just perhaps, the crowd was growing who would join in this battle, inspired by that sacred drama that was unfolding on the streets of Jerusalem and within the portico of the Temple.

It is not hard to imagine why Jesus would have been seen as a threat; why he would have been put on trial, accused of both blasphemy and sedition, and put to death.  Some would have followed him and joined in the drama as supporters, disciples, and fellow-warriors, while others would play their role as persecutor and prosecutor.  One thing was clear to all, this man saw himself as the fulfilment of Zechariah’s prophecy and he had staged a series of events to prove it!  Good news for some; very, very bad news for others. 

But the drama takes a turn, a turn known only to its author, director and chief player.  It is a turn that he hinted at throughout his ministry, but was either rejected by his team of players, or misunderstood.  Where Zechariah’s story involved a warrior king, the story of Jesus would involve a servant king.  The words “Hosanna” that were sung during act one of the drama, the triumphal entry, were words drawn from Psalm 118:25, a liturgical psalm that would be sung upon the enthronement of a new king.  Jesus had an idea of what enthronement meant; a very different idea from that of his players.  He understood his victory in very different terms.  His enthronement was to happen upon a cross.  His crown would pierce his head.  A sword and spear would not be placed in his hands as symbols of his power and authority, but rather pierce his side.  Then would Zechariah 12:10 be fulfilled,

“And I will pour out a spirit of compassion and supplication on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that, when they look on the one whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.”

As the penultimate act unfolds, as he is enthroned upon the cross, as his mother and the women of his family alone remain to look upon the one who is pierced, we ourselves realize, in our abandonment of him, that we have been drawn into the drama.  We ourselves have shouted both “Hosanna!” and “Crucify!”  We have extolled him and celebrated him upon his entry into our lives, and yet we have betrayed him, denied him, and abandoned him.  We realize that the play that Jesus staged on that street so many years ago continues to unfold before our eyes in the contours of our own lives.  We have been drawn into false jubilation that our hearts might be broken, that we might be pierced through to the core, in order that a “spirit of compassion and supplication” might be poured out upon us, and into our hearts.  The drama was for us.  A carefully staged moment two thousand years ago continues again and again to draw us into the story, ensuring that we get up out of our seats, leaving our role as audience behind, and become participants in the holy work of God; for we cannot know his power to save, unless we have first shouted with all our hearts “Hosanna! Save, Lord!”  We cannot know the healing in his wings, or his victory over sin and death, unless our hearts have first been pierced, until we have shouted, “Crucify him!” and wallowed in great sorrow, self-pity, and regret.  And we shall not know the new life he brings unless we first visit that tomb and see the stone rolled away.  We cannot continue the sacred drama unless we have been participants all along the way.  For if we have journeyed with him this far, we shall journey with him to the end, which is really the beginning  when through the waters of baptism our own sacred drama unfolds and the words of Zechariah 13 are fulfilled:
“On that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity.”

c. 2012, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves