PRAYER: God of grace and mercy, Jesus taught us how to live – differently than the way the world worked around him. He reminded us that your commandments are based in loving one another and not in building empires of power and oppression. Remind us today and inspire us, send your Spirit that we may choose to follow you, the God of peace.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you O God, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
Every time there’s a school shooting in the news, the response is always the same. It’s quite predictable. There are some who call for automatic style weapons – which are weapons of war – to be banned. They say that people have no business owning such weapons for personal use. While there are others who claim that these shootings have nothing to do with the guns and that we shouldn’t blame the guns for some bad apples who do terrible things.
I am constantly amazed at the number of people who defend guns… not gun ownership, but guns. This past week, in response to the latest school shooting, I saw a meme on Facebook (Memes, for those of you who don’t participate in social media, are images or pieces of text that convey a response to a condition in society. They’re how cultural trends are expressed and shared online.) At any rate, I saw a meme that said “Abel was killed by a bad man with a rock. Goliath was killed by a good man with a rock. It’s not about the rock.” It’s supposed to imply that these mass shootings are not about the guns.
Well, this would be cute, except that it’s wrong on so many levels. There’s nothing in the book of Genesis that says that Cain killed Abel with a rock. It just says that Cain killed him. And while it is true that David killed Goliath with a rock, David also didn’t kill dozens of children in a matter of minutes with the same rock. And finally, to say that it isn’t about the rock ignores the fact that Jesus himself said to not throw rocks.
We are stuck in this seemingly endless cycle of mass shootings – so many of them involving schools and children – with meaningless responses that just perpetuate the violence. We pray for the victims and their families, but we don’t do anything whatsoever to prevent the next shooting from happening. And then when it happens – and it WILL happen again – we repeat the same tired ineffective responses. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of this nonsense.
We belong to the Christian faith. We belong to a church (Capital C global church) that is based on the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Messiah. The Savior. Our savior. Today we read the story of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem at the start of what the church calls Holy Week. Holy Week begins for us on Palm Sunday. For Jesus, this was the culmination of a long journey – much longer than most people realize because Jesus had been leading his disciples to this moment all along. Entering Jerusalem at this moment in time was the plan from the very beginning. And throughout his entire ministry, everywhere he had gone, the leaders of the temple, the Jewish authorities, the Roman authorities, all had the same response. They wanted him to interpret the law in such a way that perpetuated the systems of oppression that was benefiting them. They wanted Jesus to teach his followers to not hope for anything better.
As he enters the city, he drew a crowd around him. This was nothing unusual, because he drew a crowd everywhere he went. Everywhere. On this particular day, in this particular moment, this crowd began to shout, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” Those words are not accidental. “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!” Do the words, “Thy Kingdom Come on earth as it is in heaven” ring a bell?
Now there’s an element to Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem that does not get much attention because it is not specifically written in the biblical text, but historical documents do show that at the time of Passover, which is when this occurs, the imperial leadership from Rome would hold a parade every year entering into the city on the East side. Pilate, who was the main focal point of this grand procession, made his entry into Jerusalem in a show of imperial and military power. There would have been horses, foot soldiers in leather armor, weapons, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, sun glinting on metal and gold. It was a show of strength and power and riches to a people who were being oppressed and marginalized.
Jesus’ entrance would have been occurring at the same time on the other side – the west entrance to Jerusalem. The timing was intentional. The imperial Roman leadership believing themselves to be the son of God, while Jesus actually was the Son of God. The people who watched Pilate process in would more than likely have been watching with fear and trepidation. The people who watched Jesus process in celebrated and perhaps even had a good laugh at the expense of Pilate. They were a lively group to say the least.
There is something important about being a part of a group. It is a necessary part of human life. We are not supposed to live our lives as separate islands apart from one another. The groups we belong to are all shaped by stories about who the members are, what unites them, and what differentiates them from others. That’s one of the important parts of being in a church: the stories that we share, and the stories that we create, not the least of which arethe stories of Jesus.
Part of what makes Jesus special are the stories he tells and the stories of which he is a part. The stories of Jesus shape a group of people that is meant to be different from so many other groups that the world would have us join. Jesus’s choice of an unridden colt is an allusion to the kind of king Zechariah predicted would save Jerusalem in Zech. 9. In that chapter, the prophet says, the king “shall command peace to the nations…”. The contrast reminds us that Jesus does not achieve peace through war, through violence like the Romans did, but points to a different way of humility, non-violence, giving of oneself, and trusting in God’s direction. This is an extension of the lessons – and of the stories – that Jesus taught his disciples throughout his ministry including – not insignificantly – that we should not throw stones.
Of course, Christianity understands Jesus to be special because he is the only person to be both fully divine and fully human, truly God’s Son in a different sense than the rest of us are God’s children. Certainly in a different sense than what the Roman emperor believed himself to be. Jesus’ way versus Pilate’s way informs us about the God who they claimed to be serving?
The Roman empire used force to brutally end Jesus’ life. They demonstrated that their God is one of violence and power. We know that in the end, God was victorious but not through a show of force, but by raising Jesus from the dead, bringing life from death. When we follow Jesus, we are saying we trust the God who has power over life and death. This frees us to live life differently than how the world would have us live. The God that we worship is one of peace and not war. The God that we worship is one of healing, not harming. The God that we worship is one of collaboration, not competition. The God that we worship teaches us hope, not hopelessness.
The world gives us a certain idea of what it means to be strong and powerful. Those same traits can so easily be – and often are – used to do evil. Jesus turns them upside down and shows how real strength and power lie in loving and serving each other.
Which parade do you want to be a part of? In what ways do you want to support and uphold the systems of oppression and evil that thrive today? Jesus taught us a different way, a way of peace, a way of hope, a way of love. Think about in what ways does our culture exist with a Pilate-like mentality, advocating violence and oppressive systems over standing in solidarity with the victims of those oppressive and violent systems?
Since January 1, there have been 131 mass shootings in the United States. It’s only April 2nd. Do you believe for even one second that Jesus would stand before us today and claim that guns are not a problem in our culture? Do you believe for one second that Jesus, the prince of peace, would advocate and defend the proliferation of gun ownership and gun violence in our society as a pathway to God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven? The one who came riding on the colt that had never been ridden before taught his followers about peace… about rejecting pathways to violence. And yet, there literally are people in our country who claim Christ as their savior in one breath while defending inaction and the same tired responses to gun violence in our country with the next breath.
Our endeavor as a church (Capital C church, local church, take your pick) and as a society is to become more Christ-like and less Pilate-like. And that means standing against the over-abundance of gun violence that infests our nation.
I am not suggesting that we in this room can end the sin and disease of gun violence. But I am saying that we in this room must choose which parade we want to be a part of. If we are claiming Jesus as our savior, then we must choose a pathway to peace; we must advocate for a pathway to non-violence. If we think that we can straddle the sidewalk and be part of both parades at the same time, we’re only fooling ourselves and we are really only following the one led by Pilate.
We will see this week that even Jesus’ own disciples, while they were obviously there at Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem, they eventually made the choice to join the other parade, to betray him, to deny him, to turn their back on him, and the consequences became his death.
Every day, we have the choice of which parade we will follow. The contrast between the two is clear. Will we choose the pathway to peace, or will we choose the pathway to violence? With each breath we take, with each decision we make, we are choosing whether we will follow Pilate or Jesus. And as we enter Holy Week today, I want you to think about what it means for the church and for you to proclaim Christ. Think about in what ways you are following the parade of Jesus and in what ways you are following the parade of Pilate.
In your prayers this week, remember that as we shout Hosanna!, we should also find ways share the love of Christ with those around us. Let us remember that amongst the waving of our palms and celebration of the day, our mission as God’s beloved children involves seeking pathways to peace, sharing love with our community, with those who live in fear, with those who have lost hope.
This day is the beginning of Holy Week. It is our holiest, most important time of the year. Jesus is the true Son of God, our savior, and he taught us that being holy can happen when we follow his teachings, when we live as he demonstrated, being his hands and feet, going out and declaring with both words and actions that the love of God is present for all people. Our prayers for peace – by itself – will not be enough to achieve peace. The mercy and compassion of God must always be shared. We must not just follow the parade; we must join it. We must process with Jesus.
“Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
To God be the glory!