Ride on, Jesus, Ride!
A Joyful (if surprising) Entrance
This Sunday, we begin Holy Week with the celebration of Palm Sunday. I admit that since I was a youngster it has struck me as odd that the readings of the day are that of the Passion of Jesus. Most of us grew up with the joyful entry of Jesus into Jerusalem as a sort of pre-entrance hymn, tacked-on spoken prelude to Mass. My children were lucky in that their childhood included a fabulous “y’all come” procession of kids, teens, parents, elders (literally anyone who wanted to cluster into the back of the sanctuary) to process with lots of noise and chaos to an upbeat rendition of “Ride on, Jesus, Ride!”
But even then, the tone shifted immediately as the prayer began. This is Holy Week! Sad and serious business afoot! Calm down and center yourselves, and maybe do a little palm cross making craft in your lap, but if you do, please be discreet!
And to be honest, Minnesotans aren’t big on Palm waving anyway, at least not in my experience of the last two decades. It’s just so PUBLIC. After the procession bit the dust and we were just supposed to lift our palms while standing in our pews, my adolescent and teen kids would be totally embarrassed because not only was their nutty mother raising her palm she was WAVING it for heaven’s sake! But I could never shake my recollections of the bygone procession. Or the marvelous walk around Cristo Rey in Santa Fe with my in laws and their mostly Mexican immigrant Church community. I’m an unrepentant palm waver.
And I remain convicted that there is a reason for us to begin the Holy Week journey with joy. it begins in triumph and it will end in triumph when death doesn’t have the final word. It says to us, “No, this isn’t a warrior king. No, there is no mighty steed. No, there aren’t armored legions or blaring horns. But those are nothing compared to recognition and faith, and the exultation they bring.” Without that courageous group of early followers, this unlikely pop-up parade, Holy Week would be very different.
And this start to Holy Week remains relevant because we are still looking the empire in the face as Christians. We are still working to dismantle the supremacist systems of oppression that marginalize and defeat people. Those who face a pandemic without healthcare. Those who flee violence in their home nations and are so completely desperate that they will allow children to finish the long walk by crossing our borders alone. The communities of color who are crippled by the dominant cultures racist assumptions and who cannot trust the oppressive systems that keep those in place. The people who hold their breath over eviction due to the lack of a living wage and those who are sleeping, this very night, in tents all over the country.
Jesus stands in the long prophetic tradition of Israel. But his story is not jut that of a man who spoke up 2,000 years ago, relevant to a different time and place. His voice calls out; his challenge endures. And so I offer you this excerpt from the book The Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggemann. In it reflects on the prophetic acts of Jesus, including this unlikely procession we remember this weekend. As we glimpse a possible end to the alternative ways of living and gathering we embraced to fight the pandemic, I believe we are called to inquire of ourselves, individually and as a collective, “What is the world asking of the Christian community in this moment?” and “What is the Christian community going to demand of the world in this moment?” What would it mean to come out of our caves, grab our palms, and live prophetically? I have no answer to that question, but Walter Brueggemann gives us food for thought:
“The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us. Thus I suggest that prophetic ministry has to do not primarily with addressing public crises but with addressing, in season and out of season, the dominant crisis that is enduring and resilient, of having our alternative vocation co-opted and domesticated. It may be, of course, that this enduring crisis manifests itself in any given time around concrete issues, but it concerns the enduring crisis that runs from concrete issue to concrete issue…
“The alternative consciousness to be nurtured, on the one hand, serves to criticize in dismantling the dominant consciousness. To that extent, it attempts to do what the liberal tendency has done, engage in a rejection and delegitimatizing of the present ordering of things. On the other hand, that alternative consciousness to be nurtured serves to energize persons and communities by its promise of another time and situation toward which the community of faith may move. To that extent it attempts to do what the conservative tendency has done, to lie in fervent anticipation of newness that God has promised and will surely give.
“In thinking this way, the key word is alternative, and every prophetic minister and prophetic community must engage in a struggle with that notion. Thus, alternative to what? In what ways alternative? How radically alternative? Finally, is there a thinkable alternative that will avoid domestication? And, quite concretely, how does one present and act out alternatives in a community of faith which on the whole does not understand that there are any alternatives, or is not prepared to embrace such if they come along? Thus it is a practice of ministry for which there is little readiness, indeed, not even among its would-be practitioners. So, my programmatic urging is that every act of a minister who would be prophetic is part of a way of evoking, forming, and reforming an alternative community. And this applies to every facet and every practice of ministry. It is a measure of our enculturation that the various acts of ministry (for example counseling, administration, even liturgy) have taken on lives and functions of their own rather than being seen as elements of the one prophetic ministry of formation and reformation of alternative community.
I look forward to being with you virtually or physically as we celebrate, remember, and continue to believe.
With gratitude for who you are in the world,
An Ecumenical Catholic Community
cháris Χάρις khar’eceOur name means grace, good will, loving-kindness, favor; of the merciful kindness by which God, exerting his holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ, keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues.