Saturday, March 23, 2013

Why Are We Here?

Palm Sunday
24 March 2013

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

Isaiah 50.4-9a; Psalm 31.9-16; Philippians 2.5-11; Luke 19.28-40
            In January of last year I was in Jerusalem as part of a Jewish-Christian clergy tour of Israel.  We were working our way through the narrow streets of the Old City of Jerusalem, elbowing our way through crowds of tourists and avoiding being snared by one or other of the shopkeepers selling various souvenirs of the city.  While we were in the midst of this jumble of humanity, I realized that we were walking the route known as the ‘Via Dolorosa’, the ‘Way of the Cross’.  From time to time a marker would appear to indicate which of the fourteen stations of the cross we had reached.
            If you and I were to be in Jerusalem today, we would probably find ourselves caught up in one or more processions of Christian pilgrims following in the tradition footsteps of Jesus on his way to Golgotha.  There would be European pilgrims in somber colours and, no doubt, a large number of Nigerian pilgrims dressed in colourful uniforms provided by their various tribal kings.  As we were making our way through the narrow streets, our religious journey would be constantly interrupted by the reality of commerce.  After all, what better time is there to sell mementoes of one’s time in the Holy City than during one of the great Christian religious holidays.
            If we were there today, we would also be in the midst of a city preparing for Pesach or Passover, the great Jewish celebration of liberation from slavery in Egypt.  Families from throughout Israel and the world, if possible, will be wending their way to the Holy City to share the Passover Seder with their friends and relatives.  People will be out purchasing food and other items necessary for the celebration.  In other words, Jerusalem will be a very busy place, just as it was more than a year ago when I was there.
            Some Christians imagine Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem as a city-stopping event.  But I think that Jesus’ entry into the City was more like my experience of a year ago.  As one small group of tourists pass by, the shopkeepers flog their wares.  If the tourists don’t show any interest, then the shopkeepers turn their attention to the next group and so forth until it is time to close for the day.  Most people tend their own affairs in Jerusalem today as probably as they did in Jerusalem two thousand years ago.  While there may have been a small crowd accompanying Jesus into the city, I am fairly sure they were soon absorbed into the crowd of people preparing for the Passover celebration and going about their daily chores.
            My view has been shared by the director of Ben Hur.  You may remember the scene where Ben Hur’s boyhood friend, Masala, is entering Jerusalem at the head of a column of Roman legionaries.  He stops and watches a small group of Jews heralding Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.  Masala is unaware of who Jesus is and asks the centurion what is going on.  ‘Just another Messiah;’ the centurion says, ‘the country’s full of them!’
            So, what are we doing today?  There will be no police directing traffic in and around Saint Faith’s this morning as crowds gather to welcome the beginning of Holy Week nor will the police be needed at most if not all of the churches in Metro Vancouver.  Our neighbours across the street might know what today is, but they are more likely to remember that this is the weekend of spring break.  Just as Jerusalem absorbed with little ripple Jesus and his followers, so Metro Vancouver will scarcely miss a beat as we sing our hymns and begin our journey with Jesus on this last week of his earthly ministry.
            What we are doing is reconnecting ourselves with our right mind.  This is what Paul is doing when he quotes a familiar hymn to his fellow believers in Philippi.  Before the familiar words we heard this morning, Paul reminds his sisters and brothers why they and we have gathered today:  “If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete:  be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.  Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.  Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2.1-4)
            We are here, as the prophet writes in Isaiah, so that we might sustain the weary with a word (Isaiah 50.4b).  We are here so that the interests of our neighbours in Metro Vancouver will not pass unnoticed.  We are here because the world, having spent two week’s caught up in the pomp and pageantry of the Pope’s election, is likely to forget what it means to walk in the footsteps of Jesus now that the white smoke has poured from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel.
            We are here to pick up our crosses and follow in the way of Christ, a way that is rarely marked by commemorative plaques, a way that frequently takes us into malls and offices, schools and homes, courts and government offices to speak the words of comfort and to look after the interests of those who need our help.  We are here, whether anyone notices us or not, to participate in the healing of creation so that we and all God’s children may be free.  Amen.

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