Monday, March 30, 2015

Spreading our Cloaks

Mark 11: 1-11
Palm Sunday

As of today we are released from the introspective 40 days of Lent as the activities of Holy Week commence.  Lent is a time of self reflection, of self denial and fasting, it’s been a time for us to go deep within our souls and seek the ways in which we are in need of forgiveness.  Lent is all about you as an individual. 

Today, Palm Sunday, however is a time to put ‘you’ down because it is no longer about you. You have prepared yourself and now you are ready to focus. Today and the rest of this week that we claim as holy is ALL ABOUT JESUS.  It’s about his triumph and his agony, his fear and being betrayed, it’s about his coming to terms with his mortality and his death and ultimately it will be about life.  So please, for this one week, do not think about yourself but think about Jesus and be a part of the reenactment of what he is going through beginning with that triumphal journey into Jerusalem.

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’”

They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it.

Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
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!”

Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve. 

It was spring in first century Palestine.  The olive trees were in bloom and the cyclamen were bursting out everywhere, even out of the crevices of that ancient stone-walled city.  The moon was waxing furiously, growing bigger and brighter with each passing evening.  It was near Passover and Jerusalem was getting increasingly more crowded with people who had come to celebrate, and make pilgrimage. 

The marketplace was busy.  The temple was busy.  And Jesus, rather than heading directly into Jerusalem goes to Bethphage and Bethany where he often went to get away and to spend time with his friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus.  It seemed to be a home away from home for him, a place of calm and respite.

The days were warm and sunny and the nights still cool so you would need to take a cloak with you if you were to be gone for any amount of time, something to through over your shoulders as the sun set for the day. Bethphage and Bethany are just a short distance from Jerusalem up and over the Mount of Olives.  Jesus sends two of his disciples to go and find him some transportation, perhaps a donkey on which he could ride.  “If they question you”, Jesus says, “just tell them the Lord needs it”.  That’s all.  And so they follow his instructions. I would have been a bit nervous but they didn’t seem it mind.  They throw their own cloaks on the back of that humble donkey that they secured for their Lord and returned to him.  It worked out, just like Jesus said.
Donkey on Mount of Olives, photo by Dina Tsoar
A head above all of the rest, he begins the ride.  Like royalty, Jesus rides into the masses of people, into Jerusalem, into his ultimate doom.  The donkey moves slowly and the ride is a bumpy over the dirt and stone pathway, he holds tight as the donkey begins the descent into the Kidron Valley.  The people are happy and shouting and laying their cloaks on the ground for Jesus to ride on, a sure sign that he is Lord and king.  The very long palm branches have been axed off of the trees and people are waving them in the air.  “Hosanna, save us Lord.  Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord”. 

Of course there were some in the crowd who didn’t like what was going on, and who he was, so they keep a close eye on Jesus.  They will make their move later.

This was such an atypical move for Jesus riding on a donkey like a king.  Usually he is moving away from the crowds, up the mountainside for some downtime or across the sea for some privacy, definitively not heading directly into the throng of people, into a possible mob scene and certainly he is never intentionally trying to draw attention to himself.  And I don’t think he ever thought of himself as a king.  That’s why this day is such a departure from all of the rest.
Photo by Dina Tsoar
And I don’t imagine that there were a lot of wealthy people among his followers, maybe, but more than likely they were from the lower ranks of society.  They didn’t have closets filled with clothing like we do.  Articles of clothing were not expendable like they are now.  When we get tired of something we donate it and go to the store and find something new to wear. 

They didn’t have what we have today.  They had a very simple wardrobe for their daily living. So for the people to lay down their cloaks, spreading them all over the dusty, rocky path well that was significant.  For some it was the only cloak that they had ever owned and here they are laying it down so a donkey’s hoof could clip-clop over it and so that Jesus could be treated as a king.  It’s also quite possible that they didn’t get their cloak back or if they did, it might have been ripped and soiled beyond repair.  They risked exposure to the hot sun and the cool nights.  For the people it was a sacrificial act steeped in loyalty for Jesus. 

We know that this very same crowd turns on Jesus only a few days later under heavy Roman influence.  Insurrection was in the air.  “Hosanna, save us” dissolves pretty abruptly into “Crucify him”.  I believe though that there were some who stayed with Jesus, who stuck with him until the end.  It may not have been many but there were some. 

They are the ones who really exposed themselves for who they were - devoted, faithful disciples of Jesus who followed him to the cross in lamentation and tears.  They were willing to risk themselves in this vulnerable act.  To follow Jesus means to sometimes be exposed and vulnerable and in doing so we can better understand the nature of what Jesus is asking of us.

Today we brought forward our ‘cloaks’, our clean and mended gently used coats.  They will be stored and given away in the fall to Bridgeport Rescue Mission and The Umbrella Center for Domestic Violence Services in Ansonia for their clients use.  I hope that you saw it as a symbolic act of generosity but there is so much more.

Many years ago, at a former church of mine on Palm Sunday we also brought in our winter coats to give to those who might be in need.  In that symbolic act we laid down our cloaks before Jesus, just like the people that day laying down their cloaks for Jesus to ride on during his entry into Jerusalem. 

Well we collected quite a few coats and we sent letters to various organizations in the area, and we were able to give warmth to 250 men, women and children in Bridgeport and Fairfield. 

A group of women from Bridge House in Bridgeport came over to choose 30 coats.
One of the women who came was the program director and the other three women were clients of Bridge House, a place for the psychosocial rehabilitation of people who are recovering from the persistent effect of psychiatric illness.  We talked as they chose their coats and bagged them.  One women kept repeating to me “you don’t know how much I appreciate this, with only $100 dollars to live on, you just don’t know how much I appreciate this.”

You don’t know how much

She was right that day, I didn’t know how much!  I’ve never been without a warm coat.  I’ve never had to live on $100 a month.  I’ve never been dependent on a stranger to provide for me. I’ve been with little, but never without.  I could afford to give away my used coat but it didn’t render me exposed.

I wondered if I had ever really made myself vulnerable and exposed for God’s sake like the crowds who did so that first ‘Palm Sunday’ processional.  Have I ever really spread my cloak down for Jesus and rendered myself open to the elements around that could inhibit my living.  Would I do that for Jesus?

Are you willing to give away your last metaphorical coat in adoration of Jesus, like the people did so long ago in Jerusalem so that you can follow him unencumbered?  When Jesus says to drop your fishing nets and follow him, are you willing to risk hunger and to rely on him to feed you?  When he says to leave your family, are you willing to put God first before anyone else? 

When Jesus goes to Golgotha are you willing to go with him all of the way; to accompany him in his death?  For this is where this parade of palms is heading.  It’s the least we can do.

The Easter Story Begins
Palm Sunday is a day of contrasts.  The coming kingdom of God meets the entourage of Herod as we will see with our second reading.  Rev. William Carter, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania says this, “Jesus rides no high horse, just a lowly colt.  He chooses to enter a deadly situation without force or protection.  He gives himself freely and without reservation.  This is a prophetic act, a sign of God’s vulnerable love, which risks everything and promises to gain all.”

Jesus exposes all for us, will we do the same?

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