Palm Sunday 2016
Pastor Liz Muñoz, Iglesia Episcopal de Nuestra Señora de las America
28After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30saying, "Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31If anyone asks you, 'Why are you untying it?' just say this, 'The Lord needs it.'" 32So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, "Why are you untying the colt?" 34They said, "The Lord needs it." 35Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38saying,
"Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!"
39Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, order your disciples to stop." 40He answered, "I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out."
What happened two thousand years ago on Palm Sunday was the result of prophetic imagination, Jesus’s prophetic imagination. Two thousand years ago Caesar’s army enters Jerusalem from the west with all the pomp and circumstance befitting a superpower: trumpets blasting, battalions in full armor, centurions mounted on magnificent steeds above the crowd. Demonstration not only of Caesar’s military might but of his divinity. He, like all the other Caesars before, claimed to be a direct descendent of the gods, a lineage that gave the empire its ferocious and brutal power.
From the east, a few hundred of God’s people gathered with Jesus to participate in their own parade of sorts. Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a colt, embodying Zechariah's prophesy that a future king would come into Jerusalem in humility, riding on a colt, the foal of an ass. (Zech 9:9) He is a Messiah of the people, without pomp, but with daring and courage to lay claim to his city. In Luke’s Gospel the disciples and the crowd seem to get who Jesus is and what he is intending by the symbolic parade. The people who participated saw more than a simple mocking of the emperor’s power. They saw in this bit of agitprop theater that a real expression God’s kingdom was not one of military power, but where the first would be last, a kingdom for and by the blessed of the earth.
So I let my own prophetic imagination run a bit to wonder what a Palm Sunday for our times would look like. There is Jesus and his followers who have stopped at the corner of Diversey and Hoyne. Jesus turns to two of his followers and says, “Go over to the parking lot at Diversey River Bowl. There you will find a tricked out green low rider bike with twisted bars, 72 spoke wheels, grips, green velour seat, lowrider bent twisted sissybar, baby bee light behind, baby bee light trio in front,two blinged out rectangle mirrors in the parking lot. Bring it to me as I have need of it.” (Hey in my prophetic imagination, Jesus be stylin’) They found it just as Jesus had said and brought it to him. This was to fulfill what had been said about Jesus, “Your leader comes to you — not like Rauner or Rahm — but on the subversive alternative to the limos of Empire.
A large crowd of people gathered who had been forced from their homes with false promises of the right of return, whose vouchers were useless in a city with little to no affordable housing. They were joined by those who were forced out of Logan Square and Humboldt Park by higher property taxes and rents and those whose shelters are the underpasses of the expressways. And from all over the city pastors, activists, community organizations who believed in honoring the dignity of every human being joined this Jesus movement. Some went ahead of him, others followed behind. Jesus was the Grand Marshall of a great parade down down Diversey and in and through all the Lathrop homes where only 140 of the 925 units were still occupied. People carried palms and big placards that read “Keep the Promise,” “If Not Now, When?” “When? Where? How?” I think there was even a sign that read, “Jesus for Mayor.” (Okay maybe I was carrying that sign)
Some the Mayor’s advisors as well as representatives of the Chicago Housing Authority asked, “Do you have a permit to hold a parade?” And the people of God responded, “Jesus gives us permission. More than that, he calls us to cry out as the stones of these buildings would if they could at this injustice. What you have done is to push out the hope and future of our community. You are sacrificing the security of the many for the profits of a few. That is true idolatry AND THAT IS AN ABOMINATION BEFORE GOD.”
These officials followed this crazy parade from a safe distance unsure what Jesus and his people would do or say next.
Pastor Bruce Ray, Kimball Avenue Church
41As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42saying, "If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. 44They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God."
I love Chicago. No, I LOVE Chicago! I grew up “rural” — first in Kentucky where our closest neighbor was a mile away and then in Illinois in a small town of 600 people. But the city of Chicago drew me like a magnet and I vowed that one day I would live here. I kept my vow. I still love this city. The view of the skyline from the Adler Planetarium on a crisp clear morning can still make my heart skip a beat. Sometimes, as I watch the sunset from my rooftop, the rays of the sun hit the skyscrapers just right, turning them into bars of silver and gold.
I’ve been told that something similar happens in Jerusalem. Most of the buildings are made of white limestone, a material that reflects the light and changes colors as the sun makes its way across the sky. So I can imagine Jesus reaching the crest of the Mount of Olives that first Palm Sunday and seeing the walls of the city and the temple aglow with the golden light of the late afternoon sun, and thinking, “Wow! That’s beautiful.”
But let’s face it. Just because something looks like gold doesn’t mean it is gold. Jesus knew that beneath the golden glow was a diseased heart. The temple of Jerusalem — the heart of Jewish religious, economic and social life — was filled with greed and exploitation of the poor. Those who were most vulnerable — the widow, the fatherless, the alien, the disabled — were the victims of oppression and abuse. So when Jesus rides into the city of Jerusalem, his response is not awe and wonder. While everyone else is impressed with the magnificence of the stones, Jesus sees those stones as symbols of the injustices perpetrated against the poor… and he weeps. “If only you had recognized and followed the ways the peace. If only you had understood the year of God’s favor. But you have rejected it. You have chosen to be blind to God’s justice. The paths you have chosen are not sustainable and in the end, they will lead to your destruction.”
Yesterday I decided to practice today’s Palm Sunday procession across the Diversey Ave. bridge over the Chicago River. I imagined Jesus crossing that bridge with me. As we came to the top of the bridge, my eyes were drawn to the south. There before me was a spectacular panoramic view of the iconic buildings of the Chicago skyline. “Wow!” I thought. I have to show Jesus the sites. “Jesus, look over there. There’s the Hancock building. See how it boldly expresses its strength with the exposed X braces. It won all sorts of design awards. Isn’t it impressive? It’s named for a global insurance powerhouse. And over there is the Sears… I mean, the Willis Tower. It was the tallest building in the world for decades. It’s an engineering marvel — nine tubes of various heights bound together as one. Amazing, isn’t it? It’s named for Willis Holding Group, a multinational risk advisor. And there in the center — like an extended middle finger — is Trump Tower. See how the light shimmers off its multi-faceted glass skin. Isn’t it beautiful? It’s full of multi-million dollar condos, and it’s named after…. Well, you probably already know about him.”
And I look over at Jesus, and there are tears running down his face. I think, Yeah, it’s that beautiful. But then I realize that Jesus isn’t looking downtown. He’s looking east. I turn and look east too, and there laid out before me is the Julia C. Lathrop Homes public housing project.
And Jesus begins pointing at Lathrop. He points to make sure I see what he sees. He points to the chain link fences that surround and block access to apartment buildings. He points to the boarded up windows and doors. He points to the decorative shutters shedding their paint. He just points. And then he turns and looks at me with the dazzling downtown skyline as a backdrop, and says, “If only you recognized what would bring peace to your violent streets. If only you pursued justice. If only you understood the meaning of the year of God’s favor. If you did, you wouldn’t have turned this into a desolate place. Mark my words. Mark my words well. The day will come when your place will be desolate. Then, what will you do?” Jesus’s words kind of sting, but I know what he means.
These vacant, boarded up apartments had once housed low-income families seeking the opportunity to improve their lives. Each building represented hope. Each row house represented the promise of a better future. But that promise had been broken. Instead, these same apartments now awaited transformation into a “vibrant mixed-income community”. These apartments now represent profit for developers at the expense of the poor. They now represent yet another betrayal of those who are in greatest need.
In that moment, I thought of all those families who continue to languish on housing waiting lists.
I thought about those people with disabilities who are forced to live in the indignity of shelters.
I thought about the tents under the Kennedy expressway viaduct.
And I understood why Jesus wept when he looked over the city. I wept too.
Pastor Erik Christensen, St. Luke's Lutheran Church of Logan Square
45Then he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; 46and he said, "It is written,
'My house shall be a house of prayer';
but you have made it a den of robbers."
47Every day he was teaching in the temple. The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him; 48but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were spellbound by what they heard.
He’d spent most of his ministry out in the country, where working people were being crushed by an economic and military regime that treated them like they were disposable, like they had no worth other than what they could produce. The empire had worked out a sweetheart deal with the local leadership that left them free to govern as they saw fit, as long as they kept the cash flowing upstream. Local leadership stayed in the temple, didn’t wander out into the neighborhoods, didn’t see how its collaboration with the Empire was killing people, forcing them down, until they had nothing left to give but the witness of their frustration and rage.
In the temple the money changers were performing a set of transformations that only accelerated the consolidation of wealth among the elites, the one percent. Folks would come into Jerusalem from the countryside to make their annual offerings, but it was too far to travel with the dove or the goat you intended to offer so you would just buy one there. Except that you couldn't buy or sell things in the Temple with Roman coins, because they carried the face of the emperor, a graven image, forbidden by Jewish law. So, instead, you brought your Roman currency to the Temple currency exchange, and you traded the empire’s currency for a more acceptable one, for a small fee. Though we all know that the fee at the currency exchange is never small.
It wasn’t as if you hadn’t already paid the weighty tax the Romans were collecting back home, out in the countryside, but now you were paying another tax in the Temple just for the right to be able to offer your sacrifice, which of course you still had to buy with your newly converted currency.
Jesus walks into the Temple with a mixed crowd, some working folk he’d met out in the country, some city folk he’d gathered at the gates, palm branches in their hands, rally cries still on their lips. “Hosanna (save us), Lord!” He leads them straight to the Temple, the big house, and claims it as his own.
“It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer’; but you have made it a den of robbers.” (Luke 19:46)
Whose house is this? God’s house! And where is God’s home? Among God’s people. The chief priest, the scribes, the leaders of the people had come to think of this house as their house, of its incomes as their incomes, of its resources as their resources; but Jesus wastes no time in reminding them that God makes a home among God’s people. In fact, Jesus sets up camp in the Temple, makes it a home for God by establishing God’s people within it, #occupying the Temple day after day, teaching there, disrupting business as usual by bringing the very people the Temple existed to serve back inside its walls.
That sermon he’d practiced on the plain, he was now ready to deliver to the city. Those loaves and fishes that had materialized out of nowhere, that economy of shared goods, reasserted itself as the crowd encamped around him, setting up a kind of tent city that not only made it impossible for the money changers to keep the incomes flowing upward, but also for the authorities to seize Jesus and kill him, which is exactly what they wanted to do. But Luke’s gospel says they couldn’t lift a finger against him, because the crowd was spellbound by what they heard.
This is the gospel, friends. Let anyone who has ears, hear it. Those aren’t the city’s homes, they are the people’s homes. And God, who never asked for a Temple, but was content to dwell in a tent, on the move, in the wilderness, has set up camp in temples of flesh and blood, in us, in you. Where we go, God goes with us. When we gather, God is among us. When we are together, we are each other’s strength. When we break bread, when we pass the cup, we are one body.
Now we march, we wave our palm branches, we cry “hosanna (save us), Lord” — and the Lord is in our midst, among us, within us. They want this gospel to die. They want land to go back to being just a commodity, and people to being just laborers. They want to keep the money flowing upward and business going on as usual. But we remember our own story: that when we stay together, there is nothing they can do.