Palm/Passion Sunday, Year B
Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Mark
11:1-11; Mark 14:1-15:47
“Whenever possible, the whole passion narrative should be read.” Revised
Common Lectionary (Abingdon Press, 1992) p. 45.
Unfortunately, because of the structure of the Christian liturgical
year, the meaning of Mark’s metaphor of Jesus’s journey from baptism in
Galilee to death in Jerusalem has been lost. Instead, the Elves have had us skipping
through the weeks since Epiphany picking a healing here, an exorcism
there, emphasizing the Christian belief that Jesus knew in advance he
would die to save people from sin, and would rise again to take his
place on the right hand of God. From the last Sunday in Lent through
seven weeks of Easter to Christian Pentecost, the orthodox detour from
Jesus’s Way continues through Luke and John. We will not get back
to it until the end of May.
Traditional church services begin Palm/Passion Sunday with the
re-enactment of Jesus’s procession into Jerusalem. Usually it is
described as “triumphant,” claiming Jesus’s coming “victory” over death
and the powers of evil. By the end of the normal liturgy,
however, the “triumph” is forgotten, and the sorrow and guilt
begins. Or rather, it is hinted at. We already know there
is a happy ending, so why dwell on the negative? With luck, the
weather will be warm and spring-like. We can go directly from
fighting over who gets the biggest palm frond to fighting over who has
the biggest chocolate rabbit without worrying very much about what
happened in the meantime.
Because we have ignored the progression of Jesus’s journey, we have
missed the controversies over fasting, what is proper behavior on the
Sabbath, and the charge of consortium with the Devil; the parables
describing the kingdom of God (the Sower, the Lamp, the Mustard Seed);
the death of John the Baptist; feeding the five thousand; miracles such
as walking on water; healings that restore hearing and at least two
instances of restoring sight to the blind; and encounters with rich
young rulers who also do not get the point.
We have arrived at the Jerusalem parade with no clue that it was a
public demonstration of the difference between God’s realm of
distributive justice-compassion, and the Roman Empire – the parousia of
the Emperor’s representative, Pontius Pilate, on the other side of
town. We then by-pass Jesus’s protest in the Temple, the parable
of the greedy tenants, the question about paying taxes, the coming
apocalypse, and the lessons of the fig tree.
Without that background, we cannot possibly know which parade we will
find ourselves participating in – the domination procession (Empire),
or the collective justice procession (Covenant) (see, Marcus J. Borg and John
Dominic Crossan, The
Last Week (Harper SanFrancisco, 2006)). Given the
normalcy of civilization, and the inevitability of unjust systems, the
only way to know for sure that we are in the collective justice
procession (if that is where we want to be) is to consciously choose
it. Only then will we begin to understand why Mark’s story of
Jesus’s last Passover begins and ends with Mary Magdalene.
The whole point of Mark’s Gospel for 21st Century Christians is that
the Christian life is a journey with Jesus along a path that leads to
God’s kingdom – God’s realm – God’s imperial establishment of God’s
reign – the paradigm shift from domination and injustice to partnership
in distributive justice-compassion. It’s not about petty
trespass, it’s about justice. It’s not about some devil that will
take you to Hell if you don’t believe that Jesus rose from a grave
alive after three days. The whole myth is about liberation from
Mary Magdalene was the only one who realized that if Jesus kept on as
he had been, he would be arrested, tortured, and murdered by the Romans
and their local collaborators: the priests, the money changers, the
merchants, and others who sold out – like Judas Iscariot. Jesus
was demonstrating against the collaboration of Temple leadership with
Roman overseers; suggesting that Cesar owns only what his name is
printed on, not the entire world; preaching that the time was near when
the paradigm shift would occur and God’s radical, distributive
justice-compassion would be re-established.
For those Exiles from Christian orthodoxy, or anyone who wishes to
pledge participation in that continuing struggle, the following
Tenebrae Eucharist may be offered either at the close of the Passion
Sunday service, or at the Maundy Thursday vigil.
On the last night with his disciples, as they
lounged at their dinner, Jesus decided to try one last time to make
them really understand what he was doing, and what it really meant to
picked up a loaf of bread, and spoke into the hubbub of their
conversation: Listen! – he said – This bread is like God’s justice in
this world. Then he tore the loaf into two pieces. This is
God’s justice in the hands of the Romans and the Temple authorities who
collaborate with them. Believe me, one of you is going to turn me
in to them soon. If not tonight, then as soon as the Passover is
finished. Whenever you eat together after this night,
remember that, and remember me.
Then Jesus picked up the jug of wine.
wine is also like the Kingdom of God – it is the blood of the paschal
lamb, painted on the lintels and doorposts of our people as a sign that
they belong to God and not to Pharaoh’s Empire. But now the
collaborators have made this wine into a corruption – a libation poured
out in honor of the Empire of Rome. – a repudiation of God’s protection
And he poured the wine into a cup and held it
up to them.
said, “Let the one who has chosen this cup take his possessions and do
what he must.” And he dumped the contents into a bowl for
Several of the company began to leave quietly,
and he let them go. Then he poured a second cup of wine and said,
“But this cup that I drink is a new cup. It is a libation of my
blood poured out for justice for all those who chose to share it.
Drink it. All of you who are willing to commit to establish God’s
justice-compassion, and remember.
passed the cup to them, and they passed it among themselves as a
pledge. And while they were doing this, one of the women –
perhaps it was Mary of Magdala – the one who Jesus loved – left the
room and returned with a tiny jar of essential oil of lavender.
And she came up to Jesus’ couch and said, “You will die for what you
have done this week – perhaps tonight – and I know I will never have
the chance to prepare your body for burial. If they take you,
there will be nothing left.”
Then she broke open the vial and anointed his
face and hands. And he took it from her and went to the one next
to him and said, “She has done what she could. She has prepared
my body for death. Do the same for one another in remembrance of
her.” And he anointed that one, and that one went to the next
until all in the company had been so ordained.