Journey’s End:  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 injustice.  

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.

    Tenebrae Eucharist

One:        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 follow him.

Another:    He 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.

One:        Then Jesus picked up the jug of wine.

Another:    This 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 deliverance.

One:        And he poured the wine into a cup and held it up to them.  

Another:    He 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 disposal.

One:        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.  

Another:    He 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.”

One:        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.