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Palm Sunday, March 28, 2021

“Weight Bearing Love”
Rev. Nicole C. Trotter

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Rev. Nicole C. Trotter
St. Andrew, Palm Sunday, Zoom 2021

Weight Bearing Love
Matthew 21:1-11

This morning, we enter into the story of Holy week beginning with Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. In Matthews gospel and only Matthews gospel, we journey from being in a large crowd spreading cloaks in verse 8 to the whole city being in turmoil in verse 10.

Something shifted, from celebration to turmoil, but Matthew doesn’t tell us what happened, so we’re left to fill in the blanks.
Let’s begin with setting the scene….

Jerusalem….the holy city, the capital of Judea, is celebrating the festival of the Passover….Passover is the time for the Jewish people to remember the exodus from Egypt, their freedom from slavery and oppression, a time of redemption. According to New Testament  Scholar Amy Jill Levine-thousands upon thousands would come to Jerusalem from Athens and Egypt, Babylon, and Rome, Damascus, and Galilee.

Jerusalem holds the temple mount, that houses God in the Holy of Holies, and Jerusalem in also under Roman occupation. The place the Jewish people are coming to celebrate their freedom, is not free at all, but under Roman rule.

And to set the tension even higher, Roman Emperors were believed to have been anointed by God as the son of God. Which places him in direct conflict for the the Jewish people who were still waiting for the son of God, which for them would be a son of David’s. 

Theologians Marcus Borg and Dominic Crossan in their book The Last Week, paint the backdrop of this day for us, setting the scene, as we enter into this story….

On the west side of town is the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate and his imperial procession: Imagine with me in your minds eye….  “cavalry on horses, foot solders, helmets, weapons, golden eagles mounted on poles, sun glinting on metal and gold.  Sounds: the marching of feet, the creaking of leather, the beating of drums.  The eyes of the silent onlookers, some curious, some awed, some resentful.” [1]

And on the east side of town comes Jesus.
“As Pilate clanged and crashed his imperial way into Jerusalem from the west, Jesus approached from the east, looking (by contrast) ragtag and absurd.  His was the procession of the powerless, and the explicitly vulnerable.”  
If Pilate was imperial, Jesus was anit-imperial. If Pilates entry was triumphal, a term used in war, then Jesus’s entry was a triumph of peace over oppression.
So the first thing you may want to ask yourself if you’re entering the story… is which side of town you’re on? Are you on Pilate’s West Side, or Jesus East side.

I know you think that’s a rhetorical question. But being at Jesus’s parade comes with risk. Remember what happened under Herod’s rule? John the baptizer was put to death because of his growing popularity. Jesus knows that as he enters, and the people who followed him knew it.

Following Christ, then, and following Christ today, comes with a risk, as the value system that one takes on as a follower of Christ will often put you at odds with the world around you. Jesus came to liberate those who were fed lies about their place in the world. Some of us have been told lies about our place in this world.

If you enter this story on the east side of town, you risk standing up to lies, calling out bigotry and hateful speech. You risk looking more closely at your own journey, and discovering all the subtle ways in which our own prejudice and stereo typing infiltrates our own lives. Standing up to lies means standing side by side with those who are called unworthy, who are marginalized because of their race, the color of their skin, their sexual identity, their religion or any of the other ways we box people in and try to lord over rather than love. If we’re at Jesus’s parade we’re helping to dismantle the lies that are being told on the other side of town, and instead employ language that reconciles and builds peace. 

If you’re at Jesus’s parade, you’re either next to someone who is  crying out Save Please or you yourself are shouting.. Save we pray. People don’t cry out Save please unless they’re hungry, socially hungry for their rightful place, spiritually hungry for their rightful place or physically hungry with not enough to get through the day. Save we pray…. 

If I’m at his parade,  maybe the first thing I can ask….is what do I need saving from? Maybe it’s from myself? As we explored last week…. maybe we tell ourselves lies of self sufficiency, lies that separate us from others, as better than, or worse than, lies that we can’t really make a difference, lies that we can’t really change, or don’t need to…

To go further into the story and cast yourself in this scripture.you can begin to ask, where am I in this scripture…

Are you one of the disciples who go to find a donkey, aiding in Jesus’s subversive act of defiance and maybe giggling like a teenager who knows they will stick it to the man. If you recall the first scripture you heard, the gospel writer Matthew, makes sure it’s a donkey Jesus chooses, in order to fulfill the prophecy you hear told by Zechariah. Levine does a nice job of framing this in today’s context. It would be like a popular leader sending two members of his entourage from a respectable suburb into the downtown area of a big city with the instructions…”Go and there you’ll find a Lexus Sedan and a sports car-bring them to me. And is anyone asks, hey what are you doing with those cars, just say the Lord needs them. That’ll be fine.” Either way, if you cast yourself in this role, then you have a talent for waking people up, for doing the unexpected, for making a point that needs to be made in order for others to listen and wake up and be convinced. I think of the lawyers in the room, in the best sense, standing up, charged with the task of changing peoples minds through tangible evidence.
But maybe that’s not you…..

Maybe you’re standing by the gates as Jesus’s biggest fan, waving branches and leading the crowd in cheers. We need cheerleaders in this life. Those who encourage others, and by doing so encourage the good in others, the Christ in others. When you see someone doing good…bringing good into this world, in small and big ways, you are the ones who stand up and say good for you and good for a world that needs more of that. We all need these people in our life.

But maybe you don’t like being in the front…

Maybe you’re standing in the background, unsure of whether or not you want to risk your own reputation along with his. Maybe you’re stuck at a job that is sucking the life out of you, or in a relationship that is unhealthy in some way… Maybe to follow what you desire or what you believe God desires for you is just too risky for you. Maybe you’re not even clear on what it is God desires, so you’re instead in a holding pattern, waiting for God to reveal God’s self to you in a way that makes it clear, so you wait, quietly in the wings, and that’s ok.

Or maybe….

Maybe you cast yourself as his mother, proud but also deeply afraid. Maybe to embrace this journey which you know leads to death on a cross is just too painful, but you do it anyway, because ultimately you know that it’s what Christ is asking of you. This is the role for the saints in the crowd. The ones who are selflessly giving. These are the ones we call the icons of faith. But like all who are seemingly selfless, they know how to care for themselves first, putting the mask on self (you know that metaphor used for mothers) the oxygen goes to self before you can help your child, in order that you can help your child. Selfless does not mean at the expense of self. It means you’ve been fed with enough love, that you have no choice in the matter, but to love others.

And finally,  maybe you don’t like any of those choices, but prefer the quietest role of all…. the donkey, supportive in presence….but without words…..

We can all have a good laugh abut casting yourself or anyone else in the role of the donkey, for obvious reasons….but theologically, the donkey is the unsung hero this story. Carrying the weight of Jesus on his back. Symbolizing humility and peace, fulfilling prophecy, quietly supporting the weight of what it means to be Messiah, all the way to the cross, which carries a weight far greater.

To be the symbol or humility, requires being able to listen and to serve rather than be served. 

To be untied from your owner who used you as a work horse, and be used instead by the son of David as a weight bearer for all that is good…. is a job promotion. 

AS I imagined this, I imagined us all as the donkey from the point of view of the donkey….And I imagined if the donkey could put words to her experience, perhaps this is what she or he says….

My life is different now. I can’t say I’m exactly sure how, but I know it has something to do with this guy I carry on my back now.  I try not to think too much about it, but rather just do what I’m told, by how I’m being led and steered down this road. I’m never sure where we’re going and I can’t see around the corner, but trust the guy I carry with me will get us there. I’ve got a reputation for being stubborn sometimes, but that’s only because sometimes I get tired  of carrying the weight on my back. People say they have all have a cross to bear…They don’t know the half of it.  

But I can’t deny that from the moment this guy came into my life, my life began to change. There were people on every side of me. As we started down the road, people seemed to be praising me….and throwing cloaks down so my hooves wouldn’t get dirty. Some were waving branches at me and others were shouting, some were crying. I couldn’t make out what they were shouting, but it brought some to their knees, below me. Like whatever I was doing was somehow changing their life. At least I think it was for me. Maybe it was for the guy on my back, I don’t really know anymore, because we’ve been together for long enough now, now that I’m no longer sure whether he’s still on my back or not. I feel him, even when he’s not there. It’s like we’ve become one thing together. The weight I carry no longer feels a burden but a gift, because it brings me together with all these other people who seem to know what I have always known; that we’re here to bear the weight of love, to serve, to carry, to give, and to care.


[1] Borg, Crossan, The Last Week

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