Were You There As Jesus Prepared to Die?

Today’s Scripture Passage:  Mark 14: 1-25

To read today’s portion of the account of the Passion, click on the below link:

Galilee is behind us.  The parade is long over.  There are no stars overhead to light our way.  The Passion has begun.  It’s an odd term, from the Latin passionem, or suffering.  It looks similar to the word passive (Latin, passiuus), which definitely doesn’t make sense to us.  After all, we’re talking about Jesus!  But the words are indeed related.  The Passion, this time of suffering and being “handed over”, is a movement from planned and intentional action to no longer being in control.  All of Jesus’ actions are accomplished.  It is finished.  It is a time of waiting–waiting for others’ response, waiting for our response.  We are called to enter The Passion, to enter this handing over.

“Christ in the House of Simon”
Dieric Bouts, 1440’s
Staatlisch Museen, Berlin

And, so, in the first part of The Passion reading, Jesus prepares for what is to come.  First, he is anointed.  I really like the version that the Gospel writer known as John tells, but this is Mark’s year, so we’ll go with it.  You see, John names her.  John brings Mary into the story, into a relationship with Jesus.  Mary, or whoever this woman is, takes the expensive perfume and pours it onto Jesus.  Takes…and pours.  Where have we heard that before?  It is sacramental.  This simple act of holy extravagance brings her into the story, into life.  She is forever remembered not because she wasted the oil but because she was part of preparing Jesus to die.  With extravagant and self-giving love, she entered The Passion.  She poured herself out and handed herself over.  I wish I could be like that. I wish I could sit at the feet of Jesus and, without any regard to what is “appropriate” or “expected”, pour everything out. I wish I didn’t hold myself back.  I wish I could pour myself out with holy and even wasteful extravagance.

As the time for the Passover meal nears, the disciples begin to prepare and plan for the meal.  It would be Jesus’ last.  The disciples didn’t seem to know it at the time but this would be the final time that they were all together.  Don’t you wander what the conversation was that night?  We’d like to imagine that it was rich and deep and profound, that it was prayerful and contemplative, theological and steeped with rabbinical thought, that it was something they would remember.  But last words are seldom like that.  They are usually profoundly quotidian.  Rather than resembling the life that we envision, they usually resemble the life that is.  That’s probably what happened that night.  There were side conversations about family and acquaintances.  There were comments about the weather and whether it might have been unseasonably hot or unseasonably cold that evening.  And there were some speculations about the political environment and the tensions that hung in the air even that night.  They did not solve the problems of the world.  They just ate and drank and sat together. 

“The Last Supper of Christ”
Pieter Jansz.Pourbus, c. 1562-5

And then Jesus takes the bread and pours the wine.  Takes…and pours.  It is sacramental.  Yet another act of holy extravagance that brings us all into the story, into life.  But the story’s ending is far from ordinary.  And to be part of it, we have to take and pour…We have to become the body and become the blood.  We have to take the cup from Jesus, this cup that has been poured out for us.

But behind the scenes, there is darkness and betrayal swirling in our midst.  We don’t know what to do with this.  It is one of us.  It is one whom Jesus loves. It is one who has sat here this night and shared our meal and shared our lives.  Oh, please, do not let it be me.  As I dip this bread, let me become who I’m supposed to be.  Do not let it be me.

The truth is, we cannot be there with Jesus as he prepares to die unless we, too, are preparing for our own.  We cannot talk of this handing over unless we can let go of that to which we hold.  And we cannot take the bread and the wine unless we make room for it in our lives.  Were you there?  Were you there as love was poured out?  Were you there as Jesus took and poured?  Were you there in the betrayal?  It is too late to go back.  It is too late to change anything.  The Kingdom of God waits for you up ahead.  But you have to let go.  You have to die to self.  No longer can we just talk about something else and hope that death will go away.  We have to die to live.

So, on this Monday of Holy Week, how would you answer?  Were you there as Jesus prepared to die?  What part in The Passion did you play?  Are you preparing to die?  For that is the way that you will live.

Grace and Peace,


Were You There at the Parade?

Palm Sunday Road, Jerusalem
February, 2010

Today’s Scripture Passage:  Mark 11: 1-11
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 the re 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, “Hosanna!  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.

Everyone loves this story.  We all like a parade!  When I was growing up, I used to love parades.  I couldn’t wait for the week-end of the Katy Fat Stock Show and Rodeo and the parade on that Saturday.  And I would spend the whole three hours watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the parade that would bring the official start of Christmas.  Parades are exciting!  They are beginnings.  They usher in something.

We all know of this parade.  We like the idea of waving our palm branches and celebrating the great and glorious King.  I think I used to envision this parade with the main gates of the city open and Jesus parading down the main street of Jerusalem.  In my mind, everyone stopped to watch.  It was a glorious site.  But if you think about it a little bit (don’t you hate it when people do that?), Jesus supposedly rode this poor little colt (or a donkey if you talk to the writer Matthew) straight down the Palm Sunday Road, straight down from the Mount of Olives, through the Garden of Gethsemane, towards what is essentially the back gate of the temple.   This little motley parade probably did not go down Herodian Street and probably didn’t even draw that big a crowd.  These were the people that had heard (or at least heard OF) Jesus.  These were the ones who had already begun to follow him.  Marcus Borg and Dominic Crossan present the idea that there was possibly a whole other parade coming into the main gate and processing down Main Street, a parade with rulers and grand steeds and lots of royal acclaim.  And on the other side of the city, coming into the back gates, was this small processional of underdressed commoners, a small underdeveloped equine, and a diverse band carrying palm branches.

And, it appears, this half-engaged crowd didn’t even really stay around.  By the time Jesus got to the temple, he looked around.  It was late and they were gone and so he and the disciples went out to Bethany (Hebrew, “House of Figs”).  The other parade probably ended with an all-night party.  After all, the city was bustling.  The Passover was coming.  But Jesus and the twelve, alone, went to the house of Mary and Martha.

So, where are we?  Which parade are we watching?  Are we watching the Herodian Processional, with its grand floats and amazing giant balloons, with its bands and its celebrity master?  Or are we in this small minority watching a lowly donkey carry this man Jesus?  And at the end, do we lay our palm branch down and go back to our business?  Or do we follow Jesus to Bethany?

On this Palm / Passion Sunday, where are you?  Were you there at the parade?  Were you there when it was over?  Where are you?

Grace and Peace,