St. Mary Magdalene Anglican Church

Vancouver, B.C.

Phone: 604-877-1789

E-mail: office@stmarymags.ca

Office hours: Tuesday, Thursday, Friday 10:30 am - 1 pm

The Anglican Parish of St. Mary Magdalene

2950 Laurel Street at West 14th Avenue

Vancouver, BC, V5Z  3T3

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Sunday Eucharist

10:30 am


Contemplative

Eucharist

Wednesday 7:00 pm


Diocese of New Westminster Anglican Church of Canada

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April 14th  Palm Sunday  2019          John Marsh


Ride on, ride on in majesty!

Hark all the tribes “Hosanna” cry;

O Saviour meek, pursue thy road

With palm and scattered garments strowed.


Ride on, ride on in majesty!

In lowly pomp ride on to die;

O Christ, thy triumphs now begin

O’er captive death and conquered sin.¹


For many, to sing such hymns is to be expected…


Yet, while expected, there is (there always has been) a crack in the majestic façade…


As the majestic tone is sounded, we are curiously distanced from the action…


The more majestic, the more divinely inspired the story becomes, the more the outcome is determined; the more the outcome is determined, the more the risk is removed because the mechanics of expected salvation are at work…²


As the narrative of the entrance into Jerusalem becomes the precursor to known ‘victory’, it becomes a human drama hollowed out by its predictability…³


It becomes less a human drama, more a divine passion play…

 

Within the divine passion play, Jesus is not so much human - one haunted by hope and challenged by a fear fringed determination named courage - but merely divinity’s stunt double taking the risk and paying the price while the star of the show rests in the trailer awaiting the limelight of the big finish…


So here we are – the more majestic and powerful the story, the more two dimensional it becomes – the more majestic and powerful the story, the easier it is to manipulate and commodify and put on the shelf with other vaguely important religious curiosities…


So how do we get beneath the magisterial layers of majestic exuberance?


To begin, we can turn to New Testament scholars who, almost universally, note that the entrance into Jerusalem was in no way majestic, in no way a powerful parade of the righteous – it was messy, in and amongst the crowds with all of their smells and expectations – a small, somewhat impromptu piece of street theatre acting out prophetic hopes…


Yet, as valiant and valuable as this effort is, freeing, as it were, Jesus from the first century equivalent of the ‘Pope-mobile’, the transformative possibilities of the narrative are still undermined by knowing the outcome…


To turn too early or too powerfully to the resurrection sanitizes the story by removing the grit of the unknown, the tension of acting despite the overwhelming odds of failure…


To put it another way, the entrance narrative loses traction and collapses as a human drama because we still know that there is no risk - the rescue of resurrection is underway – just a few days away.


So, what to do…


Perhaps paradoxically our hope lies in what the story is not…


And it is not mighty and majestic…


If we can interrupt the usual hermeneutic flow of the narrative, if we can muddy those majestic waters and hold out for acting in the face of certain failure perhaps we may have hope…


We have hope because the story is not what it seems…it is more parody than triumph – a prophetic parody of power…


As a parody of power, the donkey ride becomes an interruption in the usual negotiation with the ‘powers’…


To ride an ass into Jerusalem is an unexpected ‘way out of no way’


To ride an ass into Jerusalem is the redemptive negative – a no in the name of god; the weak power of no – of not now – maybe yesterday but not now - not today…


This is the ‘small blip’ of god’s reign interrupting usual expectations…


This is the ‘small blip’ of riding an ass to make a prophetic point…


This is the ‘small blip’ of standing in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square…


This is the ‘small blip’ of a community walking protesting riding in the back of the bus…


This is the ‘small blip’ of the final resolution of a pacifist pastor (Dietrich Bonhoeffer) to resort to violence in the face of the unspeakable evil of the ‘Final Solution’…


This is the ‘small blip’ of raising a black gloved fist in protest of American racism at a medal awards ceremony at 68 Olympics in Mexico City…

 



This is the ‘small blip’ of god’s reign, of making ‘a way out of no way’, of doing the unexpected, not because you will succeed but, perhaps, because divinity’s heart desires it and the human heart requires it…


This is the ‘small blip’ of god’s reign, of making ‘a way out of no way’, of doing the unexpected, not because you possess ‘All Glory, Laud and Honour’ but because while ‘wholly weak’, you are nonetheless possessed of the passion of ‘not now’ and the fire of god’s dream of ‘why not – why not justice, why not compassion, why not reconciliation’


So, let’s hold the moment and not rush headlong to the goal of demanded success…


Let’s hold to the interruptions in history’s narrative - the facing down of the many faces of empire:


Gandhi standing up to the British…


Martin Luther King Jr. standing up to the segregation laws of the south…


Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising a fist and wearing badges of the Olympic Project for Human Rights at the Mexico Olympics…


Nelson Mandela standing up to Apartheid….


The Sea Shephard challenging Whaling trawlers on the open ocean…


Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee…


Jesus embracing prophetic tradition - that burning sensibility of the divine presence and the resilience of a human heart - stands up or rather rides in, interrupting, ever so briefly, the relentless will to power…


So, if it seems that majesty, power and success threaten the narratives of living and hollow out the fully human heart, then maybe we should turn to the unexpected action of ‘a way out of no way’


Jesus rides in on an ass…


In the face of dominating power, it seems that the ass is critical – it seems that being the ‘butt’ of the joke is central – it seems that being an ‘ass’ is wholly important in the ever present game of pretence and privilege…


So, ride on, ride on but do it differently – unexpectedly…


Do it ‘ass backwards’


Because beneath layers of retrojected majestic exuberance there lies something profoundly human…something profoundly and redemptively human…


But you need eyes to see it…


You need ears to hear it…


It is to be heard in the ferocious character of one who says,


 “I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.” (Isaiah 50:6-7)


Yes, it is to be seen in this nameless prophet of Second Isaiah (nameless, in part, because the prophet’s identity is shared by many) who though beaten is not cowed, who though struck down and suffering nonetheless ‘stands up’ without striking back…


Indeed, beneath layers of retrojected majestic exuberance there lies something profoundly human…something profoundly and redemptively human…


Something hopeful, something inspiring, something transformative…


Something redemptively and divinely human…

 

Something not to be seen in imperial presumptions…


Something not to be heard in majestic tones…


Something echoed in the mystic insight of Paul, who says,


‘Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who because he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking on the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.’ (Philippians 2:5-7a)⁴



 ¹ Verses 1and 2 of ‘Ride On, Ride On in Majesty’ by Henry Hart Milman (1791-1868)

 ² By divine I am referring to a particular conception of divinity, one all too familiar in its conception of God as All Powerful, All Knowing and All Seeing which strikes me as just All too much - all too much for divinity and certainly all too much for us.

 ³ The same can be said of the arrest, the trial and crucifixion.

 ⁴ Most translations translate this passage as ‘who, though he was in the form of God.’ However, it may also be correctly translated as ‘because he was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited.’ In other words, Jesus did not reveal his character in spite of divinity but because of it (‘because’). It is the identity of divinity to act with humility and sacrificial service.


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