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March 25, 2018

“Breaking Barriers: The Entry Gate”

By Rev. Katrina Pekich-Bundy

Psalm 118.1-2, 19-29

Mark 11.1-11

March 25, 2018

            Sometimes we have to play the game of those who create the barriers in order to knock them down, and Jesus does just that as he enters Jerusalem. We have been considering boundaries and barriers throughout Lent, exploring what boundaries should be removed and what should be kept up. As we enter Holy Week we see how Jesus tears down that which separates humans and God.

            In the time of this holy processional Rome had been an oppressing force. Jesus has been speaking against the rulers and religious leaders. Many of the people who were in power led people astray, were oppressive, and were taking advantage of others. Jesus tries to point people in the direction of God. Through his life and actions Jesus reminded people to look to those in the margins. He ate with sinners, prayed with outcasts, and healed the sick.

            Jesus has planned this spectacular entrance.[1] It is clear through his instructions to others that he thought this through. To break down barriers one cannot go wielding a rubber mallet in the midst of a crowd. There must be strategic planning.

            Jesus knows there is a colt tied up and commands the disciples to retrieve it – going so far as to mention how they should respond in case someone questions their motives. The disciples follow through, and someone does wonder what they are doing, and they follow his instructions exactly. What would have happened if they had merely stolen the donkey without a response? What would have happened if Jesus had chosen another animal at random, or hadn’t gone on a donkey at all? His choice was intentional.

            It appears that this action is playing into the hands of the rulers, but Jesus has planned it this way. He could have ridden into town on a horse, but chooses a colt – a small creature in which he drags his feet, humbles himself, and must steady himself, as the Mount of Olives was quite steep and long. Jesus could have ridden another animal, a camel or horse would have been more appropriate, but he makes a statement. He is a leader but not one of oppression. He comes bringing peace.

            What barriers need to be broken down in our world? Organization is needed to make a difference in our world. To change laws in our world, or to change the culture, we have to have education, signatures of supporters, parades, protests, and so much more. We have to think through our words rather than spouting out the first thing that pops in our mind. Are our words productive? Are they harmful? Are they thoughtful?

            As Jesus begins this holy protest he is opening the gates of Holy Week. The destination of resurrection was always there but perhaps the process would have moved slower or faster depending on how Jesus planned his movements. Did he know that he was heading to death? Did he plan on it? At the very least, he has strategically planned this march – this entry into Jerusalem. Whether or not he knew the events that would follow is up for discussion.

            It is probable that Holy Week wasn’t actually a week.[2] The timing may have been months depending on when this processional occurred. The leafy branches suggest that this might have been a different time of year than Passover, a different festival. So, perhaps it took longer than we imagine in our heads. I’m not sure what would be worse – a long drawn out process or a shorter time.

            We frame the events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday and Palm Sunday as a week but perhaps we should consider that the reality for some is that the borders of Holy Week go beyond Saturday. For some, Easter seems to never come. They are perpetually in a never ending Holy Saturday, sitting in silence and waiting for the stench of death to disappear. They wait in isolation, they wait in poverty, they wait in war, hoping that the resurrection of peace and wholeness will come. We know the resurrection is powerful, but for those who have not experienced it Holy Week drags on for years.

            So, we have to realize that our boundaries of Holy Week are not the same as others. Our view of the resurrection may not agree with someone else’s theology. Yet, God is with us – in the resurrection, and in Holy Saturday, when we wait and when we celebrate. God is in all those moments.

            The words the people shout are from Psalm 118, our other reading for today. As we enter Holy Week we are reminded of God’s goodness. Even though Jesus will be hung on a cross, we trust in God’s love. Even though Jesus will be betrayed, we remember God is good.

            This particular psalm is to be sung at the beginning of worship – in the gates of the temple. Typically it was read to celebrate a victorious ruler.[3] This passage is not referencing Jesus, but knowing that it was in response to a ruler, we can see how this was interpreted into Jesus’ time. The people were looking for a triumphant leader to guide them. They needed someone who would fight the battle and win. They shout out to be saved because they feel so helpless and lost.

            Perhaps we feel that helplessness in our own day and age. As we watch the news, as we hear of tragedy after tragedy, we seek a savior – someone to be victorious. We stand at God’s gate and wait. The picture on the front of your bulletin was taken at the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter. In that church once stood this door, which opened to the wall. I asked about the door and the woman laughed and said it was the “salvation door.” But didn’t give more details. It seemed like a cruel trick – to have all your hopes on salvation, to open a door, and find a brick wall.

            Perhaps some people feel they have hit a wall. Salvation is not ours to earn, but perhaps we can help people knock down the walls that make them feel as if they are isolated – that make them feel as if they are alone.

            As we approach Holy Week let us remember the ways that gates and walls have been put up in front of us. What needs to be torn down? What must we do to tear it down? A holy processional? Some organizing? Some strategic planning? From the disciples’ perspective it appears that barrier after barrier is being put up. Even though Jesus warned them of his death many times they do not see it coming. They are shocked as the barriers pile up, and Jesus ends in the tomb.

            We know of the resurrection, but let’s not jump there quite yet. We might want to knock the barriers down before they are finished being put up, but sometimes we have to see the scope of the boundaries to know what we are dealing with. In many ways I think our world has tried too hard to push down hatred rather than confronting it face first. We have tried to end racism without having conversations and education. We have tried to put bandaids over poverty issues. When we don’t know the full scope of what we are dealing with, we are merely cutting away at something that is growing faster than we realize. In order to make an impact, we have to know what we are dealing with, and come up with a strategic plan for peace and love. Let us listen to the world around us, and listen to God. Amen.

           

 

[1] Charles L. Campbell, “Mark 1.1-11” in Feasting on the Word: Year B, Vol. 1 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 155.

[2] C. M. Tuckett, “Mark” in The Oxford Bible Commentary, eds. John Barton and John Muddiman (Oxford: University Press, 2001), 909.

[3] Fred B. Craddock, John H. Hayes, Carl R. Holladay, Gene M. Tucker, Preaching Through the Christian Year: B (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1993), 168.