25 March 2018
WHERE PALMS AND PASSION COLLIDE- "Choosing to be there? Mark 11:1-11, 15:1-32

And so we come to Palm Sunday- or is it Passion Sunday? According to one commentator, "Congregations may choose to celebrate the first Sunday in Holy Week as either Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday. Some alternate them each year. Pick your colour. White, or purple?

Those who choose the celebratory Palm Sunday read from Mark 11, about Jesus triumphal entry to Jerusalem. If you choose to put yourself through traumatic narrative of Jesus' arrest and trials, you go to Mark 15.

Unsurprisingly most choose Palm Sunday. We might as well be happy for as long as we can. I have even been told of churches of one particular tradition who go straight from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday in one hop, without stopping on Good Friday. Why put yourself through it? Why indeed!

I actually find the idea of being invited to choose celebration or suffering somewhat offensive. It all became clearer when I read Marcus Borg's account of the Roman army marching eastwards from the Mediterranean coast to Jerusalem each year before the Passover. Jerusalem was notoriously unstable at this time and they needed to keep the "Roman peace". Borg suggests that Jesus may well have deliberately chosen to ride westwards into Jerusalem to coincide with the Roman legion's arrival, making a statement about the choice between the peace of God and the peace of Caesar.

Jerusalem. The city is a complex place. As George Mcleod writes,
Always in the midst of enterprise and innovation

the cancer of self-interest.

Children full of life and expectation

soon to be thrown on the scrapheap of disadvantage.

The city, dark, destructive, violent,

As well as full of generosity and love.

So, two conflicting processions enter Jerusalem; but when the branches are no longer being waved, and the warhorses have been stabled, there is no either/or. As these contrasting energies of might and marvel swirl and merge in the bubbling melting-pot of Jerusalem at Passover, it is no longer clear who is on whose side. Is it time for celebration or is it time to grieve?

Some of the crowds who waved palms for Jesus now clamour for Barabbas. The wife of Pilate declares Jesus to be innocent and Pilate, who tries to wash his hands of his guilt, makes friends with his adversary Herod. The disciples who are determined to follow Jesus to the end fall asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane, and Simon Peter denies he ever knew the one to whom he had recently vowed allegiance. It is eventually up to a Roman soldier to recognise and declare that Jesus is the son of God.

The swirling energies are like a cyclone- coming in, the winds blow one way. Leaving the winds reverse. There is only one calm place, only one calm person, right in the middle.

If it's wholeness we seek, it's not really a choice of celebration or suffering. It is what it is. The choice is either to be there or not; to risk being buffeted and blown about, to not really know which way we might jump when we are really put to the test.

If it's wholeness that we seek, we have to get past the temptation to deal with conflict and tension by jumping into one side of the prevailing dualism; for example, Palms or Passion. Dualism is when two faithful church members argue with each other from their entrenched convictions. One wants Sunday kept exclusively for prayer; the other asserts the need to seize the opportunity of the Beaumont street carnival to open for business with the community. It is only when they move close enough to hear one another's conviction that they have the opportunity to merge and be open to transformation and growth.

Transformation towards wholeness demands that we somehow come to a place where the competing elements swirl and overlap. That almond-shaped space is called a mandorla, and was often used in medieval art to depict holy scenes.

Prophets like Kalil Gibran help to move us beyond the either/or into mandorla space:

"Then a woman said "Speak to us of joy and sorrow, and he answered; Your joy is your sorrow unmasked, and the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears. And how else can it be? The deeper sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep on your bed."

This is not quite mandorla, but it's getting there. Michael Leunig gets even closer when he writes about the complexities of friendships- "We share this sad earth, this tender life, this precious time. Such richness. Such wildness. Together we are blown about. Together we are dragged along. All this delight. All this suffering. All this forgiving life. WE HOLD IT TOGETHER.

We hold it together. We hold together the different energies of joy and sorrow. We accept that in Jerusalem at Passover there are multiple ideas about how best to run the show. These competing ideas bump and sometimes crash into each other, and people often get hurt. Sometimes people die, the Roman way.

And so, on one particular Passover, one gets crucified. Seemingly banished to the outskirts to the city, he actually holds centre space. He holds everything together. To the thief on the cross he promises paradise, to Simon Peter he offers forgiveness, to his mother he gives a son, and he gives a Roman centurion new insight into the nature of true greatness. He lives out the great plan of God, described in Ephesians chapter 1 as drawing the whole creation together in Christ.

Transformation toward wholeness happens when we are able to embrace the complexity, the contradiction, the paradox. When we are strong enough to not choose one side or the other, but to find the transforming energy that lives in the eye of the cyclone.

It's not balance. It's not compromise. It's not the Buddhist Golden mean. It's not even common ground. It is all of these and more. It's the space where those who enter it are themselves transformed in such a way, where hostile, competing energies are converted into something else. It is the place where true peace exists. Sometimes is happens in our own hearts.

It's that stunning, transformative moment for the counsellor dealing with the couple who have been at each other's throats. They each come into that awkward, complex space demanding that their relationship can only work when the other person changes their ways. It's that stunning moment when, having engaged long enough in that sacred space, on that holy ground, each of them are able to ask the other "What do you need me to do differently? That's mandorla space.

The Jesus of the palms and the passion is the mandorla. He holds everything together. He draws the energy towards himself. Not just masculine and feminine energy, but the passion and the adulation, the hate and the love. In the end it is too much for one man to physically bear; but in the end, at the end, in that swirling, sacred space, we are changed. If we choose to be there.

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