We have come to the holiest week of the year, the week when we celebrate the victory of life over death, the victory of God’s Reign over the domination system of humanity, the transcending of all our pain and disappointment into the Mystery of God.
Spring is here, at last, and we see the grass turning green, the flowers are budding, and the robins have returned to the Midwest. We like to imagine the great freedom we would have if only we could fly like the birds, ignoring the reality that we are born to fly. Did you know that the average height of a robin’s flight is only 30 inches from the ground? Only 30 inches! They have the potential to soar to great heights, but for whatever reason, they rarely do so. Knowing this about robins reveals one of our deepest personal fears, namely, that like the robins we, too, will come to the end of our lives, having wasted so much time on things that didn’t matter, knowing that we had been given the gift of flight, but we chose to live on the safe side and stay always close to the ground.
We were made to fly high and experience a lifetime of shining moments, and all of us have had those moments, knowing that we were embracing life for all it was worth. Our culture would have us believe that those moments can be had through the accumulation of things, a certain kind of car, perhaps, or the right jeans, or by dining only in the best restaurants.
What we know in our hearts to be true, though, is that the shiniest of moments have nothing to do with the accumulation of stuff. The best moments of our lives are when we have been able to fully embrace who we are as daughters and sons of God, knowing exactly who God made us to be, and then losing ourselves in something bigger than ourselves. It’s paradoxical, but it is the truth: When we realize who we were born to be and then give ourselves away, when we abandon our own desires for the sake of someone else’s, when we pour ourselves out in love for someone else, fearing that we will disappear, only to find ourselves whole and intact. It’s all about the times when we take a risk for love, when we speak up on behalf of someone who cannot advocate for himself, when we speak up despite our fear, when we take a stand, even though our knees are shaking.
As we read today’s Gospel reading, we find Jesus, the political activist, staging a counter-demonstration in Jerusalem. He rides a donkey through the East Gate of the city, and his followers play along with this street theatre, this mockery of what is happening just across town. Entering the West Gate into the city of Jerusalem at the same time is Pontius Pilate and his legions of reinforcements. Of all the Jewish holidays, Passover is one that makes the Romans most nervous because the Jews are celebrating their deliverance from another domination system, the Egyptians, and the idea of any god liberating the Jews is enough to make the Roman Empire wary. The additional troops are sent down from the coast to help keep order, since festival time was ideal for troublemakers and political fanatics alike to cause riots in the city.
Jesus makes his way into the city and proceeds to the Temple, that great symbol of religious collaboration with the power of Empire. The Church historically has called this event the “cleansing” of the Temple, but it was much more than that. Jesus effectively shut down the Temple in much the same way that Daniel Berrigan shut down the Pentagon when he broke in and poured blood on the draft files back in the 1960s during the Viet Nam war. In the same way that Dorothy Day shut down the American welfare system when she opened her soup kitchen in New York. In the same way that Oscar Romero shut down the corrupt government of El Salvador by nurturing the campesinos and speaking out on behalf of the poor. Jesus wasn’t just “cleansing” the Temple, he was taking a stand against the domination system in its entirety: political, social, religious, and economic—and here, under the nose of the Roman guard, in the very seat of world power. While they might have been able to ignore his actions while he was out there in the Galilean countryside, they couldn’t ignore him now.
Jesus, of course, knew that his actions could not be ignored, and that’s why, when I read this story, I see him fully conscious of who he was born to become, always pressing forward toward inevitable confrontation. Jesus died because he exposed the reality of the domination system. Jesus died because he confronted the injustice. Jesus died because he would not allow himself to be controlled by the expectations of his family, by the opinions of the public, by the norms of his culture. Jesus died because he would not allow himself to be controlled by the most intimidating, brutal symbol that the most powerful Empire in the world could produce: the cross. Rome had devised this horrific means of execution in order to keep the nations under its control in their place, but Jesus—who had certainly witnessed the reality of crucifixion many times in his lifetime and who knew exactly what it entailed—this Jesus would not allow himself to be controlled by his fear of death. Indeed, he undercut the power of the cross to intimidate anyone by inviting his disciples to actually embrace it. Take up your cross and follow me, he says, don’t be afraid. And if you are afraid, don’t let your fear diminish you, don’t let your fear define you, don’t let your fear keep you from wholeheartedly, unapologetically living the truth of who you are in the pursuit of the Reign of God’s justice.
The great paradox of our life is that those of us who are willing to lose it so that others might live, will gain it. There are signs of this paradox in our everyday lives: if we cling to our friends, we will lose them, but if we are non-possessive in our relationships, we will make and maintain many friendships. If fame is what we crave and obsess over, it most often elude us, even if we acquire it for a time. On the other hand, if we have no need to be known, we may well be remembered long after we are gone. When we struggle to be in the limelight, we end up in the shadows offstage, but when we choose to become free enough to be and do whatever it is we are called to do and be, suddenly we find ourselves in the center of those whom we have helped to grow. Our giving away is our abundance, our losing is our victory, our sharing is our receiving.
Charles Fillmore writes that Jerusalem, the Holy City, symbolizes that holy space within us that contains the fullness of peace and the place where we share the vision of God. Jesus, of course, symbolizes our “I AM” identity that we share with God. His going up to Jerusalem shows us how we are to take the last step in holding onto our selfishness and our limited egocentric self, releasing it or “crucifying” it in order that the Christ may triumph. This is the true person that we were born to become from the very beginning, the authentic self, free from unworthy attachments.
We waste a great deal of energy in life pursuing and clinging to things that are beneath our dignity as children of God, so when Jesus rides the donkey into the Holy City, this is a lesson for us that there will come a time when the spiritual I AM within us will triumph over our lesser desires and attachments. The spiritual plane of mastery, purity, and peace is always available to us if we simply become true to our real self and allow the I AM to take charge of our lives. And suddenly, our energy is no longer wasted or depleted, and it’s the hosannas of the crowds that represent that joyful submission to God given by all our thoughts once we have overcome the error consciousness that has held us captive so long.
Blessed is the One who comes of the name of the Lord! Blessed is the One who through death, invites us to live. Blessed are we who are called to be our very best, most authentic selves in the service of God’s Reign! Blessed are we, who are empowered by our God to heal a broken and hurting world. Hosanna in the Highest!
Let the church say AMEN!