thinking theology

Archive for April, 2014

Everyone fails. Praise the Lord!

Reflection on John 20:19-31

I had a parishioner at St. Laurence in BC who used to give my sermons titles. This one should be called, “Everyone Fails. Praise The Lord!”

One of the things we know is that it is only when we experience the truth of our own errors, and acknowledge those errors, that we can understand the slippery nature of wrong. No one wakes up in the morning and says to themselves, “I’m going to be cruel and selfish today. I’m going to be a naysayer just to ruin the day for any lurking Pollyannas.” Many very wrong events and words are motivated not by evil intentions but by believing that what we do is for the good. Sometimes that is a rationalization for fear or doubt or laziness, but the results are rarely what we expect. What is also common is the very high standard we hold for others, forgetting that they are just struggling along too. We would like to hide our errors, our insecurity, our secrets, unaware that those tender spots are the crossroads to real contact and freedom.

Thomas and Peter are the famous doubters, but you will notice that in this narrative, all the disciples are hiding out. What they really fear is not so much their own arrests as their own feelings of guilt and loss. It seems to us a brief time time since the crucifixion, but in real time, it could have been weeks or months or years. For them, the death of Jesus has become their truth…and their undoing. In that loss, they have been forced to face themselves, and they have forgotten that Jesus has called them to life in abundance and they are to share this good news with everyone. A tricky task from the shadows and closed doors. No one can tell someone else when it is time to leave the tomb or the prison of fear and doubt, but the stone has been rolled away, the door swings open whenever we are ready, just as it was waiting for those disciples. Maybe the door had always been open but their disappointment hid it from their inner vision.

Rowan Williams wrote: “There is no hope of understanding the Resurrection outside the process of renewing humanity in forgiveness. We are all agreed that the empty tomb proves nothing. We need to add that no amount of apparitions, however well authenticated, would mean anything either, apart from the testimony of forgiven lives communicating forgiveness.” The resurrection was an experience of forgiveness. The disciples had all abandoned Jesus, becoming complicit with his murderers. The fact that the resurrection was happening to them was an experience of forgiveness for them.

Why does John tell this story about a group of seemingly failed and faulty disciples? Why not make them heroes? Does Thomas speak for all of them in their quite legitimate doubt and fear? But they are hung on the cross, blind to the light streaming through the open door. What they misunderstand for awhile is that to remember the life of Jesus means to remember compassion and forgiveness, healing and grace.

This is about a process, punctuated by events, both tragic and joyful. Our growth as human beings requires times to bring ourselves to the cross, and let us see each other there, standing around a table at the heart of the world. All who have ever lived, we stand together, bound by the Spirit that weaves around and through us, keeping us in Life. Jesus stands at the empty centre, beckoning to us to release ourselves to life. The breath of forgiveness cannot be just for us. The holiness of that life giving breath is Spirit and it cannot be contained or withheld. Once inhaled, it must be exhaled to bring peace and healing to others.
To understand the message of the cross is to see it as all roads leading not to Rome, that symbol of violence and oppression. That is what the cruelty of the world wants us to think, but at the centre is the empty tomb, the open door, the breath of life, that sends us out on the roads again, with love in our hearts, compassion on our lips and healing in our hearts. Peace at the centre where worlds begin and end, forever and forever.


Spring Song by Lucille Clifton

The green of Jesus
Is breaking the ground
And the sweet
Smell of delicious Jesus
Is opening the house and
The dance of Jesus music
Has hold of the air and
The world is turning
In the body of Jesus and
The future is possible.

Maundy Thursday

What are we doing tonight? This ritual of foot washing has deep cultural and liturgical roots in the church. In many ways, it is not unlike trying to read an ancient scroll. The signs are lost in history although still we say the words. We do not, in these times, wash the feet of guests in our homes.

For us, it is only our intuition and somewhat uncomfortable feeling that can connect us with this act. Who do you think feels the most uncomfortable in this, the person who washes or the person who is washed? It has something to do with vulnerability, does it not? And it has to do with an act that has little cultural connection for us. In our culture, whom do we wash? Babies, the seriously ill, the dying. It’s not surprising that this ritual action feels uncomfortable for us.

Let us look at some of the roots of this rite to achieve some depth of understanding. In Genesis 18:4-5, Abraham greets the messengers who will announce Sarah’s pregnancy, in this way:

4 Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. 5 Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.”

Thus, one of the associations with foot washing is hospitality. In the case of Abraham, it is welcoming the holy into the midst of one’s life and accepting the message and direction such acceptance brings.

For the levitical priests, hand and foot washing meant preparation to serve at the altar, to be both spiritually and physically clean.

For the affluent, it was a servant’s job to greet guests by washing their feet, except in cases of a particular bond of friendship when a host might perform the act. And it was women’s job to wash bodies for burial.

So when Jesus arises after dinner to wash his disciples’ feet, it would have been alarming on many levels. They were already in the house; they had eaten; they were listening to their Rabbi. But when we put the ancient echoes into place, it makes more sense for us.

The stories of the woman anointing or washing Jesus prepare us for the mutuality Jesus is modelling for his followers. They also are being prepared for death and sacrifice, for the time of trial and troubling truth. They are in the presence of the holy. Their relationship as a community with Jesus sanctified the ground on which their feet rest.

It is in relationship that we are healed and cleansed of our sins. When we have a memory on our conscience, or a story about ourselves that we have hidden, the most effective way to be free of it is to tell it to another. It is the relationship, the mutual trust and honesty, that frees us to see ourselves with compassion. And then we too must listen to the stories of others with compassion and forgiveness,.

There is power in serving and there is vulnerability in being served as Peter discovers. We are all each others’ teachers and healers. To share in mutual love requires that we both give and receive. Without acknowledging the service and gift of another, we are denying them this blessing and inhibiting our own healing.

Feet are odd appendages are they not? One year at St. Laurence we took photos of each others’ feet. The activity occasioned much uncomfortable giggling, but the results were striking. Old feet and young feet, damaged feet and pristine feet, all with a certain distinct look, and yet curiously anonymous. The humility that we learn on Maundy Thursday is not so much about taking on the role of the servant, as understanding that we are each fragile, precious, subject to the wear and tear of life as we try to live faithfully. And for those of us who wash, we are reminded that people share their vulnerability with us, at cost to themselves. Our service humbles us by their trust in our hands, our care for them. Humility lies not in the act but in love that reminds us that we are each Christ and disciple, saviour and supplicant, wounded and healer.

And so we remember as we re-enact this sign, that we stand in the presence of the holy, because our hands and feet make it so. We await the message of hope, despite the fears we have brought with us and the improbability of new life. We give thanks that we are healing and being healed. We look beyond our present doubts and struggles to the birth of a new spirit amongst us, a reborn sign of love, compassion, and hope.

We went through gardens where the trees moved,
The gates to the swamp were thrown open
And we were lost to the sprouting earth.

We were down among the old Easter
Where passion unmade us into our elements.
In that warm dark,
only the blind heart ploughed on,
as though the terrain were known. 

Good Friday

In the pain, misfortune, oppression, and death of the people, God is silent. God is silent on the cross, in the crucified. And this silence is God’s word, God’s cry. In solidarity, God speaks the language of love. Amen.
(Jon Sobrino, El Salvador)

Why does God not save Jesus or any other righteous martyr for justice and compassion? Is it will, or powerlessness, or a greater pain…or freedom? I think that if we are not free, cannot choose, then all action is ultimately futile. If Jesus’ resurrection is a guarantee, there really is no sacrifice. If everything is following some terrifying plan of salvation through violence, then how does Jesus’ message of compassion and forgiveness fit?

Or perhaps the future really is open. Perhaps we really are creating it either within or without the spirit of the divine. I wish God could send a prayer into every heart on the same night. That prayer would be, as God addresses us: “I am not in charge; you are. I put before you life and death; choose wisely.” It seems to me that the actions of Jesus, especially as we read about them in Holy Week, speak to salvation through freedom, and death through imprisoned thinking. Even after the resurrection, it takes the disciples some time to readjust to the life Jesus is offering to them through himself.

What we would prefer to this radical thinking is for God to just tell us what to do and then we could ignore it or refute it. But that is not the mystery of God. The mystery of the divine is that we are welcomed to become aware of the presence that is within and around us, and yet yields us our freedom. We want God to save us from trouble but leave us alone when we are the trouble makers to ourselves or others. But the Holy One will not save us from life, or from struggle.

At the death bed of Bede Griffiths, a Benedictine monk, his friend Andrew Harvey saw him sit straight up in bed and shout several times, “Serve the growing Christ.” What is Christianity for? Is it our personal ticket to heaven? Is it an exclusive club of myth managers? Or is it a deep truth about what humanity could be, if we could only acknowledge the holiness in all? Everyone does not have to become a Christian, but Christians must remember the silence of God as we clothe the world, as we wash feet, as we think about each other with compassion and forgiveness. The teaching that we have inherited does not require speech but modelling. We have a story to live and sometimes a death to die that will bring hope and healing. Like God, we must be silent and not tell, not be dominating the experience of others, but listening and weeping with our sisters and brothers.

Turn away or turn to the cross, that complex symbol of opposites held in dynamic tension, but the cross remains. Life and death, struggle and peace, we are either working at the salvation of the world or its destruction. Freedom demands choice. There are no abstentions in life. If the suffering of Jesus means anything at all to us, then we must be vigilant to oppose all crucifixions, all suffocations of hope.

With Mary, we stand at the foot of the cross with our aching hearts, in the face of the silence of God trusting that the Holy One abides in us. All the wounds, all the tears are captured and offered in the cup of compassion and commitment to follow Jesus into uncertainty, risk, and loss.

But we know the rest of the story too. We know that death is the womb of new life; that change from one step to the next is the process by which the whole world may become the glory we glimpsed in Jesus. St Paul says, “I tell you a secret. We shall all be changed.” Let us open ourselves to freedom, to crucifixion of everything that stands between us and the loving silence of the One who knows us all by name.

Moya Cannon: “Dark Spring”
(from Oar, Salmon Publishing, Bridge Mills, Galway, Ireland. 1994.)

Last night
The sky was still so full of light
The birds shouted in the empty trees
When, in the bone the dark cracked,
With so little sound,
Almost no sound, we did not hear it,
But, incredulous, saw in our grief,
The dark birds falling out of every tree
And after the birds the falling dead, dark leaves.
Oh, we wept, we were not told,
We were not led to expect,
Back when the thin bone knit to close the sky,
Inside the skull-cave when we etched our myths
And later made our compacts with the ogre
We had no thought of this,
Nor could we have schooled our hearts for this
And sudden
Fair head, so vivid, in the loose, wet earth.
In your death, we are twice lost , twice bereaved,
All our compacts now dissolved,
We are so unexpectedly mortal.
Yet even as we leave you
The sun flies down
To strike the dark hills green,
Defiant, it drives the pulse of summer
Through this most desolate spring.



Good Friday

Today we are going to give the Judas Iscariot role some attention. Some commentators suspect that the character of Judas is a fiction created by the early church to show the division developing between Judaism and the Jesus sect. Others think Iscariot is derived from the Sicarii: Jewish assassins, terrorists or freedom fighters, in modern parlance. Indeed, all the gospels say that the chief priest and elders were conspiring to kill Jesus.

Now, in this slightly less anti-Semitic era, we are trying to rehabilitate the portrait of Judas. Whether an icon of division or am ancient subversive, I do not think this issue can be resolved either by the improved translation of The Gospel of Judas or by historical redaction. But something is going on here and I think we might want to look at this in concert with my previous reflections this Holy Week about salvation and choices.

I cannot say how this story about Judas began but in the gospels it developed from Judas being a disgruntled disciple to him being greedy and, later in early commentary (Papias), self-indulgent. I would like to think about Judas tonight in a different way, a way that acknowledges these stories but also suggests that the literary/narrative root of them might be quite different.

Initially, the final straw for Judas in the gospel of Mark is Jesus’ interaction with the nameless woman (Mark 14) who anoints him. All the disciples are scandalized by this but it motivates Judas to betray Jesus and the others. Does he do it because he is exasperated at Jesus’ lack of aggression? because he suspects Jesus of lax morality? because no one will listen to him about the direction of the group? We do not know. By the time of the writing of the gospel of John, however, Judas is greedy, selfish, and crafty.

I’m suggesting that there is another way to read these developed texts by peeking behind them for metaphor and meaning. What if Judas’ actions can be reviewed differently? What is unveiled by examining what are definitely oddities in the text.

Firstly, let’s think about the supper. In the gospels that include this, Jesus gives the bread and wine that he has blessed as signs of his life and mission to Judas. What do we usually think about sharing the bread and the cup? We are one body? At that point, Judas is filled with the Satan (see below) and empowered to do what must come next. Without Judas’ actions, would the trial have ensued? Jesus collaborates in setting in motion the train of events. Maybe Jesus and Judas share the frustration that the authorities will not confront Jesus. Maybe Jesus wants a showdown and is willing to gamble his own mortality to achieve it.

The name Satan is next on our radar. By the time John is writing, Satan and the Persian devil had become intertwined. But in Hebrew scripture, the Satan is an emissary of God, empowered to test the human heart, and the integrity of the righteous. It is not a proper name. The Satan tests Job for purity of piety to see if it dissolves in the fires of suffering and loss. When the Satan first appears to Jesus, it is to tempt him with worldly power, with an easier path to achieving his noble goals. When Peter tries to dissuade Jesus from risking his own life, Jesus says to him, “Get behind me Satan.” And finally, at the last, Judas brings in the armed forces to frighten Jesus, but it does not work. With this act, Judas has fulfilled his role as tempter and tester, but it is a bitter role.

The third ‘oddity’ is the kiss of peace between Judas and Jesus, an action completely unnecessary in terms of identification. I think it is, instead, a gesture of mutual forgiveness between two people acting with congruence in what they believe to be God’s will. Indeed, both now and in the early church, the kiss is a symbol of peace, of unity despite difference, of love despite disagreement, of forgiveness. How do we miss this in the gospel story? Arriving with armed people would be unlikely to fool Jesus into thinking no trouble would ensue. Instead Judas offers the kiss and Jesus receives it.

This is not an easy story. It makes us uncomfortable on many levels. We cannot always know if our challenges are noble or self-serving. We cannot ever know, absolutely, if we are serving with integrity. We can never be sure whether any decision, in the long view, is harmful or healing. No one wants to be Judas and no one wants the angelic prosecutor being inserted into our minds. But the alternative is to do nothing. This was Peter’s choice. Deny, be self-preserving, be safe. In fact, most of us are encouraged to be nice and mice.

It is later, at Pentecost, that the remaining disciples are empowered. Perhaps they did not have Judas’ strength of faith until then. Perhaps Judas did not know how to resist Jesus’ seemingly mad plan. We will never know, but we can search our own hearts, our own choices. We can demonize Judas, or we can forgive him with compassion for his tough choices. We can belittle Peter, or we can acknowledge his fear of standing up and out, as part of our own journey.

Who is being saved in this passage and for what? How, when we hear this story, are we being saved and for what? What does the story of Judas tell us about our own choices and those of others? I am going to ask you to exchange the peace now, thinking about the complexity of some relationships and the mystery of why we are all here in others.

Holy Tuesday

Psalm 139

1 O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.
3 You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.
5 You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.
7 Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
9 If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.
13 For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

As I watched the sun rise over the city of Vancouver this morning, I thought about how similar dawn and dusk are as the light and dark seemingly bend over the earth with love and care. Light and dark are in process together to make life possible on earth.

In this story about Jesus (John 12: 20-36), we hear him use the metaphor of a seed, fallen, not even planted in the ground. The seed, if it is not to dry up and blow away, must dive into the ground and then find its way back up in spring, an astonishing and miraculous process. I have planted bulbs upside down and yet they turn themselves in the dark and follow their way up into the light. Amazing!

Then why do we fear the dark? We would say the seed is simply doing what is natural. Does the seed fear the dark? Are humans unnatural? We all began, were quickened into individuality in the dark, developed and grew in the dark. Jesus is not offering shelter from the dark, but training for it, training for transformation and change. I think that this passage is more resurrection training.

The men who come to see and hear Jesus will become either spectators or become conscious of entering into an exciting, frightening, mysterious process. No one escapes the descent into night or breaking into the light. It is not the events themselves but our awareness and openness that changes how and why we think about the process.

We all taste death and resurrection many times in our lives. There are times when pain, depression, grief, fear, change, or trauma, seemingly shroud our lives. Usually, we would think to escape these times, to be saved from them. But Psalm 139 encourages us to dive deeper into the dark, where the divine may be found.

A person who came to me about the dryness of her faith was surprised when I gave her wilderness passages to read. They hardly seemed encouraging and often were not comforting. When you find yourself in the desert, handbooks on the English garden will be neither helpful nor uplifting. When you find yourself in the desert, you need to learn how to live there. Until you accept the desert, integrate with the desert, you cannot escape.

Similarly, when you find yourself in the dark, flailing about will not help. Be still and know that I am God. Darkness and light are as one to me. Be still and rest in my arms. The darkness is time for resting and healing, for waiting for new birth and the return of the light.

What calms a child afraid of the dark is the presence of a loved one. My mother told me there were angels all around my bed to protect and guard me. God surrounds us even in our darkest hour. Jesus cries out as his hour approaches, but to be saved from it would deny everything true and beautiful in his life. I am glad to hear about Jesus’ fear and hesitation because it sanctifies my own fears and doubts. It reminds me that I am never alone in the dark.

As it says in Isaiah 49: But Zion said, “The Holy One has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me. Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hand.”
Jesus, who lived through the dark night, also is there with the One for whom the darkness and light are as one.

Pema Chodron in her book, Living in Uncertain Times, talks about how we need to stop running away and allow ourselves to experience the dark. I think Jesus offers this teaching. We will enter with him and the Holy One into the process of life. But not as unknowing seeds, not as lambs to the slaughter. We will enter as partners, arms wide, eyes open, ready to be enfolded by the dark and broken open by the light. We are saved from despair by allowing ourselves to fall into the dark. We are saved for the ministry of being lights on the hill, beacons for other night time wanderers.

“Amen” by Sarah Slean

I’m tired of this game
I’m tired of this race
I’m tired of these chains that bind me
Wanna be free, free to let go
Let all that is good inspire me
And I…

I keep running on empty
Thinking maybe I’ll see a sign
But if I open up my heart, someone will say
Amen, Amen.

I’m tired of this scene and all that means
No company cool will define me
I’m tired of this screen staring at me
No radiant box could confine me
And I…

I keep running on empty
Thinking maybe I’ll see a sign
But if I open up my heart, someone will say
Amen, Amen.
Amen, Amen.

And out of the dark (the darkest night)
I wanna follow my heart (into the light)
So what am I waiting for? (Waiting for?)

I keep running on empty
Thinking maybe I’ll see a sign
But if I open up my heart, someone will say
Amen, Amen,
Amen, Amen.

(Will you say amen? Will you say ah..)

Holy Monday

John 12:11

In this reading, we hear about Jesus’ last visit with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. We also hear about Judas Iscariot, but that is a later reflection. Most people see this story as prefiguring Jesus’ death, but i would like to suggest, instead, that it anticipates the resurrection. In this passage, we are offered a taste of how to live in the eternal, vibrant moment, here in the present, not some extrapolated future.

China Gallard says in The Bond between Women, “…there is a goodness, a Wisdom, that arises…to save us if we let it; it arises from within us, like the force that drives green shoots to break the winter ground; it will arise and drive us into blossoming…into fragrance, fruit, and song…into that part of ourselves that can never be defiled, defeated, or destroyed, but that comes back to life…that lives always, that does not die.”

Mary recognizes in Jesus the need to act as well as speak the convictions of his life. With him, she understands that suffering and death may be the only way to life. In him, she sees the life of the divine, which most of us try to hide from ourselves. For him, she affirms and acknowledges the dangerous path, and the purity of purpose that leads him. In Jesus, Mary sees the Divine clearly and trusts that energy, that unspeakable Love.

It is not surprising that the other disciples feel anxious at this. They still have their own ideas about who and how Jesus should be. They want him to choose their paths, their methods, their picture of him. At different times in the church’s life we, too, have tried to squeeze the portrait of Jesus into our own self portraits. His freedom frightens us, suggests we may not have all the answers, or even any of the right answers. But Mary is wise. She responds to him and affirms him and his choices without first straining him through the lens of her own needs.

The Sikh poet Adi Granth wrote,

Why do you go to the forest in search of God?
The Holy One lives in I all and is yet ever distinct
God abides with you, too,
As fragrance dwells in a flower,
And reflection in a mirror;
So does the Divine dwell inside everything.
Seek the Holy therefore in your heart.

Mary recognizes the holy in Jesus, a holiness mirrored also in herself. This mutuality of spirit reveals God. And Jesus allows her to care for him with honesty and tenderness. Compassion cannot be offered until it has been received and experienced. No wonder the others are nervous. There is only one other response to this situation and that is to surrender the self to this ocean of love. But therein lies danger.

In that surrender, there are no guarantees; only hope.


Palm Sunday

Today we read again about Jesus’ last days. For the last few weeks, I have heard Hosanna! echoing in my head. Not the triumphal, “hurray” version, but the Hebrew version: “Saviour, save us!” It has lead me to ask some questions about choices, about the nature of salvation in the context of Holy Week, and about what makes this real and relevant, now and here.

After reading the Law in Deuteronomy 30:19, Moses goes on to say to the people that on that day, they have been offered a choice between life and death, blessings and curses. How they choose will affect future generations. Of course, being people not so different than we are, sometimes they will choose certainty and servitude over freedom and risk. They will rationalize why there is poverty and injustice; they will harmonize their sacred stories so that they are immobilized in action and frozen in learning. That is what is real for all of us, living with what we have received, choosing in our own lifetimes, and recognizing the limits of our sight.

When Jesus calls for that donkey, for the colt, it is impossible for us not to see it as a warning and a sign, as Matthew intended. The procession does not originate in Jerusalem, however. What is the composition of that crowd? It is not the employed or the affluent, not the scholars or the children of the wealthy. Jesus gathers his disciples outside the city, in a slow procession of the unemployed, the sick, or injured, children and outcast; they run ahead throwing what they could find – their clothes, the wayside palms – to make a royal procession for Jesus. And they call to him, “Save us, Saviour, save us. We see your power so come and save us.” What do they want to be saved from? What do they want to be saved for?

To guess about this, we need to examine the context. Matthew cleverly tucks the procession story between the healing of two blind persons and Jesus’ temper tantrum at the economic abuses by the temple elite. I think that is the clue here about the expectation of the crowd. The people hope for a new place in their society, a place not on the margins but in the centre of belonging.

So, not surprisingly, the crowd is excited as they approach the gates of the city. Perhaps, as Crossan and Borg have suggested in their book, The Last Week, another procession has taken place, one that is military, political. That procession would have been symbolic of wealth and power and conquest. In stark contrast, Jesus’ procession is about compassion, prophecy, justice.

As Borg and Crossan explain, “Pilate’s military procession was a demonstration of both Roman imperial power and Roman imperial theology. …Jesus’ procession proclaimed the kingdom of God; Pilate’s proclaimed the power of empire. The two processions embody the central conflict….”

So what do these people following Jesus want? Probably not so much heaven as heaven on earth. They want to figure out how to choose life, life without fear of reprisal or violence or poverty.

Why does Jesus do it? What is the point of this story?

When Jesus rides through the city gates, he is showing the people he loves how to choose life with all its complexity of suffering and wrong. He is offering empowerment for change by a revolution of the heart and the heart in community. By this act, he says, “You have a choice: the temple and Jerusalem belong to Jews not Romans; the temple is a place to experience the holy, not economic oppression. I say you have a choice. I choose to walk through these gates and claim my inheritance. I choose to bring with me any who will come. You do not have to let occupation or poverty imprison your spirits. Choose life!”

Although unfaithful to Matthew’s story telling, we also read the story of Jesus passion, his death and trial today. Does it seem odd to be talking of life and freedom in the context of imprisonment and execution? Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Nelson Mandela, amongst others, made choices resulting in physical torture or death. But sometimes, there are things worse than death: choosing to collude with injustice, allowing fear to dominate, losing oneself to oppression. To choose salvation, freedom from fear, may indeed mean paying a costly price for integrity and truth-telling.

What salvation do the followers of Jesus want? They are hungry. They think they want a fish; he gives them a fishing pole and a copy of Fishing for Dummies. They want food and comfort; he offers them struggle for justice rather than struggle against. They think they want a saviour (we still do, don’t we) and he shows them how to choose life from the strength that lives inside us all.

Jesus models for them trust in the big picture, faithfulness, courage; by this he shows them not only how to save themselves, but also to liberate others. In the novel Dune, the priestesses test women for courage. The test involves overcoming their own fear of pain and death. They say fear is the mind killer. Jesus says that no matter how frightened, no matter how beaten, you can stand up and you must! You must learn to manage fear if you want to be free.

And Jesus says this to the influential also. We hear about another crowd today who call for Jesus death, not his vision. Who are these people? These are the influential, the affluent. They may or may not like Roman rule, but they want to be safe, not saved. They are certainly not the people of the streets, not the children. This is the crowd who wants to back a winner, who wants Jesus to either show that he is the messiah and beat off the Romans or do some magic to prove his divine power.

I am so glad for the churches that did not have a crowd shouting “Crucify” today because I hope that each of you would be either standing with the crowd outside or lobbying inside against crucifixion. I hope that some of you would shout “Don’t!” On that day, Rome probably had one hundred or more prisoners, criminals, children, activists, mistaken arrests, to crucify, but Jesus made them nervous. I hope you would be risking arrest yourselves by saying no, or at least running away. Better to accept cowardice than to choose violence with all of its lies about doing the right thing.

Palm Sunday ushers us into Holy Week, all of us disabled emotionally, physically, scared of and scared by, life. But we follow Jesus through the gates, beyond what we thought we could do, and into the vision that sees only God, an eternal and vast universe of life and possibility, that we will not let pain or conquerors or even our own fear, take from us. Choose life. Choose the saviour who only promises healing and justice, a salvation of the heart and mind. Take your palms and place them over your hearts, knowing that all is holy and all is turning into grace. Accept the salvation of passion and fierce concern that loses itself in love.

Moya Cannon: “Taom”
(from Oar, Salmon Publishing, Bridge Mills, Galway, Ireland. 1994.)

The unexpected tide,
the great wave,
uncontained, breasts the rock,
overwhelms the heart, in spring or winter.

Surfacing from a fading language,
the word comes when needed.
A dark sound surges and ebbs,
its accuracy steadying the heart.

Certain kernels of sound
reverberate like seasoned timber,
unmuted truths of a people’s winters
stirrings of a thousand different springs.

There are small unassailable words
that diminish caesars;
territories of the voice
that intimate across death and generation
how a secret was imparted –
that first articulation,
when a vowel was caught
between a strong and a tender consonant;
when someone, in anguish
made a new and mortal sound
that lived until now,
a testimony
to waves succumbed to
and survived.

* Taom is an Irish word which means “an overwhelming wave of emotion.”


In preparation for my visit to St. Mary’s, Kerrisdale next week, I’ve been thinking about the word, hosanna, and how we hear and use it. When I learned that it did not mean “Hail” but “Save us,” it changed my reflections on Holy Week and, indeed, the Eucharist. When we sing or say hosanna in the 21st century, what does it mean to beg for salvation? It is the exploration of this, soteriology, that has evolved over the years.

Many decades ago now, Rosemary Ruether asked if a male god could or should save women. People generally ask what others are being saved from or for. The church has seen itself as offering the path to salvation, but that is an increasingly irrelevant role in a desperate, cynical world.

The ideas I want to explore this Holy Week have to do with some other questions about salvation. I want to think about what being in relationship with the Jesus of the gospels has to do with our own humanity? What might salvation look like in the 21st century? How do Bill Nye, Karen Armstrong, the Dalai Lama, Eckhardt Tolle amongst others, fit with the lessons of the gospel? Do Christians have any salvation left to offer? What do we need saving from and for?