Recognition and Remembrance

    Mar 29, 2015

    Passage: Mark 11:1-14:3


    The story of Palm Sunday always reminds me of the second verse of one of my favorite choir anthems that I sang in high school, based on a hymn. The words of this verse flow through my mind as we read and repeat the words of the palm-waving crowd:

    Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

    “Sometimes they strew his ways, and his sweet praises sing…”

    Hosanna! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!

    “Resounding all the day, Hosannas to their king.”

    Hosanna in excelsis deo! Hosanna to God in the highest!

    “Then crucify is all their breath, and for his death, they thirst and cry.”

    Jesus was a different kind of ruler, as we all know. He was given extraordinary power, he performed miracles of healing, and he taught how to live as children of God. For these reasons, he stood out; people of his times—his followers in particular—recognized that he was important. Many recognized that he was the promised one, the Messiah/Christ—“the one who comes in the name of the Lord” who will bring God’s promised reign to be experienced throughout the world.

    And in recognizing Jesus’ importance, knowing the great world that his ministry promised through God, many people gathered and celebrated his entry into Jerusalem as they would have cheered on the arrival of an emperor, governor, general, or another political/military figure of great stature and wealth. (Much language in the NT that speaks of Jesus’ reign and return uses terms that would have been used to describe the actions or status of important political figures of the Roman Empire.) People recognized that though he entered on a humble donkey, he was as important as an emperor.

    But: “failure” is one of the major themes of Mark’s gospel. And Palm Sunday is a great example: people recognize that Jesus is important, the promised one who is coming. But they fail to recognize, to understand what this means: namely, that the promised reign of God requires that the promised one—Jesus—must suffer and die so that he can be raised. It is through his example and action that all people will be made part of God’s plan.

    Through his miracles, his teaching, his boldness—people recognize that he is the promised one. But, according to Mark, people do not realize that it is only through his suffering and death and resurrection that his full importance can be recognized by all people.

    And so, in this story of Palm Sunday, in this celebration of Jesus as blessed: “the one who comes in the name of the Lord”. These—mirrored in our own—cries of Hosanna! reflect only a partial recognition. It’s a recognition that imagines Jesus as a powerful ruler, one who will overturn the current hierarchies, heal broken wounds, and restore those in low places to places of power…but the recognition forgets or ignores the humility of the moment. Jesus comes on a donkey, not a chariot. He is not about to revolt and overthrow the current regime. He is about to be put to death by it.

    And what about us? Palm Sunday also prepares us as a church, as people who follow Christ, for the Holy Week ahead. Like the crowd, we sing “Hosanna,” we march triumphantly following Jesus on his humble donkey, waving palms and celebrating his teaching and healing power. And as we do, caught up in the joy, awed by Jesus’ power and humility, we temporarily forget about the cross to come—and the coming, inclusive world that this promises.

    And sometimes that reflects our own lives: we know, we recognize how important Jesus is—but we forget the power of his death and resurrection, that he and God promise a more just world, one where all are included; one where all are fed, nourished, and comforted; one where power and authority are shared and not abused. We forget to work for these things

    The Hosannas of Palm Sunday are always shouted with the road to the Passion, Jesus’ death, hovering over them. But we, like the disciples too, sometimes ignore—fail to see—the road to God’s reign. It’s easier to celebrate Jesus’ power than to fully live out his teachings. We need to celebrate God’s power through Jesus, but we also must remember that creating God’s world is difficult work. Like the confusion and betrayal the disciples experience as Jesus is arrested, we have to work hard ourselves to not only see God’s promises but to work to make them happen—to study, serve, and show God’s word, God’s promises, and God’s love to all people.

    Jesus reminds his followers of this throughout Mark, but they do not understand it. They are so excited about their new, higher status in the promised reign of God, that they fail to recognize the full significance of God’s plan. That God’s reign promises something new and different, something more just than any human plan, and that this plan includes everyone.

    And just as they do not understand the significance of the plan, no one understands that this plan involves Jesus’ death.

    Well, almost no one.

    As Palm Sunday begins the story of Jesus’ passion, the entry point onto the journey to the cross, Mark’s passion story formally begins with another story about recognizing Jesus as king.

    In the second passage I read, an unnamed woman pours out an expensive ointment, anointing Jesus’ head. This action of anointing is very symbolic: it mirrors the anointing of kings, most famously, the prophet Samuel anointing the young boy David, foreshadowing his future reign. This woman, then, takes on the role of the prophet, seeing Jesus for who he is, the coming king, the blessed one who comes in the name of the Lord.

    But different from the Hosannas of the crowd—and their partial recognition—this woman, this prophet, recognizes that Jesus is not the typical king. For anointing with expensive oil like this was symbolic both of kingship—as well as the practice of anointing for burial. Jesus explains: “She has anointed my body beforehand for its burial.”

    In other words: she recognizes that Jesus must suffer and die; though strange to anoint a body “beforehand,” her action—her pouring of expensive oil—expresses her hope, her recognition that, through Jesus, God’s promises will be fulfilled. But they also recognize the confusion, the sadness, and the pain that Jesus will experience. She acts even though those around her do not understand, despite their criticism (“the money could have gone to the poor”)—likewise, she knows that Jesus will not be understood. She knows, and she feels, how Jesus will accomplish God’s plan.

    Through her act, her recognition—she reveals the truth: Jesus will die and Jesus will be king: and only through both of these truths will God’s reign come.

    Jesus’ journey to the cross, then, begins with these two stories: his triumphant recognition as king on Palm Sunday, and this woman anointing him, like a king, for burial.

    If our “Hosannas”—recognizing Jesus’ importance and power—if our joyful shouts forget the pain of the cross, the hard work required to bring God’s reign for all God’s people…then this woman’s action is a reminder—she calls us to remember more.

    The anointing story ends with Jesus telling those around, who did not understand: “Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she had done will be told in remembrance of her.

    The journey to the cross begins not just with “Hosannas”—with the recognition of Jesus as a humble king—but also with this reminder: this woman, this prophet, could see what God’s coming reign meant. She saw the power of God’s promises—the promises that Jesus would help fulfill. She saw the new world that was coming—and she anointed Jesus in the hope that one day God will work through all God’s people to create a world where everyone is an equal part.

    “In Memory of Her,” Jesus says. We tell this story to remember her—not Jesus the king as in our Palm Sunday Hosannas. We tell it in memory of her, her selfless act, her courage, her vision.

    She shows us that we too can see God’s reign, we can work to establish God’s plan here, together. She recognizes that Jesus’ kingship is an important part of this plan, that we should celebrate him, anoint him, call him king…but she sees that this means hardship, for him and for us. Jesus is king because he will suffer death. And we have to work hard to establish God’s reign, even if others don’t understand.

    She reminds us of Jesus’ humble power as she acts to ensure God’s plan will be seen and done on earth—just as many other courageous men and women throughout history have worked, spoken, and acted to bring about God’s justice.

    And so, as we begin this road to the cross—to the promise of Easter and new life, the joyful promise that all will be part of God’s reign—as the journey of Holy Week begins:

    We celebrate! We shout Hosanna!! We recognize the amazing example given to us in Jesus Christ.

    And we remember. We remember her—the woman who anointed Jesus for death and burial.

    We tell her story to remember that there is still work for all of us to do in Jesus’ name. Work that we must go out and do, proclaiming and enacting the Good News, in thought, word, and deed.

    In so doing, we live and tell this story in memory of her. Hosanna! Amen.