Palm Sunday 13 April 2014
(Isaiah 50:4-9 Philippians 2:5-11 Matthew 21:1-11
“Speaking Truth to Power!”
Her name is Francine Murengezi (Mur-en-gae`-zee) Ingabire (In-ga`-bire). She is a girl with a wide smile and closely cropped hair. Age: 12. Favorite sport: swimming. Favorite food: eggs and chips. Favorite drink: milk and Fanta Tropical. Best Friend: her elder sister Claudette. Cause of death: hacked by machete.
I am so sorry to begin my sermon with such a gruesome story. Or maybe not so sorry. Holy Week is a gruesome story.
Francine’s is one of hundreds of heartbreaking displays of children in the Kigali Memorial Centre marking the genocide in Rwanda that began 20 years ago this past week and continued for 100 days, where Hutus, the nation’s ethnic majority, killed an estimated one million Tutsis, the minority.
And the world barely noticed, chose to do very little and went on with business as usual! That is what I’m really sorry for! Barely a peep out of anyone in our government or any government throughout the world, as more than one million people died in one of the worst genocides since the Holocaust.
Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “The time is always right to do what is right.”
Today, Palm Sunday, we begin the week we call “Holy,” the week during which we remember the sacred events of Jesus going to his death. But again, as we call these events “sacred” and as we call this week “holy,” let’s be real careful that we don’t romanticize the reality out of this week.
Now hold on, I’m not trying to put all of you into a deep depression. Stick with me because there is Gospel Good News in this sermon.
This is a week about choices–choices made by Jesus, choices made by the disciples, a choice made by Peter in denying, a choice by Judas in betraying, a choice by Pilate washing his hands, a choice made by the crowd calling for Barabbas, and by the thieves calling out from their crosses, a choice made by Mary to follow her son the entire way to Golgotha.
The choice made by Jesus out of unconditional, absolute, uncompromising love is the Gospel Good News.
But this Holy Week story begins today with this pathetic-looking man riding on a borrowed donkey into the most powerful city of the known world at that time. Surely, the crowds are attentive and supportive and excited about his message but they have no resources to support him, only cloaks for a saddle and tree branches for parade banners.
This is the week we confront the choices in our lives when, struggling to be right with ourselves, we come face to face with a world that operates on different values. And it begins today with Jesus riding into Jerusalem.
The people of Jerusalem are stirred by the display of his coming but have absolutely no idea who he really is. His supporters argue that he is a prophet from down the valley, but unknown in the circles of the sophisticated, the clerics and the professionals of the day, except as some rabble-rouser.
For us today, both the challenge and the Good News of Jesus riding into Jerusalem is the confrontation of the powerful by the powerless! That’s the baseline for today, which will only be lived out the rest of this coming week, and for us, the rest of our lives.
This Gospel is Good News because it is a mandate for us to speak up for those who have no power, those who have no voice in today’s society.
Today is Palm Sunday. Today is Jesus entering into this massive City of David—on a borrowed donkey! What does the story of this defenseless individual riding into this supreme city of influence have to say to us today?
The message seems to be that when the message is right enough, and clear enough, and simple enough, and true enough, then the time is right to speak what is right—even when it means speaking truth to power!
Maybe it was Rosa Parks who best understood the meaning of today’s Gospel, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. This simple, nobody of a person, a woman at that– acted with integrity so simple it would have been laughable had the stakes not been so high!
More than anything else, I see in this Gospel of the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem the need to announce truth in the face of tension, to stand up for truth even when it seems ridiculous, to proclaim truth even when it seems no one is listening.
I also see a brave and foolish and beautiful example of how to speak truth to power, even when it seems impossible; yet we know it will not be long before all the powerful forces in Jerusalem begin to group themselves against this threatening figure on the donkey followed by some straggling crowd of nobodies.
Twenty years ago children like Francine had no one to give them a voice. Now it is twenty years after the genocide in Rwanda that robbed the moral character of the world. Now how can we best remember Francine and the hundreds of children and adults who met their death 20 years ago? How can we remember the more than 100,000 orphans from those horrid 100 days of violence and moral ineptitude?
How can we read today’s Gospel at the beginning of this Holy Week in light of the choices we are confronted with every day? How does this Gospel speak to us? …..of this plain and simple and powerless Jesus riding into the most powerful city at that time?
Can this Gospel speak anything less than to announce truth to power, forgiveness to violence, and peace to war? For us to respond to such a mandate is surely Good News!
The time is always right to do what is right! Amen.