Lesson: Mark 11:1-11 (MSG translation)
I wonder with whom you identify most in our story?
Are you the crowd? How do you imagine the crowd? Are you in the crowd that ran out from the city and surrounding fields, bringing branches and coats to line the road? Are you proud to be part of the tradition of welcoming a ruler to your city? Are you jubilant: excited and hopeful to catch a glimpse of the savior you’ve heard so much about?
Or, are you among the disciples who cannot believe the reception you’re having – for the first time you watch Jesus being treated like royalty which he’s never been ok with, but here you are, amazed, that he’s not telling everyone to hush and chill out like he normally does…maybe this trip isn’t going to be as scary as you thought it’d be.
Are you travelling on the road, perhaps on a pilgrimage, perhaps not, and after a long tiring journey you are almost to your destination, when out of nowhere people start freaking out and carrying-on about “save us” and “son of David!” You have no idea what they are talking about, but you wish they’d stop throwing trash on the road. Move along, folks.
Or, perhaps you identify with the donkey. Minding your own business until some strangers give you something to do. You plod along, head down, doing your thing –moving forward, taking one step after another – step after faithful step. You’ve got this – it’s what you’re born to do. [Surely someone will feed you when this is all done!]
Or, perhaps you identify with Jesus himself? You feel you have a mission, but no one believes you-not really, and you’re pretty sure some bad things are coming…soon, but every time you try to talk about it, your friends argue with you – some help they’ve turned out to be. You love them anyway, of course, but hey check out this crowd…maybe they get it…but, then again…
Jesus crosses the threshold and into the city. The crowd disperses. They go home and prepare for the Passover. Did you turn to go home, or are you following Jesus to the temple to take a look around? Did anyone think to return the donkey? The story ends as Jesus returns to Bethany for the night. Tomorrow he’ll take on the temple and the moneychangers, but it’s late and he and the band of disciples retire.
There are so many ways to enter the stories and space of what we call Holy Week. We are part of a great parade – a tradition spanning centuries when regular people follow along trying to make sense of Jesus and the path he leads us down: the path towards solidarity, freedom, justice, healing, wholeness, and love with a capital “L.” This path leads towards the very center of God’s heart.
We are a people of crucifixion and resurrection. We are a people who tell the story of an agonizing death and we trust in the mystery of this week: that resurrection can come from even the greatest tragedies. Death does not have the last word, which is hard to imagine when facing the grim reality of Good Friday; it’s hard on most any day.
Our lives are not always so dramatic as this story –…triumphal entries, political intrigue, and deadly consequences- and they don’t have to be for us to appreciate the deep truths at their core. Part of our path is claiming our stories and our places within them. We’ve been living with the theme “Daily Resurrection” for six weeks now. We keep discussing one truth in particular: we cannot grow until something dies.
How can we grow towards ending racism without first letting go of some of our privilege? How can we move on after we’ve been wronged without first forgiving and letting go – or dying – to our desire to hold onto the pain? How can we become new – how can we grow – without change, without letting go of something that stands in our way? It may be as simple (don’t hear me say easy – this is difficult work) – it may be as simple – as the death of our assumptions, ignorance, fear, or shame…I wonder what we are ready to let go of in order to live a little bit more fully?
Jesus did not run away from choosing to live fully. He chose love and it led to loving the brokenness in our world including the foolish frailty of our humanity. The mystery of this week is that somehow as he embraces our broken world, the “energy of that embrace gives birth to new life and hope. …This is not something we can explain, but we can experience it.”[i] And, we do, don’t we? We experience this cycle of death and resurrection – sometimes it’s a daily or an hourly phenomenon and at other times it seems we’ll never grow.
I learned of a beautiful story that fits nicely into a conversation on Holy Week. Warning, it includes crucifixion and resurrection – it’s not an exclusive palm-story. It’s a true story that took place in Burundi, a country in Southeast Africa, bordered by Rwanda to the north, the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west, and Tanzania to the east and south. Burundi is one of the world’s poorest nations and is still struggling to emerge from a twelve year ethnic-based civil war that was most violent in the mid to late 1990’s.[ii] Part of their struggle is a result of the Rwanda genocide spilling into their borders. This is the story of the Buta Seminary Martyrs.[iii]
“In the morning of April 30th, 1997, when the civil war in Burundi was at its climax, a group of armed rebels carried out an attack on Buta Seminary.” (Buta seminary is a catholic school for young men akin to a high school or junior college where multiple subjects are taught in Christian community.[iv]) “When the rebels entered the seminary grounds, they ordered the students to separate by ethnicity so they could kill the group they considered to be their enemies.”
“The students refused to separate, saying that they were all sons of God. After three futile attempts to make them separate, the rebels opened fire on all the students, killing forty and wounding others.”[v]
I watched an interview with Father Zacharie Bukuru, who was principal of Buta Seminary at the time of the massacre. He recalled his reaction as he learned about the violence spreading in his country. Here are his words through a translator:
“The war damaged and destroyed hearts. I was a priest. I had to gather God’s people. I am a human being and whatever touches other men touches me as well. I belong to a nation which I love, I had to do something about it. I was tasked by this great love of God for Man: Jesus coming and dying for us… so that we might learn to love one another.
“I gathered the [students] and I was teaching them that hatred should not have a place among them. And by listening to one another and getting to know what the other thinks, they were progressively healed inside.
“Later in the war when we were attacked, they were already healed in their hearts. They had taken different initiatives to show that they understood the importance of unity. For instance we [sang] and danced together. Every Saturday evening we were spending the whole night in the church praying together. All those activities purified them from the lies they were taught. They began to love one another and so we created a community that was dominated by love and mutual understanding and peace.
“When we were attacked the students said they could not accept to be separated into ethnic groups anymore because they were already healed of those ethnic divisions. They had understood that they were brothers. When [the soldiers] tried to separate them, they took one another’s hands and refused to get separated. God was working in their hearts,” he said.
The interviewer asks if he can still say that God is awesome? Father Bukuru smiles and says, “I still believe that God is an awesome God because he’s not the one who killed them. They were killed by our brothers who were misled by a bad spirit. But God changed their evil deed into something positive. And now here [the students] have become a testimony of love that people can come and learn from. A door was opened in my heart that God is good …His love is so great that we … cannot follow it, cannot measure it here.
“We can’t even understand it. But I have seen through this door that God is nothing but love for us.” At this point he looks directly into the camera and says in English, “Mystery.” Then, through interpretation, “It’s a mystery.”[vi]
These young men didn’t give in to hatred or fear. They knew the words to say that would let them live. Instead they joined hands and hearts and destinies. This story echoes the story we proclaim this week. What makes a person stare death in the face and cling to love of others? Whatever spirit gave these young men such courage and conviction – wasn’t it the same spirit that stirs in the life of Jesus and the lives of all the children of God – even and especially among us this morning?
I’m also struck by the importance of the work that was done before that terrible morning. The students and teachers of the seminary community were engaged in the struggle to love one another – to die to false assumptions that were tearing up their entire country. How many times did they pray for healing, for saving before they were transformed? Daily resurrections, indeed!
Today we shout our praise – “blessed be the one who comes in God’s name!” and we ask to be saved-to be healed- as we wave our palms to welcome God incarnate into our midst. We are on the road, walking the road with one foot in front of the other over the stones in the road we call life. I’m reminded of a quote from one of my favorite bloggers that says, “There’s no ladder to holiness to climb, no self-improvement plan to follow. It’s just death and resurrection, over and over again, day after day…”[vii] Indeed, today, like all days, this week like all those before and after, we take the journey with Christ towards death and resurrection.
I invite you now to take a stone. Pray for whatever stones are under your feet today. Pray for whatever obstacles are in your life. [stones located in cups along the sides of your pew]…Amen. Now, please exchange your stone with someone else – or multiple people. You don’t need to share what your are carrying. I ask that we help each other carry our burdens this week. Please take a moment to exchange stones now. Let us take a moment to pray for the person whose stone we now carry. … Amen.
“There’s no ladder to holiness to climb, no self-improvement plan to follow. It’s just death and resurrection, over and over again, day after day…”[viii] May we hold onto each other as we journey together in Christ’s name. Amen.
© The Rev. Diana C. Bell, 2015
Image: courtesy Israeli Antiquities Authority, 2013
[i] Andrews, Susan. “Living By The Word: Reality Check” The Christian Century. March 24, 2009.
[ii] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-13085064 BBC dot com, 26 November 2014
[iii] “Buta Seminary Martyrs” Work of the People. http://www.theworkofthepeople.com/the-buta-seminary-martyrs
[iv] Dictionary of African Christianity “The Martyrs of the Christian Fraternity” http://www.dacb.org/stories/burundi/martyrs_burundi.html; “In Memory of the Martyred Seminarians of Buta, Burundi” Mere Comments: The Touchstone blog http://touchstonemag.com/merecomments/2014/04/memory-martyred-seminarians-buta-burundi/ (1994)
[v] Work of the People.
[vii] Rachel Held Evans blog. Tuesday April 1, 2014 “What Now?”