Mark 11: 1-11
If you follow me on Facebook, you’ll know that I’m heartbroken and angry about the state of the world right now. But, let me begin with one year ago. Last year for Palm Sunday, at the beginning of the pandemic I compared the inner struggle and courage of essential workers to the inner struggle and courage of Jesus as he prepares to enter Jerusalem. I talk about how Jesus knows exactly what’s going to happen to him, he’s been around the block a few times after all. He knows what happens when love meets fear-fuelled power. Yet he rides in anyway. Love insists on being. Love finds a way to manifest itself.
Last year I spoke about essential workers as examples of love manifesting itself, insisting on being amid a pandemic. People who took care of us and those we love during the most trying times. I know economics played a role, most didn’t have a choice, but that doesn’t change the material impact the labour of essential workers had and is having on our lives, which is how love is often experienced. We know that labour was experienced as love because of the outpouring of gratitude—the banging of pots and pans, the flickering of apartment lights, the pay raises.
All that is gone. I don’t want to focus on the pots and pans and the road signs but rather the more tangible things that express an enduring material gratitude. I express heartbreak and anger this week because we are going back to the worst version of normal. It’s been building for me. I’ve been frustrated by the lack of paid sick days, the roll back of pandemic raises and other things but it all kind of boiled over with the Ontario budget this week. The budget was an opportunity to allocate resources based on the lessons of the pandemic, namely that we are inter-connected and interdependent. We are collectively vulnerable and need each other. The pandemic merely highlighted this ever-present reality. Yet the budget had very little that acknowledged this. No paid sick days, no commitment to wage increases for long term care workers, no real plan for childcare, no significant mental health plan. The Rev. William Barber says, “budgets are moral documents”. This week’s budget didn’t meet that test. Then the next day I see the front page of the Toronto Star, and it the number 33.1 in big red letters, indicating the size of the deficit. I think to myself, “really, that’s the big story for a budget in pandemic times?! What about the human deficit of burned-out health care workers, seniors in vulnerable living conditions, anxious children and teens and on and on.” Yes, we need to talk finances, but in the context of how money serves people not the other way around. We need to talk about finances in the context of supporting and upholding one another. Love insists on being in pandemic times and this is how we respond?
Love has political implications. You see, Jesus’ entrance was not the only parade in town. Scholars tell us that there probably had been an imperial parade as well, with Pontius Pilate as the grand marshal. For the major Jewish festivals, Pilate, like his predecessors, travelled from their seaside homes. The Romans wanted to be in the city in case there was trouble. There often was, especially at Passover, a festival celebrating the Jewish people’s liberation from an earlier empire. Pilate would have entered Jerusalem at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers clad in armour and helmets, carrying swords and golden eagles mounted on poles. Pilate’s procession embodied the power, glory and violence of the empire that ruled the world. Jesus’ procession embodied an alternative vision, the kingdom of God, a kingdom ruled by vulnerable love. It’s not that Jesus was overtly political, he didn’t call for anyone’s overthrow. He simply loved and refused to stop manifesting that love regardless of where it lead him. That kind of love has political implications. That kind of love holds a mirror up to all of us individually and societally. One of my favourite quotes lately is from scholar Dr. Cornell West, “love in private looks like tenderness, love in public looks like justice.” When that mirror is held up the question becomes, “will we accept love’s invitation and change how we live, change our priorities or will we defend what we know and entrench ourselves in what is comfortable and in the process crucify those who embody love?”
Unfortunately, it seems that as we emerge from the pandemic we are content to defend, entrench and crucify. That is both heartbreaking and infuriating to me. Poet Nikki Giovanni says, “The state of the world is so depressing because it just doesn’t have to be that way…the possibilities of life are so great and beautiful that to see less wears the spirit down.” What Jesus gives us in his ride into Jerusalem are possibilities for what can be. The entrance into Jerusalem, the insistent and persistent march of love that Passover week is a reclaiming of power from Rome. It’s almost mocking and satirical. Pilate rides a war horse, Jesus rides a donkey. Soldiers wear armour, Jesus’ followers take off their cloaks. Rome send people into hiding out of fear, Jesus brings them out on the streets and unleashes jubilation. By insisting on manifesting love Jesus provides an alternative way of being in the world that undercuts the power of empire. He’s waking people’s imaginations up to what could be if love were embraced as the core of our living.
That’s what we need now, an awakening of our imaginations spurred by love. We’re seeing some of that. The United Church of Canada is in the midst of a national campaign promoting a guaranteed liveable income for all. People like journalists Andre Picard and Moira Welsh are challenging us to re-think long-term care not as a way to store inconvenient people but in terms of life-affirming community that focuses on social, emotional and spiritual well-being. I recently saw that some health units are going to start mobile vaccination clinics to vaccinate hard to reach people. Love insists on being.
We all know what’s going to happen in the week ahead. In the face of love, power will defend, entrench and crucify. That’s the story we are called to enter this Holy Week, for that is the reality of the fear driven world in which we live. But, as followers of Jesus we are called to do so in faith, in hope that love does indeed insist on being. Love is persistently inviting us to open up our imaginations to unforeseen resurrection possibilities. There is always more to the story for those who steadfastly watch for where God is leading and what God is doing and come out of hiding to cheer as love processes into our lives and our world. Amen.