Monday, December 2, 2013

Advent Juxtapositions

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, “The Lord needs them.” And he will send them immediately.’ This took place to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, 
‘Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
   humble, and mounted on a donkey,
     and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ 
The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
‘Hosanna to the Son of David!
   Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’ 
When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’ The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’--Matt 21: 1-11

It has been striking to me that as we enter into this season of Advent, and awaiting the birth of the Christ child, what we've been hearing in our lectionary are the stories that are either at his crucifixion or, in this case, leading up to his entry into Jerusalem, the beginning of the end of his life.  In today's Gospel assigned in the daily office, the story told is the one that we often hear on Palm Sunday, right before the procession of palms into the church.  (In the Episcopal liturgy for Palm Sunday, this is followed almost immediately with the whiplash of having the Passion Gospel where we crucify Jesus, but that collapsing of the timeline is the subject for another blog entry at another time.)   To hear this passage today was, like the crucifixion of Jesus and the conversation with the criminals that we heard on Christ the King Sunday, a little strange.  It's like we're getting to telescope into the future of the yet-unborn baby in Bethlehem...and we're still a few weeks away from that event!  

I had a chance to encounter this passage again this evening in a Lectio Divina exercise during our Education for Ministry seminar.  A person read the passage aloud, we were given some time to meditate on what we'd heard, and then each of us shared what word(s) stood out for us.  Then, we heard the passage again, and we were asked to link what he heard to our lives.  Finally, we were asked to read the passage one more time to ourselves, and form a prayer based upon what we'd gleaned from the passage.  We had the choice to share any and all of this out loud with the group.

What struck me the first time I heard the reading was the phrase, "Hosanna in the highest."  Because my brain taps into music so readily, I could hear this refrain from Palm Sunday being sung.  The sensation in my body was a feeling of warmth in my heart as I let these words and the notes of that refrain spin round and round.   When I sing these words, I have to smile, because they are words of rejoicing and praise.  

Upon the second time listening to the Gospel, I found myself brought up short when I heard the phrase, "the whole city was in turmoil."  Whoa--wait a minute!  How did we go from making a joyful noise like, "Hosanna in the highest" to "the whole city was in turmoil"?   As I sat in silence working on this dilemma, and how it speaks to my here and now, I thought about how this is one of those moments in Scripture where the spaces in-between the phrases provide the most fascinating points of contemplation.   Yes, of course, people were rejoicing at the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem... and his entry was causing a ruckus that made those who didn't know Jesus to become agitated and demanding to know, "Who is this?"   As I thought about my own life, between my efforts to stay on a path with God and follow my call with the demands it will make on me and my partner, and the ongoing issues with my mother and findng the best care facility for her, as well as a myriad of other "things" that nag at me during the course of the day, I realized that I am in a place of personal turmoil.  Into this party of my pain, anxiety, doubt and fear, comes the ultimate party crasher, Jesus Christ, to put a new disc to spin on the turntable.  What did we sing a week ago? "Crown him with many crowns/the lamb upon his throne/Hark! How the heavenly anthem drowns all music but its own"?  This Christ interrupts my pity party to remind me that I don't get to weep alone.  In fact, I don't get to do anything by myself, and why would I want to go it alone anyway?   As I weighed all this in the context of Advent, I realized that this idea fits into the narrative of waiting for the birth of Christ.  Like all babies, there is much joy and excitement at the arrival of the newborn and speculations about the child's future.  The difference is that this particular baby is about to rock the world.  All babies force changes in the lives of their parents; how many of them challenge and change the lives of whole towns and villages?

So then, I read the passage silently, moving my lips, and paying close attention to the collective thoughts I had had so far on this passage.  When asked to pray, the simple words that left my mouth were these:

O God, who comes in great humility into the midst of turmoil; I welcome you to enter into mine that I might greet you with, "Hosanna in the highest." Amen.

Strike up a new song:

O Come, O Come Emmaneul, and ransom captive Israel 
that mourns in lowly exile here until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.


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