by Rev. Elizabeth Rawlings
It turns out it is hard to write for this week because of the variety of the readings and because some people do Palm Sunday, some do Passion Sunday, some combine the two. So here are some thought on this week written as I sit on a break from a border immersion experience in El Paso/Juarez with students from The Sanctuary, the campus ministry I co-lead.
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The beginning of the end... before the beginning.
As a kid, I did not understand the crucifixion. I mean, I got that Jesus had to die to be resurrected, but I didn't get why anyone would want to dwell on the walk to the cross and the cross itself, with Jesus hanging there. I didn't understand the observation of him walking to his death -- or more accurately, I didn't understand its importance. With my sheltered life, I didn't understand the importance of Jesus experiencing pain, or the importance of God's willingness to take on our sin, to die that we might have life. And I definitely didn't understand the meaning of a man persecuted and executed by authorities, of the powerful taking on the death of the powerless, of the son of God dying in such an inglorious way.
Then I spent Holy Week in Guatemala. It was my last week there. In the previous 9 weeks I had spent two weeks with Witness for Peace learning about the 30 year civil war in Guatemala, hearing stories of people who lost their families to slaughter by paramilitary groups, people who had been displaced by the greed of the government, the World Bank and multinational corporations, and bearing witness to the pain of a nation that had spent 30 years divided, oppressed under the hands of violent dictators who were propped up by the US government. I spent time learning Spanish in a community of coffee farmers in the mountains who had to hold the coffee hostage so they would get paid, eventually taking control of the plantation themselves. I learned about the lasting effects of colonization. I saw poverty like I had never seen. I saw pain I would never understand. I began to understand the cross.
During the war, tens of thousands of people living in poverty were slaughtered by their powerful government and its paramilitary forces. Old folk, young folk, children and babies were marched to unspeakable deaths without trial, often just for being indigenous or for daring to imagine another way. Even being suspected of honoring a power other than the Guatemalan government was enough to bring about death. The civil war itself was sparked by rich Americans, corporations, and the US government objecting to a redistribution of corporately held land to the people who needed it. During the war people were forcibly moved or annihilated if they refused to leave their land so that the government (and in turn corporations or international institutions) could make money off it. Under the guise of "fighting communism" the United States supported genocide in Guatemala (and Nicaragua and El Salvador and, and, and) so that the wealthy in our nation might keep their wealth and the US might enforce its idea of freedom on sovereign nations.
This is the story of the poor and oppressed across generations and around the world. The powerful take. They do whatever they can to retain power and violently remove any threats to the system. Our government has done (and continues to do) this at home through our slaughter, displacement and containment of the native people who were here long before us. We did this through the kidnapping and enslavement of people from Africa and continue to do this today through the way our judicial and political systems treat those who are not white. Unfair and unjust focus on communities of color, undergirded by the racist belief that people of color are somehow more prone to violence and crime than white people. We systematically oppress immigrants, women, members of the LGBTQ community, and the poor in the name of power, while we refuse to recognize the humanity in those who are not white, who are not male, who are not straight, who are not cis-gendered, the list goes on and on.
This is the mentality that was terrified of Jesus. This is the mentality that killed Jesus.
Jesus words for the poor, the marginalized, and those on the outside were deeply threatening to the powers that be. Are deeply threatening to the powers of this world.
God incarnate as a regular guy who spoke truth to power, who engaged, welcomed, loved and lifted up the marganilized
God as political prisioner
God as victim of state violence
God as weakness
These things are deeply threatening.
The words and actions of Jesus were, and are, political.
The story of Palm Sunday is a story of Jesus turning the political conventions of the day upside down. It is this upcoming parade to show American pride and military force done backwards, with an undocumented immigrant leading the parade, followed by the homeless, prisoners, sex workers, the people of Flint and Puerto Rico, with a touch of Pride parade, thousands of people turning out to cheer them on.
The story of the crucifixion is the story of God not only identifying with the marginalized, the powerless, the prisoner, the person in the electric chair, it is God becoming the marginalized, the powerless, the prisoner, and the person in the electric chair.
Power in weakness and sacrifice.
God's glory in crucifixion.
Gain through sacrifice.
Life through death.
The world turned upside down.
The end of things as we know it and the beginning of something new.
That is what Christ brought.
That is what Christ brings.
That is what is happening right now.
Follow him to the cross.