Why come to Jerusalem? The gospel texts are clear that Jesus knew he would die. Certainly, they contain hindsight, but their central emphasis is that he knew he was coming to die. Why do that?
Jesus seems to have had an unusually deep trust in his sense of God. Perhaps faith is the conviction that in trusting God we find life, in the sense that in trusting God we find the fullness of our humanity. Faith trusts that to be human is to hold to the gospel, and to give ourselves to living compassion, to living in the full knowledge and acceptance that we will die. We don't do this as some cheap insurance that ensures we will get "life after death," whatever that is. We do it in trust that the fullness of life, and the purpose of creation, is life-giving life; that is, rich and deep life is located in compassion rather than gained by material acquisition, or gained through the the futility of staying alive as long as we can in a "life" which maximises our survival… until we die, anyway. Faith is the lived trust that the fullness of humanity and creation comes from compassion— I desire mercy, not sacrifice. (Matthew 9:13)
I wondered in my Palm Sunday sermon today, if the victory won by Jesus is neither his cross, nor his resurrection. The victory which allows him to enter Jerusalem in a triumphal parade is that this fully human being has trusted God with his life, and lived compassion. The cross and the resurrection are cost and proof of his trust that true life resides in the mercy; that is, in the compassion, of an unlimited love for all people which is modelled on the unlimited love for us which comes from God.
This evening, with Good Friday on my mind, my wife told me of the Waterford Treasures. In this Irish city known for its crystal, are church vestments dating from the 1460's. They are the only set of mediaeval vestments which survive in northern Europe, embroidered Italian silk buried for over a century to survive the fanaticism of Cromwell. "They were re-discovered 123 years later when the medieval cathedral was being demolished and were then gifted by the Church of Ireland bishop to his Catholic counterpart."
I felt a sudden regret as I remembered that all this beauty could be lost as our world falls apart. And remembered my post of three years ago: Easter in the Anthropocene. What does it mean to live fully and deeply in a world facing collapse, in a world which may be dying?
We face societal collapse to a greater or lesser degree. Our world is built upon globalised "just in time" supply lines. The chaos following one national failure could bring down the whole world in chain reaction. Our human-industrial 'ecosystem' is almost as complex as any natural ecosystem, but far less robust. Or, is it more accurate to say that when it is disrupted, we finally feel the death and disruption we ignore and deny when we destroy the ecosystems of creation? In Australia we don't have the capacity or the knowledge to build computers. We plug together pieces bought from China and Taiwan; what happens if those nations are engulfed in chaos and famine? This fragile interdependence is humanity's great weakness; in the west, few know even how to grow their own food, let alone store it for the year.
Paul Ehrlich said this week that we face societal collapse within decades. Slowly, those brave enough to read are learning of the plastic soup that is the ocean. The Pacific Gyre is as twice the size of France. Bottled water is contaminated with plastic micro fibres. Those who fear for the survival of the species are no longer extremists. There is a slow train coming, and it is no longer dystopics who hear the noise in the tracks; we all live in the anxiety of what is coming. Our Australian government is desperately increasing the privilege— read: the safety— of the rich. The first act of the Marshall government was to trash solar power policy despite its obvious advantages to all South Australians and to the planet. These acts reflect the ideology of terror; the terror of those who face the loss of privilege, and compulsively seek more privilege, triggering the terror of those who are already losing out, hence the rise of populism. In all this, it does not matter whether we are religious, or not. If we insist on maintaining privilege, we all die.
Last night, our neighbours treated us to a stunning celebration of cultural diversity and survival. The book In Our Own Voices celebrates the survival and flourishing of Middle Eastern refugees through the terrors of their own countries and the terrors and hatreds of the Australian immigration system. A highlight of the book launch and its celebration were the young Hazara dancers, easily the best in the show. My heart is broken as I contemplate the loss of such a rich beauty, such a rich cultural heritage, and the heritage of all Australia's peoples.
How do we live in this grief and fear? How do we remain human and not retreat to prejudice and hatred, and to the scapegoating which thinks that by violence against others we can somehow insulate ourselves, and keep ourselves safe? In this we are being asked to "enter Jerusalem." We are being asked to be the ones who side with the poor and marginalised, and become, with them, the target of the outraged and the terrified. Do you see that Jesus is killed most of all, hated most of all, because he betrayed the cause of the "good middle class upstanding Jewish 'church' attenders" of his day? He betrayed, in their eyes, the way to safety and the continuance of the culture by being friends with, by standing with, by speaking for, and by healing, the cultural outsiders. He was no heretic. He was not original! All that he said is in the prophets. He was only faithful— trusting of— the call of God that what the prophets said applied to all people, that all souls are loved the same. That is why he was killed.
How will we love the beauty which is the flourishing of all humanity? How will we honour the person of my little neighbour Aaleia no more, and no less, than the humanity of a suffering plutocrat like James Packer, and no more, or no less, than a beggar barely surviving on the streets of Kabul— or of Adelaide? Have you noticed how many there are? And, of course, the grief is not for Aaleia alone. She is sign to me of myself. Her vulnerability gifts me with my own fear, and the deep grief that all I am, and all I have done, will also be lost…
I am not sure we need to have an answer, some grand theory. Because, instead of waiting for us to come up with that grand theological theory of how to save the world, God will send Palm Sunday, and perhaps even a Good Friday, to knock upon our door. Even this week. We will be able to choose this week, to live with and for the poor and suffering, or simply to feather our own nest. The test and the opportunity will come whether we are an unknown person walking past a beggar in the street, whether we are a community leader in our suburb, or whether we are immigration Minister Dutton. Will we choose self, or humanity; love, or personal safety; compassion, or the construction of an enemy to bolster our cause?
My heart weeps. I see how all I hold dear about our humanity, and even the stunning beauty of the land itself, is being destroyed by the 'Philistia' of personal safety and affluence, and then I regret this thought because even the people of Philistia were just that, people. We are deep dyed in othering and judgement.
I am of little courage. All I know is that when we venture upon the small projects of courage, even if we simply smile towards the different one, rather than avert our gaze, courage grows. And so does our vision of the horror in which we live and the doom under which we labour! The first experience of Jesus in Jerusalem was to see how badly the place was lost, how hopeless the plight of his people was. And yet he persisted, gave himself to the crowds, and suffered the loss of everything. His cry of dereliction is testament that even then, even already on the cross, the lostness of humanity and the depths of death were still greater than he could imagine. And even then, appalled, he cries to the One who, it seems, is not; he cries to the One whom all sense says has abandoned him. And resurrection comes, is given.
Good Friday is all Fridays. Everyday. We enter into the city, or we flee to the enclaves of the rich. Everyday. Who will we be? Will we know resurrection, or live in a blinded anaesthesia and pretence that death will not come near us? We know this cannot be.
In our congregation, we do not preach on Good Friday; we simply listen to the whole story. We let ourselves feel the unstoppable tragedy unwind. We let the horror and the grief touch us. We walk away sobered, shaken, hoping in small ways to trust through our fears, and to learn to love all of God's people. Sometimes we glimpse glory and resurrection, and oftentimes we are able only to hope and wait, and, just a little, live out our trust that all souls are loved the same, and that in this we will again meet God, and find life.
Andrew Prior (2018)
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