That Which We Have Heard & Known

Occasional thoughts of an Anglican Episcopal priest

Category: Jerusalem (page 2 of 4)

An Ordinary Olive Grove – Sermon for Maundy Thursday, 24 March 2016

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A sermon offered by the Rev. Dr. C. Eric Funston on Maundy Thursday, March 24, 2016, to the people of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio, where Fr. Funston is rector.

(The lessons for the day are Exodus 12:1-14; Psalm 116:1,10-17; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; and St. John 13:1-17,31b-35. These lessons may be found at The Lectionary Page.)

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Gethsemane Olive TreesThey have had their dinner during which, predicting his death, Jesus has instructed them to share bread and wine again and again in his memory. Jesus has washed their feet. He has given them his New Commandment, “Love one another.” Now, dinner ended, it is time for a stroll in the garden.

In 2014, when Evelyn and I were privileged to visit Jerusalem and spend some time in the Garden of Gethsemane, what struck me most (and I admit that this entirely pedestrian and not the least bit spiritual) was how very similar the trees there were the olive trees she and I had in our front yard when we lived in Las Vegas! And as I have contemplated our experience with olive trees, it has struck me how appropriate that location was, how illustrative and instructive it is that Jesus prayed amongst olive trees.

The first thing that I can tell you from experience is that olive trees are messy! They are a broad-leafed evergreen, which means they are constantly shedding leaves. The olive leaf is only about an inch or two long and about a half-inch wide. They have a lovely glossy deep green color on top, and a pale silvery green underside. They are tough and very stiff, especially as they dry out. This makes them impossible to rake up! Our life with olive trees was a constant battle with cleaning up leaves that didn’t want to be cleaned up. Furthermore, at the beginning of the growing season, the olive blossoms produce huge amounts of yellow-tan pollen that blows all over everything, and then the blossoms themselves fall off. We had a large in-ground pool in Las Vegas; keeping it clear of olive leaves, olive pollen, and olive blossoms was simply impossible! And, finally, there is the fruit itself. Olives seem to have a hard time holding on to their fruit; it drops about as often as leaves. I guess in commercial groves enough must stay on the tree to make their cultivation financially viable, but our ornamental trees seemed to lose more fruit to the wind than there was left on the tree to harvest.

And isn’t that what life is like. It’s messy! Jesus praying amidst the messy olives of Gethsemane reminds us that Jesus meets us in the messiness of life, that he redeems messy human life. There is not a single person on this earth, and never has been, whose life is not in same way a mess. Every one of us has problems, some worse than others; we all struggle with issues and circumstances. Some of them we share with each other and we get one another’s help, but some of them scared us so badly that we keep them to ourselves. We put on a brave face and we smile through them and meanwhile the messiness eats us up inside . . .

So we go someplace by ourselves and throw ourselves on the ground and pray, “God, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me….” (Mt 26:39) The truth is that that is the very place where God meets us: in the messiness of life, in the brokenness of life, in the painful chaos that we cannot, on our own, make orderly, and neat, and fixed. If you read the Bible, if you really read the stories of the Old and New Testament, that’s when God shows up in people’s lives; at the worst possible time, when everything is breaking down and going to pot, that’s when God shows up.

That’s what was happening that night in Jesus’ closest companions’ lives. They had “hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Lk 24:21), but after they made that great entry into Jerusalem everything had changed and gone from bad to worse, and at dinner instead of talk of overthrowing the oppressors and taking the throne he had spoken of betrayal and death and sacrifice. Instead of proclaiming a “new world order,” he’d gotten down on his knees and washed away the dirt from their feet. Not in their political dreams of revolution, but in the messiness that they had walked through, in the messiness they had tracked into the Passover Feast, that was where Jesus met them.

The messiness of the olive grove in which Jesus prayed reminds us of that: that God meets us in the messiness of life.

Olives are also long-lived. They aren’t the longest lived of trees. Those are the bristlecone pines (pinus longaeva) of my native state, Nevada. In my college years, as I have mentioned a time or two before, a common pastime of my friend group was backpacking and wilderness camping. During the late spring and summer months, one of our favorite places to go was an area called the Mammoth Lakes region of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. On the inland side of the Sierras in that area is a subsidiary range on the California-Nevada border called the White Mountains. This is the location of the oldest living tree on earth. The US Forestry Service claims that in the White Mountain forest there is a bristlecone pine that is over 5,070 years of age. They will not identify the particular tree, but they do acknowledge that it is in the southern part of the White Mountain range. That is exactly the area where we used to hike and camp, so it’s possible that I have sat beside that elder-statesman tree. I always marvel at old trees and what they must have witnessed!

I felt that way amongst the old olive trees at Gethsemane. But while the domestic olive tree (olea europea) can live for hundreds of years, they do not live as long as bristlecone pines. None of the trees currently in the Garden of Gethsemane were there at the time of Jesus. The eight oldest olive trees in the grove (which, by the way, what it was and is, a grove not a garden) have been analyzed and the scientists who did so say they date from the early 12th Century. They are genetically identical; they share the same DNA. They appear to have been cultivated from a single parent tree which, in the 12th Century, was reputed to have witnessed events of Holy Thursday night. Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Franciscan Custos of the Holy Land, has suggested that that 12th Century cultivation of these eight trees was “a deliberate attempt to pass on a precious heritage for future generations.” (Reuters news article, October 19, 2012)
In any event, Jesus at prayer amongst the long-lived olive trees reminds us of the promise that he will make to his disciples after his Resurrection: “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mt 28:20) Indeed, it is true that God has been and always will be yearning to be with us. As one of our Eucharistic prayers puts, “Again and again, [God] called us to return. Through prophets and sages [God] revealed [God’s] righteous Law.” (Eucharistic Prayer C, Book of Common Prayer 1979, p 370)

The longevity of the olive trees under whose branches Jesus prayed reminds us of that: that God has always been there, has always wanted to be in relationship with us, and in Jesus has promised to be with us always, longer than the life of the olive, longer than the life of the bristlecone pine, longer than we can imagine.

The third thing we know about olives is that they are nutritious. Dozens of health-protective nutrients have been identified in olives. The high monounsaturated fat content of olives has been associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. They are very high in vitamin E and other powerful antioxidants. Studies show that they may protect against osteoporosis and cancer. Olives are good food.

Many years ago I read an interview with the abbess of a Zen Buddhist convent in Tokyo. The interview had to do with the convent’s reputation not only for spiritual nourishment, but for very good food as well. Abbess Koei Hoshino said in that interview, “We receive three graces from food. First, we become healthy in mind and body; second, we have the ability to be thankful for all things, and to maintain that state of mind; third, we are able to work for others with our mind and body. We will be able to give to others. Those are the virtues we receive.” (T. King, The Spiral Path, Yes International:1992, p 161) A Christian monastic, Brother Peter Reinhart makes a similar point: “Food is not only a basic human need, it is also a sacred symbol: God in a multitude of forms and bodies. It is a focal point of fellowship and celebration.” (Sacramental Magic in a Small-Town Cafe, Running Press:1994, p xxii)

When we end our Eucharist this evening, we will go into the Parish Hall for a short time of fellowship, a simple meal recalling the Passover meal Jesus shared with his friends. We share simple foods: bread, cheese, wine, fruit, olives. We do not presume to call our meal a Passover feast; we give it a different name: The Agape Meal. Agape is one of the Greek words translated into English as “love”, so the meal is sometimes called a “love feast.” Scholars tell us that in early Christian practice a similar meal was nearly always shared whenever the faith community gathered for the Eucharist; the two rituals when hand-in-hand. A core tradition in the early church, the Agape Meal explicitly recalls not only the Last Supper, but all the meals Jesus shared with his friends and disciples, including the post-resurrection meals recounted in the Gospels of Luke and John. “It is a focal point of fellowship and celebration.”

The fruit of the olive trees amongst which Jesus prayed reminds us of that, of the Christian sacramental view in which ordinary things – ordinary food shared with ordinary people – can be instruments of grace embracing us in God’s immediacy, God’s intimacy in our lives.

On Maundy Thursday, Jesus took ordinary food, the bread and wine of a meal, and instituted the Holy Eucharistic. He took an ordinary towel and a basin of water and commanded his disciples, “Love one another as I have loved you.” He prayed in an ordinary grove of trees and reminded us that God comes to us in all the messy ordinariness of life, always and forever, and with immediate and intimate grace.

Amen.

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A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

What is Jesus up to? – Sermon for Palm Sunday (Yr C) – 20 March 2016

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A sermon offered by the Rev. Dr. C. Eric Funston on Palm Sunday, March 20, 2016, to the people of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio, where Fr. Funston is rector.

(The lessons for the day are as follows:
At the Blessing and Distribution of the Palms: Zechariah 9:9-12 and Psalm 118:1-2,19-29
At the Eucharist: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Philippians 2:5-11; Psalm 31:9-16; and St. Luke 19:28-40
At the Reading of the Passion Narrative following Communion: St. Luke 22:14-23:56
Most of these lessons may be found at The Lectionary Page.)

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Jesus Triumphal EntryWhat is Jesus up to? Why is he doing this?

Many of us are old enough to remember when the musicals Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar made their first appearances. I wasn’t that big a fan of Godspell, but I really liked Superstar … and one of my favorite songs from it is Hosanna sung as Jesus enters Jerusalem, the scene which today specifically commemorates.

In Superstar, as in the Bible, as Jesus makes his way into the city, the crowds sing “Hosanna”. Unlike the biblical text, the hosannas sung in Superstar are a refrain for a duet, a musical conversation between Caiaphas, the high priest, and Jesus. In each iteration of the refrain, one line is changed. The first time, the crowd sings “Hey, JC, JC, won’t you smile at me.” The second time, “Hey JC, JC you’re alright by me.” The third, “Hey JC, JC won’t you fight for me?” And finally, “Hey JC, JC won’t you die for me?” These one-line changes in the hosanna refrain foreshadow the progress of Holy Week and the events leading to Good Friday and the cross. There’s a sermon in that, but not the one I want to offer you today.

Today, I want to focus not on what the crowd is singing but on what Jesus is saying by what he does and what he says. Listen to the words Caiaphas says to Jesus in the Superstar song:

Tell the rabble to be quiet,
we anticipate a riot.
This common crowd,
is much too loud.
Tell the mob who sing your song
that they are fools and they are wrong.
They are a curse.
They should disperse.

Tim Rice, the lyricist of Superstar, is elaborating here on the Lukan text: “Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.'” (Luke does not identify the speaker as the high priest Caiaphas; that is artistic license on the playwrights’ part.) Jesus’ reply, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out,” is rendered by lyricist Rice in this way:

Why waste your breath moaning at the crowd?
Nothing can be done to stop the shouting.
If every tongue were stilled
The noise would still continue.
The rocks and stone themselves would start to sing.

This conversation gives us a clue as to Jesus’ intent, his motive for doing what he did on that day riding into Jerusalem.

Way back in Jewish history, Joshua the son of Nun, the successor of Moses, when he led the people of Israel into the promised land swore them to their covenant with God and he had his men set up a stone monument as a testimony to the covenant. He said to the people, “See, this stone shall be a witness against us; for it has heard all the words of the Lord that he spoke to us; therefore it shall be a witness against you, if you deal falsely with your God.” (Josh. 24:27) Later, the prophet Habakkuk condemned the ruling classes, the conquerors of nations who, in his colorful and disturbing words, “build towns by bloodshed.” (Hab 2:12) In his prophecy, Habakkuk proclaimed: “The very stones will cry out from the wall, and the plaster will respond from the woodwork.” (Hab 2:13)

Jesus was recalling these ancient words, the covenant promise of Joshua and the justice prophecy of Habakkuk, when he said to the complaining Pharisees, “The stones would shout out.” They claimed to be the guardians of the covenant and they were the ruling class of their day, trained in the Law of Moses and the history of their people, and they knew what Jesus was saying.

They knew, too, what Jesus had done riding into the city on a donkey’s colt. He was acting out the prophecy of Zechariah: “Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Jesus was making a bold statement of his identity, a claim that could not be ignored. He was staking his claim on the kingship of Israel, on the role of the one who sits in judgment of the injustice against which the stones cry out and the plaster on the walls responds. He was telling them in no uncertain terms that they, the ruling class of his day, had built their empire by bloodshed.

That is what Jesus was up to then . . . and it is what Jesus is up to now! When the church re-enacts this drama each year, when we read the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, when we wave our palms and sing our hosannas, we who “are the body of Christ and individually members of it” are making the same prophetic claim. We are saying to the ruling elites of our day that the rules by which they profit and benefit are unjust, that the society over which they preside is an empire built by bloodshed, that the stones are crying out from the wall, and the plaster is responding from the woodwork, that God’s creation is bearing witness against them.

And in one of those twists of meaning that God frequently pulls on us, we recognize that even as we “are the body of Christ and individually members of it,” even as we are both Jesus riding into Jerusalem and the crowds, the stones, crying out for justice . . . we are also the ruling elites against whom we cry. It is our own unjust acts, our own oppression of others, our own sinful exploitations that we are prophetically protesting.

If we do not understand that, if we do not appreciate that that is what we are saying and doing, then our Palm Sunday liturgy is hollow and meaningless. If what we are doing is not a reiteration of Jesus’ message, not a repetition of the prophecy he enacted and proclaimed, then what we are doing is a mockery of his life, his ministry, and his self-sacrifice. If in our waving of palms and singing of hosannas we are not proclaiming his gospel, if we are not announcing “good news to the poor . . . release to the captives . . . recovery of sight to the blind [and freedom to] the oppressed” (Lk 4:18), then all that we do today and during this Holy Week is nothing more than a burlesque, a charade, “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” (Macbeth, Act V, Scene V)

But . . . but . . . I do not believe that it is. I believe that what we do bears witness to the truth of the gospel story, that what we do makes a difference in the world in which we live. I believe that what we do proclaims to the powers of this world the almighty power of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. I believe that when we wave our palms and sing our hosannas we are, like the prophet Isaiah, standing up and saying, “Who will contend with [us]? Let us stand up together. Who are [our] adversaries? Let them confront [us]. It is the Lord God who helps [us]; who will declare [us] guilty?” (Is 50:9)

We are proclaiming to the powers of this world, even (or even especially) those that reside within us, that they are defeated, that “in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Cor 5:17) We are saying, “Our God reigns!” and that “in Christ God [has] reconcile[ed] the world to himself.” (2 Cor. 5:18)

That’s what Jesus is up to! That’s what we are up to!

At the end of the Hosanna! song in Jesus Christ Superstar, Jesus sings to the crowd:

Sing me your songs,
But not for me alone.
Sing out for yourselves,
For you are bless-ed.
There is not one of you
Who cannot win the kingdom.
The slow, the suffering,
The quick, the dead.

So wave your palms! Sing your hosannas! Be the stones who cry out judgment against the ruling elites! Be the plaster that answers from the woodwork! Be ambassadors for Christ! Be the voices of God’s ministry of reconciliation! Be the righteousness of God! (2 Cor 5) For there is not one of you who cannot win the kingdom! Amen!

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A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Era of Delusion – From the Daily Office Lectionary

Era of Delusion

From the Daily Office Lectionary for Monday in the week of Proper 26, Year 1 (Pentecost 23, 2015)

Nehemiah 6:8 ~ Then I sent to him, saying, “No such things as you say have been done; you are inventing them out of your own mind.”

Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem, enemies of Nehemiah and opponents of the rebuilding of Jerusalme, wrote to Nehemiah and tried by various means to end his efforts. Finally, Sanballat wrote warning Nehemiah that he would write to King Artaxerxes of Persia, Nehemiah’s patron, that Nehemiah was planning to set himself up as a rival king. It is in response to that threat that Nehemiah writes this letter.

Today, the national news services reported that representatives of the campaigns of several of the presidential candidates vying for one of our two major party’s nomination had met about the format and conduct of debates. The candidates, it is said, are unhappy about the way earlier debates, hosted by their party’s national committee and moderated by reporters from different news services, have been handled. Their complaint (in my opinion) boils down to the simple fact that they don’t like the questions they have been asked and the challenges the news people have made, some of them sounding occasionally like, “No such things as you say have been done; you are inventing them out of your own mind.”

We live in an era of delusion. Candidates make things up; one candidate made the statistically outrageous claim that 92% of job losses during the current president’s first term were suffered by women (never mind that the cause of those losses were the policies of the former president elected from her party). When challenged, she refused to justify her claim, later making the absurd defense that the numbers might have been wrong when she claimed them but had been right an earlier time, and finally today acknowledging that they were erroneous all along. Her initial defense, however, was that she and her questioner simply had a difference of opinion.

This is a frequently heard defense when challenges are made to factually inaccurate claims, that it is all just a matter of belief or interpretation and that one is entitled to one’s own opinion. The often heard retort to that is, “Yes, you are entitled to your own opinion, but not to your own facts.” You are not entitled to go around “inventing them out of your own mind.” Someone who does that is delusional and not fit to lead or govern.

Sanballat, who was a Samaritan, was never able to defeat Nehemiah. He is believed to have retreated to a village at the base of Mt. Gerizim and to be the Samaritan leader responsible for the building of the Samaritan temple on that mountain. It is this temple to which the Samaritan woman at the well, with whom Jesus converses in John’s gospel, refers.

From the time of the exiles return up to Jesus’ time and even into our own times, there has been “bad blood” between Jews and Samaritans. There are many reasons for that and not a few of them can be laid at the feet of the Jews. But among them are the simply untrue assertions of Sanballat, the things invented out of his own mind. This is what happens when people refuse to acknowledge and agree on facts, on the reality which jointly confronts them. Opinions may differ, but facts are facts; if we cannot agree on the facts, there is no foundation for mutual trust, no foundation for reconciliation.

In our era of delusion, with politicians and their supporters inventing things out of their own minds, is there any hope for mutual trust, for mutual governance and shared leadership . . . or are we doomed to generations, to centuries of our Nehemiahs battling with their Sanballats?

Home Demolition – From the Daily Office Lectionary

Home Demolition

From the Daily Office Lectionary for Wednesday in the week of Proper 25, Year 1 (Pentecost 22, 2015)

Ezra 6:11 ~ Furthermore, I decree that if anyone alters this edict, a beam shall be pulled out of the house of the perpetrator, who then shall be impaled on it. The house shall be made a dunghill.

In the Sixth Century BCE, the Jews returned from the Exile and rebuilt the Jerusalem Temple under the patronage of Darius the Great, the reigning Persian Achaemenid emperor. This line is found in the decree which was issued by Darius instructing his governors to see that the temple work was completed despite the opposition of the Samaritans, who had offered to be part of the rebuilding effort but whom the Jews would not permit to do so because they considered them unclean. (Samaritans were descendants of Israelites who had been left behind and who had intermarried with non-Jewish peoples. Although they kept the Law of Moses, the returning Jews did not consider them pure enough to take part in the restoration.)

The destruction of the homes of those who oppose the actions of Jews in the Holy Land is not merely an historic or biblical footnote. It is a present reality. In 2014 the Civil Administration of the Israel Defense Force destroyed the homes of 969 Palestinians on the West Bank. In January of this year, Israel destroyed 77 buildings belonging to Palestinians in the West Bank, leaving 110 people, roughly half of whom were children, homeless. Home demolition has been a frequent occurrence reported in Palestinian news throughout the year, although it is seldom mentioned in American media. Often the justification is that one member of the household has been accused (not proven, simply accused) of actions in opposition to Israeli occupation.

This morning I wonder if the inspiration for home demolition, or at least part of the inspiration, might be this obscure biblical passage. I don’t know, but it’s something to ponder . . . . So much terrible behavior can be justified by reference to ancient scriptures. When will we learn that these stories are not necessarily models of how we should act today; often they are stories of modes of being we are called to grown beyond and to leave behind. I suspect this is true of the decrees of a foreign king who, though he made the restoration of the Temple possible, was not a spokesman for the God who made hospitality, generosity, and forgiveness part of his Law. Home demolition surely violates that Law.

Foundations in the Forest – From the Daily Office Lectionary

Foundations in the Forest . . . .

From the Daily Office Lectionary for Tuesday in the week of Proper 15, Year 1 (Pentecost 12, 2015)

Psalm 122:1-2 ~ I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” Now our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.

When our choir, acolytes, liturgical assistants, and clergy gather for prayer just before the opening procession of Sunday worship, I will often use a prayer which begins with a paraphrase of these verses. As I do so, in my mind’s eye I see the forest going by the bus window as we drove from Jericho up to Jerusalem in the summer of 2014. My first and so far only trip to the land of the Holy One.

The forest is non-native, mostly European pines and Australian eucalyptus. It is a young forest with only several decades, not centuries, of growth. There is little, if any, undergrowth and peering through the trees when can see unnaturally regular formations of stone. These are the ruins and foundations of Palestinian villages emptied and bull-dozed into nothingness during the ethnic cleansing of Israel during the Jewish State’s “war of independence” in 1948. I am told that there are families in the refugee camps who still possess deeds from the Ottoman Turks testifying to their ownership of homes in these now-nonexistent towns, who still hold on the keys of front doors which can no longer be found let alone opened.

We made the journey up to Jerusalem a couple of times on that trip but we never stopped along the way to actually walk into that forest, to step into those village foundations, to experience that history and that obliteration of history. So now I am reading the history of Palestine and Israel from 1880 onward by a number of authors; I am reading classic Zionists, post-Zionists, neo-Zionists, anti-Zionists; I am reading both Muslim and Christian Palestinians, Palestinian refugees, and Palestinian citizens of modern Israel. I will never comprehend the breadth and depth of Middle Eastern and Holy Land history, not even of the short 130 or so years of Zionism and its effect on the Land.

But I am coming to appreciate two things. First, how tragic and sorrowful is this psalm which ought to be a cry of joy: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: ‘May they prosper who love you.'” (v. 6) There are so many of several faiths who love Jerusalem yet none can prosper in the absence of a shared vision of “the peace of Jerusalem” for which we all pray. Second, how woefully inadequate is my own education and, by extension, that of all! This morning I read some newspaper articles, opinion pieces, and letters to the editor apropos of the nuclear arms deal negotiated with Iran; several viewpoints were expressed and as I read each one I thought, “Yes, but do you know?” or “Have you considered the comments of [some other writer]?” or “No! That’s simply not true!”

We each focus our vision on a few facts; we cannot, or perhaps we choose not to, see them all. As a result, we do not see a full and complete picture. As an old saying has it, we cannot see for the forest for the trees. But we must see the forest, for in amongst its trees are the foundations of the future, the solution that must be built. “Peace [will never] be within your walls [nor] quietness within your towers” (v. 7) until we do so.

The Jews of Asia, Watts, & Monoliths — From the Daily Office Lectionary

From the Daily Office Lectionary for Thursday in the week of Proper 14, Year 1 (Pentecost 11, 2015)

Acts 21:27 ~ When the seven days were almost completed, the Jews from Asia, who had seen [Paul] in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd.

When I was a kid growing up in Las Vegas I knew there were some people called “the Jews.” That is about all I knew about that particular group of people. My family knew a couple of Jewish families; my dad was friends with Sammy Davis, Jr., who was a black Jew and I knew that that was somehow really different. But I didn’t know anything about different sorts of Jews; they were all one group in my childish understanding.

When I went away to boarding school, I met and befriended a young Jewish man who introduced me to the American varieties of Judaism: Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstruction. His family went to a Reform synagogue and, he told, were Sephardim by ancestry, thus introducing me to the difference between Sephardim and Ashkenazim. In my senior year, my English class read Leon Uris’ recently published novel “Exodus” and these differences took on more meaning, and the concept of the Sabra was introduced to my understanding.

In college, I read Martin Buber and learned of the Hasidim and the ultra-Orthodox; I also took a course about the founding of Israel and learned about the Mizrahim (Jews from eastern Arabic, Persian Gulf countries), the Maghrebim (Jews from North Africa), and the Falasha (black Jews from Ethiopia).

So when I read the words “the Jews from Asia” in today’s Acts reading, I wondered which of these modern divisions of Judaism and ethnic Jewry (if any) they might have represented. That I am currently reading a new text on the history of Israel probably encouraged that.

And then I wondered how many modern American Christian readers of the Acts lesson appreciated the existence of such divisions. We are so prone to monolithic thinking. I know from Bible study conversations over the past 30 years of ministry, that when we read the words “the Jews” in the Christian Scripture we Christians tend to create in our minds a united block of co-religionists who rejected and then opposed the teachings of Jesus and his disciples.

We do the same when someone says, “The early church ….” Again, in our minds we create this mythical monolithic united religion which even a short course in Christian history will demolish.

We do the same when someone says, “The Muslims ….” Monolithic thinking, even in the face of news reports reminding us that there are differences between Sunnis and Shi’ites, between Arab Muslims and Iranian Muslims, between radical Iraqi jidahists and moderate American imams.

We whites do it at the mention of “African Americans” and blacks do it at the mention of whites. We know better but, initially, as if it’s part of some human hard-wired programming that we must constantly over-write, we do it anyway.

“The Jews of Asia” stirred up a riot in the Temple precincts on flimsy and false premise that Paul had taken a Gentile, Trophimus the Ephesian, into the Temple. The police were called; Paul was arrested; the riot was put down. As I listened to the radio news this morning, I was informed that today is the fiftieth anniversary of the Watts riots, a civil disturbance with perhaps more justification, and certainly more damage, than the Biblical riot.

I was not quite a high school freshman living in another part of the Los Angeles metroplex in August of 1965. That was back when I still thought of “the Jews” as a singular, monolithic group; I thought of black Americans the same way. I remember the riots. I remember “our” fear of “them.” God help us, not much seems to have changed in fifty years! In all honesty, not much has changed in two thousand years. That hard-wired pre-programmed initial response of monolithic thinking, both about “us” and about “them,” whoever the “us” is and whoever the “them” is, is still with us, still a part of us, still in control of us.

When I was in seminary, I had a dormitory neighbor named Elizabeth, a doctoral student from Australia. I had the privilege of hearing her preach a children’s sermon one day on the parable of the lost sheep. She gathered the community’s children around her and asked them if they knew how God counts people. They all said “No,” of course, and she proceeded to point directly at each child saying, “One … one … one … one …” Her point for the children was that each one of us can be a lost sheep and that in God’s eyes each one of us is “number one,” the most important, the one God will take all the time necessary to search for and find.

As I think about our reading today and “the Jews from Asia” and the Watts riots, I remember Elizabeth’s children’s sermon and draw another inference: for God there are no monolithic groups, there are only individuals gathered into a flock. It is one of Jesus’ many lessons for us to learn, remember, re-learn, and remember again as we constantly over-write that programming; there is no “us” and there is no “them.” There are no monoliths!

Pray for Ali Dawabsheh – From the Daily Office Lectionary

From the Daily Office Lectionary for Friday in the week of Proper 12, Year 1 (Pentecost 9, 2015)

2 Samuel 5:6-8 ~ The king and his men marched to Jerusalem against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land, who said to David, “You will not come in here, even the blind and the lame will turn you back” – thinking, “David cannot come in here.” Nevertheless, David took the stronghold of Zion, which is now the city of David. David had said on that day, “Whoever wishes to strike down the Jebusites, let him get up the water shaft to attack the lame and the blind, those whom David hates.” Therefore it is said, “The blind and the lame shall not come into the house.”

This morning in Jerusalem, Jewish “Settlers” burned a Palestinian home. An 18-month-old toddler was burned to death and three other members of his family were injured. Will the Settlers claim to be acting in the tradition of David? Will the “city of peace” ever know peace? ~ The psalm says, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: ‘May they prosper who love you. Peace be within your walls and quietness within your towers.'” (Ps 122:6-7) Those who love Jerusalem are of many faiths, many traditions; why can’t they (we) find common ground there?

The child’s name was Ali Dawabsheh. Pray for Ali and for his family.

Neither Hot Nor Cold: A Sermon of Ecclesial Disappointment – 12 July 2015

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A sermon offered on Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 10B, Track 1, RCL), July 12, 2015, to the people of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio, where Fr. Funston is rector.

(The lessons for the day are 2 Samuel 6:1-19; Psalm 24; Ephesians 1:3-14; and Mark 6:14-29. These lessons may be found at The Lectionary Page. Note: The Revised Common Lectionary provides that the first lesson is 2 Samuel 6:1-5,12b-19.)

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Israel-Palestine MapWhy do people in church seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return. (Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters [New York: Harper & Row, 1982], pp. 40-41.)

I wonder if Ms. Dillard might not have had in mind the episode recounted today in our reading from the Second Book of Samuel. Confession: The Lectionary edited out the verse that describe the death of the priest Uzzah and the circumstances and causes thereof. I put them back in because they explain the sudden reluctance of David to take the Ark of the Covenant into his city, and his three-month delay in doing so. With Uzzah’s death David, as the writer of Second Samuel tells us, got a notion of “what sort of power we so blithely invoke,” of what sort of power he was bringing into Jerusalem, and it frightened him.

After all, what had Uzzah done. Nothing disrespectful of God, that’s for sure. If anything, he saved the Almighty the indignity of the Ark tumbling out of the ox cart and falling to the ground. All he had done was reach out to steady it when it was jostled by the oxen; he was doing only what comes naturally when one is moving a large, heavy object over rough terrain. And for this, for touching the Ark with the most innocent and benign of intentions, he was stricken dead. At first, David was angry with God about that; apparently he cursed up a storm because the place gets renamed “Perez-uzzah” which means “outburst about Uzzah” – could be God’s outburst that killed Uzzah, more likely it’s David’s outburst of anger after Uzzah is dead. Once he vents, however, David becomes frightened; we are told, “David was afraid of the Lord that day; he said, ‘How can the ark of the Lord come into my care?'” So, he leaves the Ark right there in the care of a foreigner, Obed-edom the Gittite, for three months. David has realized that he may need a crash helmet when dealing with the power of the Almighty.

And then there’s John the Baptizer. John knew all too well the Power he’s been dealing with; he’d talked directly with God (“The one who sent me to baptize with water said to me,” he claimed – Jn 1:33) and John spoke to earthly power on God’s behalf. He said to the crowds that came out to him, to the scribes and the Pharisee, the priests and the Sadducees, to all who came to him at the River Jordan, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor;’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Lk 3:7-9) John knew there was danger, terrible danger when one becomes involved with Almighty God. It was the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews who said it, but John knew well, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Heb 10:31) Because even if the power of God doesn’t kill you, the ministry demanded of you by God may well put you in harm’s way . . . and that, in the end, is what happened with John.

Speaking truth to power, John publicly denounced Herod Antipas for his sinful, adulterous relationship with his half-brother Philip’s wife Herodias, who also happened to be Antipas’s niece. For that public reproof, John was arrested and held for a time in prison; the Gospel lesson tells us that Herod protected John after his arrest because he feared him! – Even Herod Antipas felt the danger of involvement with the Almighty at second hand, the danger of dealing with God’s anointed prophet. But in the end, tricked by his own foolish behavior, Antipas must order John beheaded; for John the ax is laid not at the foot of the tree, but at the base of his neck. As Ms. Dillard might put it, “The waking god drew John out to where he could never return.”

We, the Episcopal Church, take this dangerous prophetic step out to where we might never return every time we make a statement or take an action and proclaim to the world, “We do this because we are called to do so by our Lord and our God.” I do it every time I step into this pulpit and dare to preach a sermon. You do it every time you take a stand on an issue or behave in a particular way and say, “I do this because I am a Christian, because I am an Episcopalian.” Our church does it when it meets in deliberative council, in vestry meetings, in diocesan conventions, or as we have just done in our triennial General Convention; we do it when we issue public statements on important issues of the day.

We feel like we have done it now in the aftermath of our 78th General Convention because, for example, we have taken the bold step of opening our marriage liturgies to same-sex couples. However, I would suggest to you that that was not a very prophetic step after all. We had already, several years ago, declared that gay and lesbian persons are beloved children of God entitled to the full ministry of and to full inclusion within the body of the faithful. We underscored that a dozen years ago when we approved the election and consecration of the first openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. When we declared last week that same-sex couples could marry in the church, we were only continuing down a path we had already been walking, a path which (frankly) the United Church of Christ, the Presbyterian Church in the USA, and the United States Supreme Court had just walked before us. It’s easy to be prophetic when others have already done so before you.

We feel like we have taken a prophetic stance because 1,500 bishops, deputies, and other Episcopalians marched the streets of Salt Lake City to protest against gun violence and to call for rational handgun licensing laws and for background checks on all gun sales including gun show and private transactions. We feel like we have done so because, a few days after that protest march, the General Convention passed a resolution making that same call; but in all honesty it’s a call we have made before. We have been on record as a church in support of reasonable regulation of gun manufacture, sale, and ownership for nearly 40 years; we have passed resolution after resolution urging registration, licensing, and insuring of handguns, as well as the banning of civilian sale and ownership of automatic and semi-automatic weapons since at least 1976. And we have not been alone among the churches in doing so. It’s not particularly original or prophetic to do and say again that which you and many others have done and said many, many times.

We feel like we have been prophetic in the House of Bishop’s election of Michael B. Curry of North Carolina to be our Presiding Bishop, our first black Presiding Bishop! But, folks, we have had black bishops in the Episcopal Church for over 140 years since the consecration of James Theodore Holly to be Bishop of Haiti in 1874. Neither God nor the world would be out of line in telling us that Bishop Curry’s election is not particularly prophetic and asking, “What took you so long?”

It’s not that these are not important and vital issues; they are. It’s not that our voice, added to so many others, is not worth raising about these issues; it is. It’s not that we should not be taking a stand on these matters; we should. We should and we have and we will continue to do so, but we are not being particularly prophetic when we do so. We are merely doing what comes naturally moving a large, heavy institution over the rough terrain of difficult issues. Like Uzzah steadying the Ark of the Covenant, it may be dangerous, but it’s not particularly prophetic.

We did have the opportunity to be prophetic, but we failed to take it. A resolution numbered D016 was offered for our consideration. It would have called upon our church and our leadership to

work earnestly and with haste to avoid profiting from the illegal occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, and [to] seek to align itself with, and learn from, the good work of our Ecumenical and Anglican Communion partners, who have worked for decades in support of our Palestinian Christian sisters and brothers and others oppressed by occupation. (Resolution D016 as originally proposed)

It did not call for divestment from Israeli investments. It did not call for the boycotting of products made in the occupied territories. It did not call for sanctions against Israel. It did not call upon us to join the “BDS” movement as it is called – Boycott, Divest, Sanction. It was opposed on the grounds that it did, but in truth it did not.

We could have taken such action; we could have joined BDS although the resolution did not call for it. Alternatively, we could have proclaimed that, instead of doing that, we would work through positive investment and constructive engagement with both Israelis and Palestinians to foster reconciliation and peace. Or, we could simply have done as the resolution sought and undertaken a time of intentional study and discernment as to what our ministry as a church with important ties to the Holy Land might be, how we might try to encourage healing in that broken, wounded, and bleeding place. We could have done any of those things, any of those prophetic things. But do you know what we did?

We ducked the issue. We played it safe. We closed off debate. We failed to act. The House of Bishops rejected Resolution D016 so the House of Deputies never had a chance to consider it and, thus, we did nothing. – We should know better! As Paul wrote to the Ephesians,

With all wisdom and insight [God] has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (Eph 1:8b-10)

We know that! We have declared as much in our catechism that “the mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ,” and that “the Church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love.” (BCP 1979, page 305) We are a church for whom the ministry of reconciliation should come as naturally as reaching out to steady the cargo on an ox cart came to Uzzah. And yet with respect to our brothers and sisters in Israel and Palestine, we did nothing…. We are a church who believes itself to speak like John the Baptizer prophetically to power on any number of subjects. And yet with respect to our brothers and sisters in Israel and Palestine, we said nothing….

As a church meeting in deliberative assembly and praying for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we did nothing, we said nothing to promote justice, peace, love, and reconciliation in the Holy Land.

When John of Patmos had the vision recorded in the Book of Revelation, he was instructed to deliver a message from Jesus to the church in Laodicea. He was told to write these words to them: “I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (Rev. 3:16) With regard to those living in the land where Jesus was born, where he lived and taught and loved and died, where he rose from the dead for our salvation . . . with regard to our brothers and sisters living in that land, our General Convention action (or, really, lack of action) was lukewarm; it was tepid; neither hot nor cold, worthy only to be spit out.

I love my church. I love what we do in our synods and our conventions. I love that we take positions, sometimes unpopular positions. I love that we take risks with power, the kind of risks that Uzzah took, the kind of risks that John the Baptizer took, the kind of risks for which we should be wearing crash helmets and life preservers and holding signal flares. But we failed to do that with regard to the occupation of Palestine and the strife existing between our Israeli and Palestinian brothers and sisters, and I am disappointed in the church I love. As the Rev. Winnie Varghese, a priest from New York who was one of the supporters of Resolution D016, wrote after its rejection: “I will never understand why we would not listen … to our brothers and sisters truly on the ground, the lay and ordained Palestinian Christians who have been displaced; who work for justice; and who ask for our help.” (Huffington Post, July 10, 2015) Nor will I. I will never understand.

Let us pray:

Lord our God, the earth is yours and all that is in it, so we lift up our heads, we open our gates, and we give you glory; the Psalmist asked who could stand in your holy places and answered his own question saying, “Those who have clean hands and a pure heart;” give us clean hands and pure hearts that we may follow through on the promises made at our baptism, promises to “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ,” to “respect the dignity of every human being,” and to “work for justice and peace;” give us grace that we, as the Episcopal Church, may do so in solidarity with those who have dedicated their lives to justice for Palestinians and security for Israel, that we may be either hot or cold, never tepid or lukewarm; give us the strength to do what should come naturally and to speak prophetically in your name; all this we ask through your Son, our Savior, the King of Glory. Amen.

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A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Only the Dead Could See – From the Daily Office Lectionary

From the Gospel lesson for Friday in the week of Proper 5B (Pentecost 2, 2015)
Luke 19
41 As [Jesus] came near and saw the city, he wept over it,
42 saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”

On the hillside of the Mount of Olives, coming down toward Jerusalem from Bethphage, is a massive graveyard. Stone mausoleums hold, in one huge area, the bodies of dead Jews hoping to be first among the resurrected; in another large area are buried the bodies of dead Muslims also hoping to be first among the resurrected. Just across the Kidron Valley at the foot of the eastern wall of the city is a Christian burial ground filled with more dead hoping to among the first in the general resurrection. Just to the north of the Jewish tombs and overlooking the Muslim graves is a church designed by Antonio Barluzzi known by the Latin name “Dominus Flevit,” which means “The Lord wept.” It stands on the traditional site where Jesus stopped before entering the city, shed the tears Luke reports, and uttered this lament. It is a small church with a few chairs and simple altar; the altar window is plain glass. In the center of that window one sees the Dome of the Rock sitting atop the Temple Mount. When I was there, the vessels of the Holy Eucharist sat on a ledge in front of that window. As I sat in that church looking through the that window, the holy things of three Abrahamic faiths merged into a single picture: dome, mount, communion. The land and city within which they stood was not and never has been at peace, but here the things of peace sat. The only ones enjoying the peace which those things promise were the hopeful dead lying peacefully in their graves awaiting resurrection. The things that make for peace were not hidden; they were there in plain sight, but only the dead, at peace and hidden from our eyes, could see them.

Kingdom Life: Common, Routine, Mundane – Sermon for Palm Sunday 2015

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A sermon offered on Palm Sunday, March 29, 2015, to the people of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio, where Fr. Funston is rector.

(At the blessing of the Palms, Zechariah 9:9-12 was read. The lessons at the Mass were Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; and Mark 11:1-11. The Passion according to Mark, Mk 14:1-15:47 was read at the conclusion of the service. Other than Zechariah, these lessons can be read at The Lectionary Page.)

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Icon of the Entry Into JerusalemThe four evangelists are traditionally represented by iconic depictions of the emphasis of their gospels. John, whose gospel is the longest and most different of the four tellings of Jesus’ story, is represented by an eagle because he emphasizes the divinity of Christ. Matthew, on the other hand, begins his gospel with Jesus’ genealogy and emphasizes the humanity of the Savior, so he is represented by a man. Luke emphasizes the sacrificial nature of Jesus’ ministry and mission; thus, he is represented by an ox or bull (often winged), the sort of animal offered in the Temple.

Mark, from whose gospel we read today, both the story of Jesus’ “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem and the story of his Passion, is represented by a winged lion, an emblem of kingship, because his emphasis is both the Jewish expectation that the Messiah would be of lineage of King David and that Jesus’ mission was rather different, the ushering in of the kingdom of God.

Which, I think, gives us an interpretive tool for understanding why Mark tells the story of the “triumphal entry” as he does. John, who (as I said) is most interested in portraying Jesus as divine, blows by this episode in two sentences: basically he says, “There was a crowd; they cheered; Jesus rode a donkey. Now back to the important stuff.” Matthew, who (remember) emphasizes Jesus’ humanity, adds the story of Jesus losing his temper with the money changers and animal merchants in the Temple courtyard. Luke, who is intent on portraying Jesus as the sacrificial Messiah predicted by prophecy, adds a second donkey to the parade (because he apparently misunderstands Zechariah, tells us that Jesus wept over Jerusalem on the way in to town, includes a conversation between Jesus and some Pharisees about the stones singing “Hosanna,” follows Matthew in adding the cleansing of the Temple, and concludes the story with Jesus staying in the Temple and teaching while the chief priests figure out how to kill him.

Mark, however…. Mark keeps it simple – not as simple as John, but direct and to the point. But what is his point? In the NRSV translation of Mark 11:1-11 which we read at the blessing of the palms there are 232 words. 144 of them are spent describing the process of locating, procuring, saddling (so to speak), and sitting astride the donkey. Only 67 words actually describe Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. And 21 words finish the pericope with its anti-climactic ending, “…and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.” I find that intriguing.

Now it may seem silly to count words, but this is one of the things bible scholars do. Sometimes, when studying a book or section of the Bible, we can better understand an author’s theme by examining the frequency of word usage. For example, the use of love in the First Letter of John and the repeated use of immediately in Mark’s gospel are enlightening. So noting the number of words invested in telling the different parts of a story can, perhaps, tell us what the author felt important, and Mark seems to think the getting the donkey is roughly twice as important as Jesus actually riding it into the city!

So let’s first look at the lesser important part of the story, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. What’s going on here? In a word, what’s going on here is politics! Jesus is making a huge political statement; first, he is very clearly acting out the prophecy of Zechariah: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zec 9:9) He is making an acted-out, very visual claim to be the king!

Furthermore, he is doing it in a way that mocks the Roman governor. It was the practice of the governor, at this time Pontius Pilate, to make a show of force at the time of the Passover. Because so many potentially rebellious Jews were gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the feast of an historic liberation, the Exodus from Egypt, the Romans feared the possibility of open revolt. So at the beginning of the festival, the governor would come to Jerusalem from his usual residence at the imperial seaport of Caesarea Maritima, entering the city from the west, riding his war stallion or perhaps in a chariot of state, at the head of long column of armed soldiers. Jesus, on the other hand, is approaching from the east, coming up from Jericho and the Jordan valley, over the Mount of Olives through the peasant villages of Bethphage and Bethany. Riding the lowliest of beasts of burden, the least military of animals, Jesus is making the point that the kingdom of Heaven is about something other than regal authority and military might, something other than power elites and superiority over others.
And, I suggest, that’s why Mark spends so many words telling us about the locating, procuring, preparing, and mounting of the donkey.

There is a legendary suggestion that the two unnamed disciples whom Jesus’ sent to get the colt were none other than James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who just before this (at the end of Mark’s Chapter 10, in fact) had come to Jesus and said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” (10:37) None of the evangelist tell us the names of the two disciples sent to get the donkey, but wouldn’t that have been a graphic way for Jesus to demonstrate to them that “whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all?” (10:43-44) It is certainly a clear sign that life in the kingdom is not a glamorous thing; it’s not a life of war stallions and chariots, palaces and fine meals, or relaxing at your ease while others bear the burdens. It is not that sort of life for the king, and it is not that sort of life for his followers.

As Tom Long, who teaches preaching at Candler School of Theology, has noted,

The disciples in Mark get a boat ready for Jesus, find out how much food is on hand for the multitude, secure the room and prepare the table for the Last Supper and, of course, chase down a donkey that the Lord needs to enter Jerusalem. Whatever they may have heard when Jesus beckoned, “Follow me,” it has led them into a ministry of handling the gritty details of everyday life. (Donkey Fetchers, in The Christian Century, April 4, 2006, page 18)

Life in the kingdom, where all are servants, is common, routine, mundane, and often exhausting. This, I think, is why Mark makes more of getting the donkey than he does of Jesus’ riding it into Jerusalem. He wants us to understand that life in the kingdom is the life of the king whose faithfulness to his God and to his understanding of his mission required him to take up the cross, the king who said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” (Mk 8:34-35)

Poet Mary Oliver imagined this story from the point of view of the donkey when she wrote:

On the outskirts of Jerusalem
the donkey waited.
Not especially brave, or filled with understanding,
he stood and waited.

How horses, turned out into the meadow,
leap with delight!
How doves, released from their cages,
clatter away, splashed with sunlight!

But the donkey, tied to a tree as usual, waited.
Then he let himself be led away.
Then he let the stranger mount.

Never had he seen such crowds!
And I wonder if he at all imagined what was to happen.
Still, he was what he had always been: small, dark, obedient.

I hope, finally, he felt brave.
I hope, finally, he loved the man who rode so lightly upon him,
as he lifted one dusty hoof, and stepped, as he had to, forward.

(The Poet Thinks about the Donkey, Thirst, Beacon Press, 2007)

The One who rode the donkey also “stepped, as he had to, forward,” into that most common, most routine, most mundane, and most exhausting fact of life. He stepped willingly into death. Therefore,

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
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Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore . . . be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, [however common or routine or mundane or exhausting] because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Cor 15:54-55,57-58)

Let us pray:

Almighty God, whose dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other that the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Collect for Monday in Holy Week, BCP 1979, page 220)

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A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

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