Sermon March 28, 2021 Palm Sunday Mark 11:1-11 Rev. Betsy Hogan
People, I tried. But it was impossible. This image was just too spectacular: (Evergiven with digger)
I know that in a cynical world, in a world that so easily sneers "oh that's SO five minutes ago", I should have been able to just leave it alone.
Declare myself too cool to hop on the bandwagon, too blasé to be swept up by its awesomeness – but it was impossible. It was just too perfect.
The unimaginably huge cargo ship Evergiven, stuck fast in the Suez Canal, holding up global shipping quite literally worldwide, the movement of millions of tons of goods at a complete standstill –
And the remedy? One little digger. Giving it a go. Plugging along. One shovel-full at a time. Honestly, I barely even feel ashamed for submitting to it. It's just too metaphorically beautiful.
Which is of course why it inspired a bandwagon in the first place. A bazillion different memes in less than 24 hours. The huge stuck ship labelled as anything and everything that feels manifestly immovable, overwhelming, enormous – and the little digger wryly noted as whatever teeny tiny effort we unleash upon it in response.
As someone who will forever be managing the after-effects of one, two, three bouts of post-partum depression, the one meme that did make me laugh out loud – and not a little ruefully – was the one with the ship labelled DEPRESSION, and the little digger labelled A NICE WALK IN THE FRESH AIR.
Indeed. One tiny shovel-full at a time, and the struggle is real. So I 'get' the essential cynicism of the bazillion different memes that exploded out of this image in its amazing metaphorical perfection –
The huge is huge. The overwhelming is overwhelming. The immovable is immovable. And that teeny tiny digger is laughably teeny and ridiculously tiny.
But here's the thing. I don't think the metaphorical perfection of this image has to be cynical. Because I think, in fact, the metaphorical perfection of this image can actually be hopeful. Inspiring. Maybe even empowering.
We're told by biblical scholar Jon Dominic Crossan that at the beginning of the Passover festival in Biblical times – like the day that's recorded for us in our gospel reading this morning –
That the huge gatherings of Jewish pilgrims who flocked to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover were met every year by a tradition likewise of the Roman authorities who governed Israel.
Sort of a warning, perhaps. Certainly an intentional show of strength. The Romans did tend to rule their vast empire relatively benignly, allowing puppet rulers like King Herod in Israel to sustain a moderate degree of local rule, to kind of placate the masses into thinking not much was different – but occasional intentional reminders of who was REALLY in charge WERE sometimes called for.
And Passover IS at its heart a political festival. It retells the story of Israel's deliverance from slavery and oppression. It retrenches Israel's trust in not only God's power but also God's desire to free God's people from whatever chains bind them and whatever overlords rule them. So it's implicitly not only a religious festival but it's a political festival.
And as such, a bit of a threat. To Roman rule. And so the response of the Romans, unsurprisingly, Jon Dominic Crossan tells us, was to greet the beginning of Passover each year -- with its great pilgrimage of Jewish worshippers to Jerusalem – with a bit of a parade of their own.
Every year, on this same day we heard about in our gospel reading, a massive display of Roman might. Guards in full armour, thousands mounted on their horses, with their weapons at the ready and their standards flying, and the Roman governor Pontius Pilate borne through the city in a chariot – the whole show. An impressive and magnificent and also terrifying parade.
And all of it delivering the unmistakable and inescapable message that there is no might like Roman might. It's huge, it's overwhelming, and it's immovable.
And probably, on the day we heard about in our gospel reading, probably... when the Roman governor Pontius Pilate and all his guards taking part in that huge and overwhelming and immovable parade of sheer Roman power... when they heard about another parade going on that day in Jerusalem, they probably thought it was laughable.
Masses of people waving not weapons but palm branches? Following a simple man not rigged up in a chariot, not even rigged up on a horse, but just sitting on a DONKEY?
The whole thing's absurd. Everybody knows what wins. Weapons, power, might. If Pontius Pilate had been able to look into the future, he could have righteously FALLEN OVER laughing with the ultimate in cynicism -- at the way within only a few hundred years the so-called followers of Jesus would in fact have fully aligned themselves with the Roman Empire, and started forcibly converting everyone in their path.
Because everyone knows what wins. Weapons, power, might. Pilate's Roman Empire became the Holy Roman Empire under Constantine. Became the Christian Empire in Europe. Became Christendom as it was unleashed across the Atlantic and across the global south to stretch around the world, staking its claim, taking what it wanted. Became economic imperialism. Huge and overwhelming and immovable. Everyone knows what wins.
So if Pilate and the Romans laughed that day at the crowds waving their palms and welcoming Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, it's not hard to see why. Even IF by the end of the week they found themselves quite a bit more reactive to the threat they began to realize he posed.
But you know what? Here we still are. In a world no less shaped by the violating values of imperialism than it was in Pilate's time, including the imperialism that so-called Christianity itself built and entrenched and perpetuated – but here we still are. With our palms instead of weapons and following in the way of the one who opted for a donkey, and not a horse.
The one who repudiated violence and was disgusted by greed.
The one who said be compassionate. Take care of the sick. Feed the hungry. Shelter the homeless.
The one who said start with kindness. Start with mercy. Be with others the way you want them to be with you.
Here we still are. With our palms instead of weapons and choosing AGAIN the way of the one who -- despite how subsequent history unfolded into an utter perversion of his message "in his name" – who aligned himself firmly on the side of one little digger.
Because against huge, against overwhelming, against immovable – the way of Jesus simply says NO: do justice, love kindness, show mercy.
And again. Do justice, love kindness, show mercy.
And again. And again. And again. With the laughable ridiculous relentless inspired commitment of one little digger. That looks at huge and overwhelming and immovable and says 'I make a difference'.
And it does. Because you know what happened overnight? That rudder is now free. The ship's still stuck, there's a massive rock underneath it, but that rudder is now free. So take heart, little diggers – we make a difference. Amen.