Humanity's Love, Like Shifting Sand

Humanity's Love, Like Shifting Sand
Photo by Jacob Bentzinger / Unsplash

Mark’s telling of the gospel of Jesus Christ is the shortest of the gospels. Mark tells stories in brief, short sentences and his narration has an urgency about it. Until we arrive at today’s scene. When we arrive at the Passion, Mark’s telling of the story slows right down. Even with all of the urgency, this part of the story is worth spending our time on. So, what is it that Mark wants us to notice?

There’s a lot to notice. More than this sermon is going to be able to cover. But what stood out for me as I prayed with this text this week, was the consistency of Jesus Christ in this gospel. Jesus is the same from the beginning to the end and there are some interesting pairings in the Passion narrative with earlier events. What changes and shifts like loose sand in this gospel-telling is, unsurprisingly, the attitudes and responses of humanity.

Jesus enters Jerusalem with all of the signs of being the Messiah. Riding a donkey, welcomed with palms and songs, acclaimed with hosannas and cries that he is the rightful king. Just a few days later, these same titles—king and messiah—are leveled against him as charges. The hosannas turn to calls for his death.

Jesus conducts his earthly ministry as one of healing and teaching. Bodies are restored, illnesses cured, demons cast out, communities reconciled. But when he is hanging on the Cross, the cry is for him to climb down and show the crowd signs to prove that he really is the Messiah. The crowds ignore what has been done for them; they want more and they want it on their terms, in their own way.

Jesus preaches and teaches about a new covenant, a new kingdom, a new way of living in the world founded on grace, mercy, forgiveness, solidarity, and love. His followers grow increasingly agitated that he is not a rebellious zealot, raising an army to take on the Romans and restore Judea to its former greatness, as in the days of his ancestor, David. Even after powerful sermons and great miracles, these people have seen but do not understand.

More than once, Jesus has asked his disciples how they speak of him. The famous “Who do you say that I am?” The disciples affirm that they believe him to be the Son of God, the Messiah. The disciples ask for a share in Jesus’s glory and he tells them that the path to glory leads through suffering and death. The disciples affirm that they are willing to do this. When the crowd’s shouts of “Messiah!” turn from awe to mockery, where are the disciples to be found? They are not sharing in mockery or suffering. The women among Jesus’s followers remain in the crowd, silently watching the proceedings. Tonight at Evensong, we will contemplate much more deeply their response to this scene.

When Jesus is baptized, the heavens are torn apart, the Spirit enters him, and a voice from heaven calls out, naming him the well-beloved Son in whom God is well-pleased. When Jesus is crucified, he cries out “My God,” as he gives up his Spirit and the veil of the Temple is torn open.

Jesus the Christ is consistent. His message is the same from beginning to end. He has done everything that he promised he would do. His crime seems to have been doing it in the way that was necessary, rather than in the way that those with power would prefer. He has served as Messiah on God’s terms, rather than the people’s terms. He has done the work for them, but not in the way that they wanted, and for this he hangs on a Cross.

After almost six weeks of Lenten reflection, I suspect most of us can see ourselves in moments on both sides of this story. We have found those times and places where we did move closer to God, even when it was difficult and costly. We have also found those times and places where we turned from God, selfishly demanding more or rejecting God’s blessings for being what we need rather than what we want. We, like the people in Mark’s telling of the gospel, are shifty and varying in our faith.

Today marks the beginning of the holiest week of the year in our tradition. We will spend the next seven days in prayer, worship, and contemplation, aided by traditions reserved for these great days. We will ponder the consequences of these ancient events for us today and what we might learn about our relationship to God through Jesus Christ. Today is the Sunday of the Passion, nicknamed Palm Sunday; these two titles reflecting in a few words the inconsistency of humanity’s response to God. Today’s focus may be the death of Jesus on the Cross at the hands of the humanity he loves so much, but it is not the end of the story. Thanks be to God.

Andrew Rampton

Andrew Rampton

Dish With One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant and Treaty 3 Territory