April 5, 2009
The Rev. Tasha Brubaker Garrison+
Palm Sunday, Year B
What more is there to say? The sermon is the Gospel reading. There is so much in it from the triumphant arrival of Jesus into Jerusalem on the promise of justice and hope to teachings on discipleship to the institution of Holy Communion, our foundational sacrament, to insight on sin and human nature to the death of Jesus.
We are now with that remnant of disciples—Joseph, Mary, Mary Magdalene—who are looking at the tomb. All around us are suffering, betrayal, pain, death, the triumph of worldly power and fear over love and truth. Jesus has been killed, executed. The power of this world has won. “Don’t take me out of my darkness! “ it yells. “Don’t give me freedom from rivalry, blame, and my illusions of control!” it screams. “Don’t dare offer me forgiveness because I don’t want to believe the eternal truth that we are all equal before God and all in pain and all in need of forgiving each other!” it cries. And the nails are hammered into the cross through human flesh. And the guns and bombs and viruses and diseases mow down people who are seeking dignity and a place in our world. And the power of money and the sin of greed grind more and more into poverty and need. And our fear and our distorted desires, what Pilate rightly names jealousy, and vision shred our souls and blind our eyes. And alienation and evil seem to have won. There is no new future. The spark of hope and new life has been quenched. Order has been restored. The kingdom of God in which Jesus will drink the wine again with us is not here. We see only hell.
We see it then and we see it now. There were many stories to choose from both ones from our own nation and others. I chose 2007. Burma. The leaders of the ‘88 uprising to overthrow the military dictatorship lead from behind the walls of their homes and voices for justice and freedom are whispers.
August 15th: a sharp increase in fuel prices spurs protests asking for lower prices, improved health care and education, and basic utilities. Most people live in deep poverty. The crackdown and arrests are swift.
September 18th: 1,000 monks take to the streets in peaceful protest. Their numbers grow as they are joined by lay men and women.
September 23rd: 150 nuns join with 15,000 monks to march peacefully through Yangon in the 6th day of presence and witness. The newly formed Alliance of All-Burmese Monks vows to continue protests until the junta is deposed.
September 24th: tens of thousands join the monks and create a human shield around them from the gathering military forces. The Dalai Lama among others blesses this movement. The world is holding its breath that the winds of hope and liberation may finally blow through this nation so long under the repressive rule of a violent elite. Do you see? Palm Sunday is recreating itself on the streets of Yangon.
September 26th: the military backlash begins in earnest with small, but growing numbers of monks and protesters killed, beaten and taken to prison. Parts of the military refuse to cooperate, but the detentions continue.
October 1st: 4,000 monks rounded up and arrested and in the days to come monasteries are emptied. More and more people and leaders are arrested. Hunger and misery continue to rise. Conflicting reports that have never been fully verified emerge of mass killings. Official reports say 13 dead. Democracy groups estimate closer to 200, but some military leaders who fled speak of massacres in the countryside and that the number killed is far higher. And the rest of the world has not been able to help them turn the tide.
October 5th: The government declares the situation is now back to normal and people are holding peaceful rallies to welcome the successful national convention and principals of the new constitution. Order has been restored. Do you hear the echo? Key leaders are under arrest. Pro-government rallies are staged with coerced crowds.
October 9th: Ye Min Tun, who resigned from his long service in the Burmese foreign ministry because of the government’s violent response says: “I think it’s not the end. I think it is just the beginning of the revolution.”
But for now, we all wait. There is no revolution. The oppression continues and leaves thousands of victims in its wake. The suffering after the typhoon in 2008 showed that. Was it all for nothing? How much longer will this power have command? And the crucified Jesus is still on the cross in the shape of saffron-clad Burmese monk and an executed Japanese journalist and the bodies of those behind bars praying for freedom. Not just freedom for them, but for their leaders too, that they may break free of their prison of power and pain.
The power of love, peace and compassion seems so flimsy, so futile. We cry out where is God when lies and hate are vindicated? We cry out where is God when we sink into our violence upon each other–beings made in the image of God through neglect or contempt or physical action kill other beings made in the image of God? Why are you absent? Why have you forsaken us? Why don’t you save us? Why don’t you make yourself known? Intervene magically and cast a spell. God’s answer is to hang, crucified. Our God is a crucified God. Our God hung and crucified looks down on the world and says on this cross at the edge of life and death and love and hate is the knowledge of salvation. I am a crucified God, Jesus says. I do not crucify you; you crucify each other. And since I can’t show you any other way out of that vicious cycle, I will be a crucified God for you.
The power of love, peace and compassion seems so true. For we all know who truly was victorious in those protests in Burma. Not the military. Not the government. They won the world’s game, but not God’s. And in the silence the answer lies. In the silence something is being born. In the silence the fruit of the vine is being poured to be drunk new in the kingdom of God. Maybe that foreign ministry official was right. This is just the beginning. But for now, we stand at the cross, we stand at the tomb, and we believe in a crucified God. Amen.