No parade this passion week…

It becomes easier and easier for us.

With every step we take towards the trouble awaiting Jesus in Jerusalem,

we become smug and more certain.

We know what is going to happen;

we rejoice in what will be revealed

Jesus will run afoul of the authorities,

be handed over to the government of the day,

tried, convicted and executed.

That is what is coming, and of course that leads to our triumph.

Our victory – as believers in the power of God,

and converts to what has become the Holy Catholic Church.

Resurrection is coming! Salvation is near!

The old troubles are about to be obliterated by a new covenant,

and we can hardly wait.

We want this morning’s ‘palm parade’ to lift our spirits

for what will be a week of frantic activity,

shortened by a Friday holiday – the forgotten Holy day.

Yet every third year, the lectionary cycle reminds us

that what is coming is not all parades and praise –

the palm leaves wave only by the force of the wind in Mark’s gospel.

No cheering children, no donkey’s colt –

just a tense gathering of a curious, dangerous, crowd,

followed by an even more difficult dinner with the disciples.

This threatens to set a sombre tone for events that are highlight of the Christian calendar,

but we should not despair just yet.

While the community leaders, ever squabbling,

seek an easy way to silence this dangerous Jesus fellow,

who is suggesting outrageous things that make him an enemy of both church and state.

this same Jesus, ever gracious,

submits to the ministry of an unnamed woman

who honours his body as though for burial.

Jesus’ disciples rage against this act of worship,

calling for justice for ‘the poor’

and pointing out the extravagant waste of resources that this woman has offered…

but Jesus knows worship when he sees it.

Jesus recognizes this as an act of love, and quickly silences the critics.

Our problem with this ‘pre-passion’ drama is that we find ourselves silenced too.

We stand firm against wasteful excess,

our protestant souls shudder at the thought of extravagance.

We don’t mind an impromptu parade,

so long as the crowds disperse as quickly as they gathered.

This act has lasting implications – the scent of the perfume fills the room,

the costly oil drips from Jesus’ hair to his cloak –

it is so ridiculous; so inappropriate, that we, with the crowd, can’t comprehend.

Let her be, Jesus responds. Let her honour me –

let her actions be remembered

as an appropriate response to what is about to happen.

For, rather than celebrations, or the welcome due a king,

she has prepared Jesus body for burial.

Our celebrations tend to overlook the obvious;

this is a tragic moment in God’s history with humanity,

and that needs to sink in for us.

The events that follow will bring us to new depths of feeling, and of suffering,

and, ultimately, to new heights of redemption –

but everything in its time…

For now, let us try to comprehend

that all the good Jesus has done to this point in his life and ministry

seems about to be undone.

His trust will be betrayed – his friends will abandon him and all will seem lost.

One woman mourns. One woman calls our attention to the horror that will come

and we are stopped in our tracks.

For it is easy; too easy – to continue the victory parade from now until Easter.

To avoid the trial, the execution and the emptiness

and skip straight to the Alleluias.

This anointing – this quiet devotion reminds us of the truth:

there are difficult paths to take on the road to redemption.

Denial comes first – then death and despair –

well before delight.

Jesus has set his face firmly towards the spectacle that will result in his death;

we should not avert our eyes.

For in the suffering that is to come, we find our own suffering

in the deliverance – our salvation

the sure and certain hope that we so happily claim

comes from the darkest place in the human drama that is the passion of Christ.

Our shining moment will come.

Our salvation is near – soon the glad sounds of rejoicing will be heard –

the work of God is not stopped by our despair, or our destruction, only delayed.

One woman’s example offers us a better way to wait –

honour the moment. Face the truth.

The harsh reality of sin and death will be, for a moment, the only thing we see.

But God will work – and Life will triumph – and Christ will rise…

and again, we will rejoice.

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