What’s the Buzz

Matthew 21:1-11  NRSV

Hey there! It’s been a while. Yes, I’ve been taking a break from things for a while. Call it a sabbatical.

And now I’m back, and well–strange times, wouldn’t you say? So welcome back to this strange, hopefully life-giving space. I appreciate you and hope that you still find this blog to be a brave and safe space to ask questions, learn, and heal.

So because the days [and now weeks] seem to run together these days under stay-at-home orders and such, I’m not really following much of a schedule. For Christians, Lent, Holy Week and Easter came and went but most of us found it strange, perhaps empty, and maybe a lot of us didn’t really observe it at all.

As for me, thoughts come and go, and at random times. So what’s the buzz? What’s a-happenin’?

It is the month of April, it is springtime; here in Philadelphia the cherry blossoms are in bloom. The birds are singing. Around the world and in this country, many people of various traditions are observing festivals and important, spiritual moments. Not long ago, Hindus observed Ramanavami. On April 6th, Jains observed Mahavir Jayanti. On Wednesday, April 8th, Buddhists celebrated Buddha’s birthday. Passover for Jewish folk was April 8-16. Sikhs observed Baisakhi on April 14th. For Orthodox [Eastern Christians], Holy Friday is April 17 and Easter the 19th. Baha’is observe the first day of Ridvan on April 21st. And, on April 24th Ramadan begins for Muslims.

This time is full of spiritual observances and a season of rebirth and renewal. It’s spring, after all. For Western Christians, April is typically about a few important stories: the “Palm Sunday” story, the arrest/trial/death of Jesus story, and the resurrection story.

I’ll start with the story about branches, donkeys, and Jerusalem.

Okay, some things to say.

The headlines distort reality.
In the end, it’s up to us to claim a healthy perspective.

Back to the story:

Jesus of Nazareth, this Jewish rabbi-ish/teacher-dude from a Podunk town had created quite the stir. He had a following now, he was kinda famous. And he was finally reaching the climatic destination in his story: Jerusalem. The mecca, the epicenter of religion and culture and language and…the Roman Empire.

Jerusalem was occupied by Roman foreigners who were requiring locals to pay taxes and to be loyal to politicians and Draconian rule. Most went along with it, some didn’t. The Roman authorities [and religious authorities] viewed this Jesus and his followers as a possible threat—troublemakers who were asking for too much change and an upset of the status quo…

So as Jesus came to Jerusalem on a donkey [not a tank with machine guns and military force] the Roman legion prepared their riot police, guns at the ready. Didn’t want to take any chances during Passover, that huge celebration of more than 200,000 people—no social distancing possible there. Imagine the signs in the city—calm down, don’t cause trouble, just eat your Passover meals and say your prayers and go home. Don’t disturb the peace, but really, don’t make waves.  

Sorry, forgot about the donkey. My bad.

Don't be a donkey - Callum Herries - Medium

Matthew‘s author is asking us to pay attention to a story written mostly for Jews. The donkey is meant to point to Jewish prophetic literature, and in this case, Zechariah: This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

See, Jesus wasn’t an imperial king. Jesus wasn’t a lord or a ruler or a stimulus package.

Jesus was prophetic—to the people who followed him all this way. The poor, the marginalized, the disenfranchised, the ones who were forgotten. He listened. Jesus actually cared about people. Jesus spoke truth to power. The Roman authorities pushed down the poor, elevated the rich. The religious authorities took money from the poor and made deals with the oppressors. And Jesus and his followers prophetically and stubbornly marched into Jerusalem with a message of justice, peace, and love.

And so, people threw their cloaks and also possibly palm fronds on the ground as Jesus of Nazareth came to Jerusalem. That’s why it’s called Palm Sunday, see. But they shouted: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” And you know what that means? Hosanna means Save us! The people, tossing their clothes and also branches, were imploring Jesus and his followers to save them from their oppression. They really wanted a change.

It wasn’t praise, it wasn’t worship. It was desperation.

Headlines distort reality. It is up to us to claim a healthy perspective.

I don’t know what online publications you frequent, or if you watch the national or international or local news. What headlines are you reading each day? Those headlines determine far too much of our perspectives. They really do. Those headlines are telling us how to think, how to feel-even how to live. Look, I’m like you. I’m affected by these headlines too. So let’s do something healthy, yes? Let’s be more aware of how these headlines affect us, and how they distort our perspectives. Yes, this is a difficult time for many—not denying that. And yet, spring is here. Trees and other plants are blooming. Birds and other living creatures are buzzing. That’s the buzz, that’s what’s a happening. The natural headline is all around us—if we choose to pay attention to it and to listen.

And lastly, it is up to us to claim a healthy perspective. Stay at home orders, quarantines, lockdowns, etc., okay, I get it. I am fully committed to protecting the most vulnerable. We should. We also cannot give in to Draconian thinking. We must stop shaming others. We must cease our judgmental attitudes towards others. We must stop hoarding and panicking. Instead, this is a season to cooperate, join together, support, love, and wake up. It’s spring, after all, isn’t it? And religions and spiritual traditions across the globe including Christianity and including the life and teachings of Jesus implore us:

Renew. Wake up. Emerge. Spring to life.

Yeah, I’m in for that. Are you?

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Josh grew up in Indiana and Iowa before completing a Masters of Divinity [M.Div.] at Princeton Theological Seminary [NJ]. He has worked in a variety of settings, including the Presbyterian Church (USA) and United Church of Christ (UCC) in Philadelphia, Hawai’i, Mexico, and Michigan. Currently, he serves as pastor of Love in Action United Church of Christ, a progressive, Christian, LGBTQIA+ affirming and interfaith community in Hatboro, a suburb of Philadelphia. He also holds a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre/Speech from Northwestern College (IA). Josh has worked with youth and young adult programs for 25 years regionally, nationally, and in Latin America. He is also a trained actor and performs regularly with the dinner theatre company, Without a Cue Productions, LLC. He has developed theatre arts curriculum for use in worship, youth groups, education, and group-building. Josh is also committed to promoting religious pluralism and partnering with people of all faiths and those who identify as atheist or agnostic to build bridges of shared values and cooperation. He is honored to work with the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia as a Fellow and a Consultant. Focus areas include: University alternative spring break and summer programs that incorporate faith encounters and service-learning for students; workplace diversity programs that promote understanding in organizations, corporations, schools, and hospital settings. Josh also enjoys playing basketball, strumming on the guitar, traveling, learning language, or making strange and funny faces. He lives in Center City Philadelphia and thinks vegan cheesesteaks are amazingly good.

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