Craig’s Reflection for Palm Sunday
Sunday is Palm Sunday. We begin the week in a triumphant protest march, we quickly move to a farewell dinner that somehow at the same time is a promise for the future. We move to the depths of despair in death and agony, and then move to the unimaginable and impossible glory of final victory in Resurrection. If you attend the different celebrations, you will hear several homilies and reflections, so I’m going to choose to talk about something else though not entirely different. Instead of the events of Holy Week, I want to go back to the Old Testament and the first commandment, In many ways I think it is the main and in some ways the only commandment. Our inability to understand or follow this commandment is the reason all the events of Holy Week took place.
In the Jerusalem translation of the Bible in the book of Exodus this reads as follows,
“You shall have no gods except me. 4 “You shall not make yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything in heaven or on earth beneath or in the waters under the earth; 5 you shall not bow down to them or serve them. For I, Yahweh your God, am a jealous God.”
In the book of Deuteronomy we hear similar words,
“Take great care what you do, therefore: since you saw no shape on that day at Horeb when Yahweh spoke to you from the midst of the fire, 16 see that you do not act perversely, making yourselves a carved image in the shape of anything at all: whether it be in the likeness of man or of a woman, 17 or of any beast on the earth, or of any bird that flies in the heavens, 18 or of any reptile that crawls on the ground, or of any fish in the waters under the earth. 19 When you raise your eyes to heaven, when you see the sun, the moon, the stars, all the array of heaven, do not be tempted to worship them and serve them. Yahweh your God has allotted them to all the peoples under heaven, 20 but as for you, Yahweh has taken you, and brought you out from the furnace of iron, from Egypt, to be a people all his own, as you still are today.”
Now God has hinted at this commandment when he revealed his name to Moses in the book of Exodus,
“But if they ask me what his name is, what am I to tell them?” 14 And God said to Moses, “I Am who I Am. This,” he added, “is what you must say to the sons of Israel: ‘I Am has sent me to you.”
There has been a lot of debate on what this name means. Is it some sort of metaphysical statement about God existing outside of time? And there are other interpretations I have heard. But on the face value I think it can be understood simply as it’s none of your business. Or maybe you can never understand. In other words God is too big for us to grasp or be confined to our images and ideas. And isn’t that the point of the first commandment? I think we get lost in the words “carved images”. Then we think this commandment is only for primitive people who carve idols out of stone and doesn’t apply to us. But we carve all kinds of idols out of the stone of our hearts. We make money, power, prestige the center and goal of our lives. We have carved an image and worshiped it. What is worse by far is when we decide that God looks like us, thinks like us, and acts like us. A Great deal of the political turmoil of the last year was caused by people who assumed that they knew who God was and what he wanted them to do. They hadn’t caught on to the fact that they can’t capture God in a carved image. In case you think I’m just talking about –conservatives or fundamentalist, liberals do the same thing. We know what’s best for the rest of the world and by God they’re going to act like we think they ought to. Have we failed to notice that God almost never forces anyone to act in any particular way. Our God leads by attraction not by force. Our God acts with the slow dance of Grace instead of rushing to force others into his ideal. She is a nurturing mother not a demanding father. Or a loving Papa and not a scolding Mama.
When Jesus enters Jerusalem, the crowd has its own expectations. They want a Messiah who will force the Romans out. When the disciples gather for dinner they can’t accept a Jesus who would act as a slave washing their feet. And ultimately a savior who saves by hanging on a cross is a contradiction to all our ways of thinking God should act. Because we think we want a God who will act and not just attract. A God who so loves us, that he refuses to interfere even when we crucify his beloved Son, doesn’t appeal to us.
A God we have carved in our own hearts just wouldn’t act that way.
The events of this coming week are a test of our ability to let go of our prejudice, our preconceptions, and our need for a God who would act like we act. Can we let go and let God be.
Father not my will but yours be done.