Crossing a path on Palm Sunday

MA062S01 World Bank
It’s only a donkey! There was no horsepower to Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem.
Photo from the World Bank Photo Collection

In his excellent book Barefoot DiscipleStephen Cherry reminds us that we have misunderstood Jesus’ “triumphal” entry into Jerusalem and suggests that we should not be celebrating a triumphal entry on Palm Sunday but a “humble entry”. That is what Matthew makes of it. Matthew cuts the “triumphant and victorious” reference of Zechariah’s prophecy and simply says, “Look your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey.” (21:5). The crowd wanted a triumphal entry of a Saviour to please them. Jesus’ humble entry led to a humble end. He refused to play to the crowd (his last temptation?) who expected him to turn the tables on their occupiers, and then they turned the tables on him.

Like many Christians I joined the Palm Sunday procession yesterday. I was at Chester Cathedral. We went into the city. I have seen many processions, including many I dare not and could not cross. They were triumphal processions. They were pompous processions. Yesterday several people crossed our path.  This was an unpretentious procession. This was a procession you could touch (and the children loved petting the donkey!) I appreciated the soft edge of our procession and the hospitality of the ground that was given to all who passed by. If that’s the way of the cross, that’s the way to go.

How Jesus entered Jerusalem challenges our rather grand entrances. Don’t we like to wade in? Don’t we like to look big? Don’t we try to impress? I followed the humble procession yesterday. I’m not so sure how much I fit with my other interventions, my entries into conversations, rooms and situations. There’s a way to go: a way that is far more compassionate.

Stephen Cherry blogs at Another Angle

Jamie’s Great Britain

from Paddy’s Marten Inn, Leicester

I was intrigued by ideas of hospitality and celebration whilst watching Jamie Oliver on Channel 4 last night. I was wearing my metaphorical priest’s hat. Jamie gets everywhere on TV. The British public loves him for his energy and commitment. Last night’s programme focused on my home city, Leicester. Jamie’s comments began by highlighting the prospect of Leicester becoming the first UK city where the majority of the population is non-white. Jamie’s glass is definitely half-full and last night’s programme saw him at the asian veg stall on Leicester market and in the kitchen of Amita Mashru’s Gujerati restaurant eager to celebrate what immigrant communities have brought to us and our cooking and to celebrate the British achievement of entertaining different food cultures, and the spices of our foods picked up from different corners of the world.

Hospitality and celebration are central functions of ministry and defines the people of God, including Jews, Muslims and Christians, and other faith communities. Trace Hathorn reminds us that hospitality defines the people of God. He writes: 

The call to welcome the stranger is anchored in the Torah and was a part of themeasure of the Hebrew community’s faithfulness to God. When a traveler came totown, they waited by the well, and it was incumbent upon the townspeople tohouse and feed the visitor for the night.Of course, these travelers were rarelyfamily. … They were aliens, often foreigners, people who had different foods,different clothes, different languages, different gods. Opening one’s home wasrisky. Today we’d describe such a thing as out and out foolish. … Suchhospitality was central to the Hebrew identity. The risk did not define thepeople; their hospitality did, for they knew such hospitality was central tothe character of their God. The same was true in the early Christiancommunities. Paul reminded the Romans to offer hospitality to the alien, and inthe Letter to the Hebrews the people were reminded to show hospitality to allfor in so doing some entertained angels unaware. In Acts, the early deaconspracticed hospitality throughout the community, bringing welcome to those inneed. And in Matthew’s community, hospitality still measured the faithfulnessof the people. Welcoming prophets, righteous ones and disciples (those whomMatthew called “little ones”) was a disciplined practice of the young churches.

What seems to make Jamie such a good host and celebrant is his joie de vivre, the love of his subjects and his love of what people bring to the table. He seems convivial and congenial. Life tastes both bitter and sweet to Jamie’s palate, but his joy in that concoction is infectious. Being entertained and fed by Jamie is intriguing and is challenging my own hospitality and how I play the role of host.

Strangers

We have heard it said “beware of strangers” – usually because of what they are liable to take – our jobs, our women, our money.

The Bible encourages us to welcome the stranger. Many are mentioned in the Bible as people who are welcomed as gifts from God (like Melchizedek, Pharoah, Ruth, Queen of Sheba, the Canaanite woman – and many others). Jesus himself is seen as a stranger and sees himself as a stranger – he sees himself in the outsider, the poor, the prisoner and the sick and teaches his disciples to recognise him in the stranger and outsider. (Matthew 25)

We have much to learn about entertaining strangers. Here’s one story which Sam Wells tells in his book, God’s Companions. It is about a couple who go on holiday and take a lift to a scenic viewpoint. They had a Muslim guide. They rushed off to take some photographs, and then realised that they had not seen their guide for some time. Walking around a corner they saw him, semi-prostrate, praying to God. They were humbled realising how they and he had spent the last 15 minutes. They talked about this when they got home and shared this prayer with their congregation:

“If I love thee for hope of heaven, then deny me heaven;
If I love thee for fear of hell, then deny me hell;
But if I love thee for thyself alone, then give me thyself alone.”

People were confused when they discovered it was a Muslim prayer, but the couple who had been on the holiday pointed out that just as the guide had been a gift to them in jolting their spiritual complacency, so this prayer could also be a gift – perhaps dispelling some ignorance and prejudice about Islam.

Hospitable Space

> Turkish people were able to gather together to watch their team in the Euro finals because one of them had started a facebook to see how many Turkish people there were around in the north-east. Facebook, ebay, youtube are typical self-organising communities in our networking society. They don’t need community workers or developers. They don’t need leaders or rulers either. Facebook has over 75 million members with 250,000 joining every day.
On the other hand, membership of many other communities are in sharp decline. Membership of churches, voluntary groups, political parties all report falling memberships. Some cynically say that people are avoiding commitment – or are they avoiding commitment they are not willing to give. Or, are people leaving things where there are rules and regulations – where they are feeling they are being organised by somebody else?
What does this say to people who want to see the development of community?
The size of membership of Facebook indicates that I am not alone in wanting to develop community and belong to community. But I operate in an institution (because the Church of England operates as an institution)and as part of “leadership” implement initiatives which create frustration when the “followers” don’t respond. Myself and others who have been hide-bound by institutional community need to learn is that communities which flourish are those which are self-organising, and which are movements rather than institutions.
Isn’t this what the early church looked like to St Luke? He describes members meeting in one another’s houses, sharing everything. He underlines how fast the community was growing.
What Facebook offers is a space for people to move into. Maybe that is what the art of living is – providing spaces of hospitality in which people can belong and grow – which reminds me – I must go and lock the church. Oh dear!
This is what the Rhett Smith has to say on the subject:

Basically, people are organizing themselves in powerful ways that thwart the traditional means of organization through leaders in authoritative, hierarchical positions. No longer do people need to go through an institution to achieve their end goal. Many churches already know this, and still, so many other don’t. Those who recognize the shift will be in positions to harness the unbelievable creative power of a church community. Those who don’t will find themselves struggling to carry out the vision for their church community.