In an effort to redeem my infrequent presence of heart and mind this Lenten season, I read through the Palm Sunday story yesterday morning. We’re less than a week from Good Friday, from Resurrection Sunday, and for several obvious reasons, I feel it much more this year.
We are tumbling into Holy Week 2014 much more busted up than usual (i.e. World Vision and the last straw). There has been a full-blown split. A definite division. Several new and tragically persuasive reasons to abandon the body altogether.
For some of us, we have simply decided to wait for the church to wake up. For her to finally reach the end of this brutal bender she’s on and decide it’s time to change, to pick herself up and go get a clear head and heart- sobriety- found at the foot of the cross. But I am not holding my breath.
When it comes to the Church, I feel like I am flying between wild hope and complete hopelessness. Yes, I can see how we are a “resurrection people”, with the grace and rebounding of so many from the last few weeks (really, the last few years), but then I heard about a conservative college kid, my generation, hounding down a female pastor after a service, asking on whose authority she thought she was speaking. And so I’m holding optimism cautiously.
Yesterday morning, I read Matthew’s account of Palm Sunday. In it, Jesus passes through the palm-heavy streets atop the baby donkey, and then went inside the temple where he started a riot.
12-14 Jesus went straight to the Temple and threw out everyone who had set up shop, buying and selling. He kicked over the tables of loan sharks and the stalls of dove merchants. He quoted this text:
My house was designated a house of prayer; You have made it a hangout for thieves.
Now there was room for the blind and crippled to get in. They came to Jesus and he healed them.
15-16 When the religious leaders saw the outrageous things he was doing, and heard all the children running and shouting through the Temple, “Hosanna to David’s Son!” they were up in arms and took him to task. “Do you hear what these children are saying?”
Jesus said, “Yes, I hear them. And haven’t you read in God’s Word, ‘From the mouths of children and babies I’ll furnish a place of praise’?”
17 Fed up, Jesus turned on his heel and left the city for Bethany, where he spent the night.
I know some cringe at Angry Jesus, but I absolutely love this scene. He flips over tables, smokes everyone out, and then builds a makeshift hospital in their place. Restores the Temple to its’ purpose. It is like he is performing a condensed version of the whole reason for his coming. A lesson the church has struggled for 2,000 years to comprehend.
I want to say that church unity is an ideal I am deeply sympathetic to. I wish to be a reconciler. A bridge-builder. A peacemaker. We are stuck together, like it or not, because we belong to each other. This, I know.
But I also wish to be honest.
And if I am honest, I feel like flipping over some tables myself. I feel like staging a Sit-In. Like dropping down in the veritable Church, arms crossed, cloaked beneath a flag that is a rainbow. I feel like reclaiming this place because it is my birthright.
I’m all for harmony, but I hesitate to fall into a beat that is so badly broken. That sidelines a good number of us. That guts the Good News right out of “gospel”.
We’ve reached, what the lawyers call, a place of Irreconcilable Differences. Nothing that hasn’t happened before. The Great Schism, The Great Reformation, the Civil War, these came and served to only propel the faith to where it was meant to go. And it doesn’t make it any less hard or tragic. Real people are involved on each side.
But here we stand, on the brink of another, profound divorce, and at the same time, on the edge of the holiest day of the year. And I honestly don’t know what to do with that tension.
What I do know is that we will still come, as we have every year before and will continue to do for years to come, to meet in our shared love of Jesus… but with our elbows sharper. Our anger still hot. Wounds still fresh. All of us victim. All of us abuser. All of us tired. And all of us standing before the only real hope we have left: Grace.
Grace has been such a big part of my life that I feel it now like a phantom limb. I see it as The Way, as the stream I step into with all of my shit, all of my rage, all of my disillusionment, all my cynicism, my slim-as-a-toothpick hope and I don’t know how it happens, but it always changes me. It smokes out the pride and heals me.
And maybe it’s all any of us can do this week. Just look tenderly at the empty tomb and accept that Jesus Paid It All. That we may break apart, but grace is filling in our fractures. Unifying us forever even after we split away. Stringing a thread that will tug us back together, when the time to do so comes.