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Holding up our words

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

May 11, 2019

Easter 4, Year C


In my first call, the rector decided that we needed a new photo director of all 2,000 members, and also that the new curate (me!) should take this on as my first task.  I studied our old one, and asked him if we could possibly make sure to publish all names in the new directory.  The one published two years before listed families only under the man’s name:  Mr and Mrs. John Smith, so it was hard to figure out women’s names.  

The rector was hesitant, and told me that this idea would no doubt sink the project.  It was a conservative church, he told me.  No one would like this.  Too much change!  People didn’t want to volunteer for this anyway, and with this sort of innovation?  Heavens, no.

With the hubris born of not knowing any better, I approached the two stately ladies who between them ran the ECW, the Annual Plant Sale, the Annual Peanut Sale, and the Altar Guild.  I explained the predicament to them, and my idea.  Would they like it to be easier to figure out names and faces of women in the church?  Within two days, those women had organized a rota, a schedule of volunteers to man the picture signups, and a group of women to call people to remind them of their appointments.  and lo, we had a new, all-names-listed directory inside of six months.

All of which is to say that there are a lot of different types of power, and the rector is only one type. When we only see that sort of explicit power, we miss a whole lot.

Tabitha, who makes her only appearance in Scripture in Acts today, is one such powerful person.  We don’t quite know who she is.  She sewed, clearly.  She made clothes.  But she wasn’t one of the apostles, Paul doesn’t list her as a church leader.  She doesn’t bankroll a ministry like Lydia will, she doesn’t go out and preach, she doesn’t write letters that become scriptures.  She….makes clothes?  That’s all we have.

And it’s not a lot, but the other intriguing clue we have is that she is described as a disciple in the Greek—the only time this word is applied to a woman in the NT.  (Note:  this is NOT the only time women acted like disciples, or went out to preach, or were demonstrably faithful.  We have the witness of Mary Magdalene, Mary and Martha of Bethany, Lydia, Phoebe, Junia, and others.  But this is the one woman who is given the Title of Disciple—which is significant.)  There is something about her which indicates the community hearing Acts would have known her as a remarkable follower of Jesus.  And that suspicion is confirmed when Peter races down to Joppa to resurrect her.—surely not a usual occurrence.  

Whatever she did, whoever she was, even though we don’t see her work, clearly she was very important.  Clearly, though unseen, she had a great influence.  And the Christian community valued her.

Now, we shouldn’t get overly starry-eyed about the early Christian community; they were better than the highly sexist Roman world, they were making progress, but they had a ways to go.  (I had a professor once that said depending on the gospel writers for feminism is somewhat like depending on Margaret Thatcher for advancing women’s rights—it kinda works, but as a strategy, it has some limitations.) 

 They still lived in a class- stratified world.  And goodness knows, they just argued with each other from jump.  However—what we see here is perhaps a moment of grace.  Where one who went unrecognized in the wider world is held up as worthy by the Christian community.  Someone who did quiet, largely unrecognized, yet faithful work is just as important as the ones who spoke in public all day long.  

It’s hard not to read this story this week and think of Rachel Held Evans.  The unassuming words of a young woman that she didn’t expect to amount to much, first posted on her blog, but ten years later, when she died, thousands upon thousands of us held them up to each other to mourn what we’d lost.  Politicians and presiding bishops wrote eulogies.  Think pieces appeared in the news to analyze her impact.  So many of my fellow female clergy gave Rachel credit for sending us to seminary in the first place.  All from her words, humble as they were, about what she thought about God and life.  

God wants us to use our words, our voices, however small we assume they are, because God needs all of us, sees all of us.  The parts of ourselves we assume to be insignificant, or broken, or even damaging, God needs because it fills in the wider picture of creation–and may be someone else’s connection to God.

So long, and thanks for all the fish

This sermon was given in the immediate proximity of the San Diego synagogue shooting. One of the aspects of that horror that didn’t get covered much was the religious affiliation of the perpetrator. He was a young, white Presbyterian. He was a devout attender of the Presbyterian Church of America–a breakaway group of the PC(USA), and in his writings, used what he had heard in that church to justify his murders.


Here’s what I said (in notes form)

Intro?  Douglas Adams? So long, and thanks for all the fish.

I feel it appropriate today to call upon the little-known theologian, Douglas Adams.  Douglas Adams, you are probably familiar with from his great masterpiece, Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, wherein he ruminates on the chaotic nature of existence, the necessity of humor, and the importance of towels.  You may not, however, be aware of the theological nature of this work.  WELL.

You may recall that the story begins with the demolition of the earth, to make way for a bypass through the galaxy—and that immediately prior to this demolition, scientists notice that all dolphins on earth suddenly rise up, make some squeaky sounds, and fly off into the air.  Adams explains that the squeaks, properly translated, mean “So long, and thanks for all the fish”, as dolphins are the smartest creatures in existence, and long knew the bypass had been planned, so were making their escape.  

They take leave of their trainers and scientists with this friendly goodbye—so long!  And thanks for all the fish!

Now, I know, it may not seem like it has anything to do with the gospel, but here you would be wrong.  So long, and thanks for all the fish basically sums up what we are called to in the resurrection life of the Body of Christ.  

For one thing, nearly every time the resurrected Jesus appears to his disciples, he eats with them.  At Emmaus, he breaks bread with them, and that’s when the disciples finally recognize him.  In the locked room, the disciples are hiding, and Jesus enters, and asks for something to eat.  And here, Jesus spies the disciples fishing, and cooks them breakfast.  A breakfast of fish.  on the beach.  And he feeds them.  There is a lot of feeding happening in these resurrection appearances.  Both to make the narrative point that the newly-alive Jesus is physically alive, and not a ghost, and because it’s a form of caretaking.  Jesus is caring for his disciples.  They’re eating together. Here, Jesus is doing a very strange thing, in that everywhere else in the gospel of John, Jesus is preaching, and teaching, or doing some specific sign.  Here, Jesus just feeds them.  Here guys!  You’re hungry!  Have some breakfast!

But the crux of this story is the conversation over breakfast.  Jesus, as everyone has helped themselves, turns to Peter, and asks him “Simon, do you love me?”  Peter is thrown but says “Yes!”  Jesus says, “Feed my sheep.”  Three times this gets repeated, til Peter gets downright offended and hurt, with Jesus emphasizing, if you love me, feed my sheep.  

There’s a take on this that it may be a way to ritually undo Peter’s denial of Jesus.  He denied him three times; now he affirms him three times.  But it also goes deeper than that; Jesus, in the last story we have in John’s gospel, is reminding Peter of the commandment he laid down back on Maundy Thursday:  love one another as I have loved you.  If you love me, you will go and do likewise.  You love me, Peter?  Then you will do as I have done.  Then you will love and care for other people.  

Peter is recognized as a leader in the church as early as Acts—and these are his marching orders.  Do you love Jesus?  Then love people.  Care for them.  IF you want to claim to love Jesus, then you have to love those he loved, and care for those he cared for. 

These are the marching orders Jesus gives his disciples:  so long—go and feed each other.  That’s your job now.  And these are the marching orders he gives us too.  

If you think back to the services of Holy Week, they were literally when we were passed the torch.  On Maundy Thursday, we heard Jesus tell the disciples, go and wash feet!  Go and love one another as I have loved you!  We washed each other’s feet….but if you noticed, the liturgy…didn’t really end.  There’s no dismissal at the end of Maundy Thursday—the liturgy is basically interrupted by the stripping of the altar and we leave in silence.  Then, on Good Friday, there’s no opening, no acclamation.  We immediately start with the collect of the day, with a bare altar, and tell the Passion story.  Because the liturgy never really stopped.

Then, right after we hear the story of the crucifixion—we pray.  We pray for everyone and everything—we pray for the world, and the church, and for people who are mad at the world and the church, and for suffering people, and for literally everything. In liturgical time, as we recall the death of Jesus, we also take up the task that Jesus left to us.  We begin to care for the world he died for, as we recall his death.

So this is our task, as followers of Christ.  A task so important that we rehearse its beginning every Holy Week, as we try to carry it out in the world.  God gives into our hands the job of caring for the world as God redeems it.  That’s how we show our love for Christ.  We care for those around us.

There is no way to extricate those two.  

Everything we do, say, are in the world.

It’s our lens in the world.  It’s our motto.  

theology that harms, that damages God’s creation cannot be of Christ, because Christ sends us out—so long, and thanks for all the fish!  Go forth, and feed the world!  Go out, and care for everyone!  You love me? Go care for those in this world I love. That’s your job. Go out, and care for all these. Peter, you love me, do you? Take care of these people. You all claim to love and follow me? Then love and care for those around you. Even the ones you dislike. Even the ones who worry you. Even the ones you’d rather not sit next to. Take care of them, if you love me.

There is no way to separate love of God from love of neighbor. You cannot love God while hurting your neighbor. If we love Jesus, we have to feed his sheep.

Sermon Dump, 2019

Well, friends, it is again the summer. And because it is the summer, that means I have gotten woefully behind on sermon-posting.

And so, it is time again for that summer custom, the Sermon Dump! Where I just post All the sermons, All at once, with minimal commentary, except where I absolutely cannot help myself.



I preached on Sunday, and we’ll get to that in another post.

But first, I want to talk about Rachel Held Evans.

I never met her, and never really talked with her. I read her books, and her blog. I followed her on Twitter, and she replied to me a few times (which triggered hours of shrieking.) In any logical sense, I didn’t know her.

But when I read her accounts of growing up in the church, questioning her faith, wanting to find a better way–I found myself convinced that she had been reading my mind, somehow. When she talked about her experiences as a young woman with opinions in the church, and how few people knew what to make of her, I put so many underlines and highlights in my copy that it bled through the pages. “Yes!” I thought, “I’m not the only one! She’s like me!”

Tragically, inexplicably, she’s gone now. She died over the weekend, leaving a bereft husband, two tiny children, and a legacy we’re only beginning to understand. She was only 37.

My little corner of the world is in deep mourning. So many clergywomen and progressive Christian friends are heartbroken right now. Not just because Rachel was great at elevating the voices of LGBTQ+ folks and POC that the church has been historically bad at hearing (she was), and not just because she was honestly as humble and generous as her writing made her seem–but I think because she was one voice that showed all of us that we weren’t alone.

This job gets lonely. Not in a “I am stranded on an island!” way, but in a “Wow, I am the only one dealing with all this” sort of way. Problems of leading a church crop up, many of them are confidential, and it’s not always easy to find people who understand how emotional you may get over how much electricity capacity your building currently has, coupled with the frustrating theology being cited by some random congressman on the TV.

When you add onto that the constant, nagging mosquito-bite-itch of being a young woman, of being told in a million ways explicit and implicit that your voice doesn’t matter, that your job is to look pretty and stand over there, please, that Jesus only took men seriously, that women who want to preach are what destroy church unity, you know, that maybe ordained women are ok, but goodness, you aren’t going to keep your hair long, are you?—that loneliness becomes acute. Not only are you lonely, you’re also quite probably a weirdo.

Part of what I valued so deeply about Rachel was how she unabashedly cheered us on. No matter what else was going on, or who else was talking, I could always think to myself, “Ok, but Rachel will say something brilliant and incisive, and she’ll represent us all so well.” She was out there being so awesome, doing such good work, and because she was, I, and so many of us, could feel less alone. Like less of a weirdo.

We get to do that for each other now. We get to show up for each other (especially for LGBTQ folks, and POC, and women). We get to pat each other on the back, remind one another to use the voices God gave us, and cheer each other on.

Because as Rachel taught us: we aren’t alone. We aren’t weirdos. God formed us because someone out there needs these stories. In Rachel’s memory, we need to share them.

Easter Staring Contest!

Easter is like Christmas, in that there is a great temptation to cram in the entirety of Christianity 101 just because you have all these people in front of you who aren’t usually there.

The additional problem of Easter, however, is that it is the emotional conclusion to a story that the liturgy has been building to for the past few days, and 90% of the congregation hasn’t been there for it. So their emotional base is going to be different–even apart from the usual mishmash of the variety of baggage people carry into church.

Me, I decided to double down on what God’s redemption means, and how we see it in the world. I wanted to give people who might be walking in our doors for the first time to have a real taste of who St. John’s was, and the sort of Jesus we talked about around here–not a spiffed-up one for Easter morning.

Also, I really wanted to work in the line about the disciples’ starting the continuing tradition of disbelieving women.

Here’s what I said.

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

April 21, 2019

Easter Day, Year C

John 21

I drive by this one corner on Cayuga Street every day on my commute to work, where there’s this forsythia bush—a big one.  And every day, for the past few months, I’ve sort of glared at it, as I’ve passed.  I stare at the twisted branched intently, kind of slow down a bit each time, squinting to see if I can make out any hint or teeny sign of something that might be called a blossom.  Hoping by my force of will, that I can produce spring, just by snarling up traffic and glaring intently at some bare twigs.  

Spoiler: this doesn’t work. I do not, through my random acts of stubbornness, have the power to make the weather warmer, or speed up the cycles of nature.  However, this knowledge doesn’t stop me.  I still stare at the forsythia bush each time I see it, wanting to catalogue all the tiny changes that announce spring’s arrival, out of the barrenness of winter.  But really, I am aware it arrives without my help at all.  I didn’t produce it; I just witness it.

I don’t know what Mary Magdalene expected when she ventured forth, early on the first day of the week. I don’t know what she was hoping to find.  Perhaps she was consciously trying to keep her expectations limited—caring for the bodies of the dead was (and is) very important in that time and cultural context, and Jesus, after all, had been executed at the whim of the Roman occupiers.  It was both vitally important that someone friendly care for him after death, and very likely that his humiliation had continued through his burial.  So Mary Magdalene raced to bury him properly.  Anoint him properly. See what a horrible job the disciples had done of their ONE JOB, maybe.  No one had had time to do this between the terror of the crucifixion on Friday, worry about being arrested themselves, then the Sabbath, and now.  

So she went, to attend to her friend and teacher’s burial, to witness whatever new indignity life had in store now.  

And just as she is overcome with tears, at the prospect of losing even Jesus’ body, she encounters Jesus himself, alive and well, calling her name. 

The resurrection sneaks up on her, this inbreaking of God’s reign into the depth of Mary’s despair.  Of course she didn’t expect it—who would?  Finding someone who was dead having come back to life is not in the course of human experience.  And yet—there it was.  God bringing new, triumphant life out of horror and sadness. Jesus, calmly looking at her, same as always, and yet entirely, unspeakably different.   God’s powerful love bursting out of that tomb, and proving to be stronger than all the injustice and humiliation that even the Roman Empire can throw at it.

So, she races back to tell the other disciples—I have seen the Lord! He is risen! And the disciples, standing in a troublesome tradition that continues to our very day, cheerfully disbelieve the woman’s testimony. 

And I joke, but again—it’s not all that surprising.  Because, like the Spanish Inquisition, the resurrection is something no one expects.  It is not in our vocabulary in this life.  Our vocabulary, the disciples’ vocabulary, was and is shaped by the empires we inhabit—so the disciples expected, like Mary Magdalene, that Rome had stolen the body to further humiliate it.  (He was a political criminal, after all.)  The disciples expected that they would be arrested any minute as fellow conspirators, they thought that their best bet was to stay indoors, locked away and hidden because that was safer, and they thought that this woman must have lost her mind—because that’s what the empire had taught them.  That some voices are more important than others, that some lives are just more valuable than others, and so justice, right and wrong, all the rest, will be played out on these terms.  There’s no point in hoping for anything more. 

Perhaps that’s why, then, Mary Magdalene goes alone to the tomb, early that morning.  Perhaps that’s why she only can convince Peter and John to go after she tells them her news.  Perhaps the other disciples were still too reluctant to hope, too hesitant to want to risk witnessing either something amazing, or something heartbreakingly disappointing.  

But—when Peter and John are brave enough to go, they, too, witness the Resurrection.  They,too, find, in place of the disappointment and grief they have learned to expect, God’s new life bursting forth.  Once they summon the courage to venture forth, and look.  

Resurrection is decidedly God’s action.  God makes it happen, and only God can bring something good out of the wreck we make sometimes of this world.  God alone can redeem our messes, and yet on Easter, that’s just what we proclaim that God has done.  

Our job, then, is to be brave enough to go out and determinedly look for resurrection, even when it seems unlikely.  Even as the world around us seems constantly trapped in a state of Good Friday, even as we seem perpetually stuck in a cycle of hatred, injustice, oppression, and division, today, we see Jesus emerge from that tomb, and recall again that no matter what is happening in our world now, that God has already assured us that none of the forces that plague us will have the final world.  God alone will have the final world.  In Christ’s resurrection on this day, God has sealed the deal—the forces of evil, the forces of death: the forces of racism, sexism, homophobia, bigotry, poverty, hatred—these will not haunt us forever.  God will defeat them in the end.  As followers of Christ, we need to cling to that empty tomb, and be brave enough to witness it.  Be brave enough to venture out to the tombs of our world—the places with the most hurt.  Be brave enough to go out in the early morning with our spices, hoping to do a little good, bring a little comfort.  Be courageous enough to watch and wait, and do what we can, until one day, through our patience, and witness, we, with Mary, will see the glory of God blazing forth triumphant, and all creation will give back the song—Alleluia, Christ is risen!  


Dirty Feet

Last year, Holy Week was my first week at St. John’s. (Weirdly, I recommend this method of starting as a rector. Provided you have enough coffee.) But it meant I basically was hanging on by my teeth the whole time, and stumbling around, praying someone would point me in the right direction.

This year, people kept asking if I Had Opinions. What would I change? What would I upend? It took me a while, but finally, I decided—footwashing!

For whatever reason, the parish previously had no practice of foot washing. None. Zip. Nada. This, I decided, would be the Big Change. This, we would tackle!

So, I asked anyone I could think of who might have Strong Liturgical Opinions–what think you of foot washing? Some said, yes, absolutely! Others said, yes, please describe it in Latin! (Anglo-Catholic streak in our region.) Others said, never done it before, sounds awkward and uncomfortable, but worth a shot!

So here is my “We’re going to wash feet!” sermon.

I should tell you that I expected maybe 5 people to do it–roughly the people whom I had talked into doing it beforehand. About 30 people came forward. Over half the congregation.

I’m so freaking proud of my parish.

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

April 18, 2019

Maundy Thursday, Year C


I think everyone knows I have a strong fondness for shoes, yes?  I do. They are my favorite.  I have an absurd number of shoes in my closet, I follow the Shoe Museum in Canada—a thing that exists!—on Twitter, and until this past year, was fairly proud of not owning a pair of sneakers.  (The fact that I now own Merrills and actually wear them is thanks to my husband.)

Feet, on the other hand.  Feet are awful.  So much so, that part of the reason I like shoes so much is because shoes manage to turn something I am self-conscious about (my feet) into something I can enjoy looking at.    

But think about it—feet are intrinsically awkward.  They get beat up from carrying us around all the time.  They smell, usually.  They get dirty fast.  They develop calluses, and odd growths.  If you have any sort of chronic illness, chances are your feet will bear some symptoms of it.  They’re like your hands, only much less useful.  No one wants to see someone else’s feet.

In the ancient world, of course, these issues were heightened.  In a time before regular street cleaning was the norm, people were walking all over creation in open sandals, so their feet picked up all manner of thing.  It was customary, upon entering someone’s house for dinner, for a servant to wash the feet of the guest, as a gesture of hospitality—and of basic cleanliness (you don’t know what those feet have walked in.). 

But not just any servant; the lowest guy on the totem pole.  It was a humiliating task—the sort of task you assigned to a servant that your guests could feel absolutely comfortable ignoring.  A complete nobody.  

So at the Last Supper, in the Fourth Gospel, the disciples are having a very understandable reaction to Jesus.  They’re all having a nice friendly dinner, and all of a sudden, he gets up from the head of the table, and STARTS WASHING THEIR FEET.  Something that is awkward enough, but when your beloved and respected teacher does it? Ew.  No. Jesus is Jesus.  Jesus should not have to endure everyone’s feet!  They want to protect him from their weird feet!

As always, it is Peter who serves as the disciples’ collective Id.  Peter who first refuses to let Jesus wash his feet, and then, when Jesus explains that that won’t work, goes entirely the other way—Then wash EVERYTHING!  Peter may not exactly understand what is happening here.

But after he washes their feet, Jesus turns to the disciples and says, “Do you know what I have done to you?  You call me teacher and you are right, for so I am.  If I have done this for you, you also should go and do likewise.”  The command to wash feet is one of the most direct we get in the gospel—and we get very little in the way of straight talking from Jesus in the gospels.  But he tells us to go and do likewise.  Go, wash feet!  Go, and do it!

When Jesus washes the disciples’ feet, he enters in to their deepest vulnerabilities, and shame, and sits with them there.  He lovingly attends to their brokenness and their awkwardness, the places where they are ashamed and wounded, and he comforts them.  He serves them in their least pretentious humanity.  

They, in turn, have to learn how to be open enough to receive that care.  How to be vulnerable enough to allow Christ to minister to them, even in the places where they would rather not acknowledge at all.  And then, they have to learn how to go out and serve others, as dirty and as awkward as they were, who also need their feet washed.  

Jesus told them to go and do likewise, so we, here, tonight are going to do just that.  In a moment, once I get done talking (!), I’m going to walk down there and stand at the foot of the stairs with water and a basin.  And I invite you, if you’d like to, to come forward, so I can wash your feet.  And I know that may sound awkward and embarrassing and it is!  That’s kinda the deal.  Christ calls us into awkward and embarrassing places and meets us there,

But not only that:  once I wash your feet, you will then turn, and wash the feet of the person behind you in line.  Then they will get up, turn, and wash the feet of the person behind them. And so on, and so on.  Because the gift that Jesus gives us is that we learn both to receive and to give in love. And we are going to try that out, right here, right now.

Liturgy is, after all, meant to be an acting out of God’s reign—a sort of practice of how we are meant to be in the world.  We try out our identity as God’s icons here, as we worship, and then we head out into the world and do it for real.  So tonight, we are going to try out what Jesus has asked us to do, to bear with each other in the mess of our humanity, in our very awkwardness and vulnerability, as Jesus does for each of us, and then, we’re going to head out into the darkness of the night outside, and wash the feet of the world for real.


Palm Sunday

I heard someone (I think it was Dr. Amy- Jill Levine) say years ago, that we like to think that the Holy Week liturgies speak for themselves, but they don’t. They speak loudly, but unless you consciously unpack what they say, and what people hear, you run the serious risk of adding another reinforcing layer of the culturally-Christian-miasma that we all swim in as Americans right now, instead of pointing out how our liturgies and stories subvert it.

Palm Sunday is, for me, the touchiest. On a personal note, the day has immense meaning for me. On a cultural, historical note, the day where Christian communities gather to tell and act out the Passion story has scary echoes in a world where white supremacist terrorism is emboldened yet again. If we don’t take pains to lift up how subversive these stories are, other voices will step in, and interpret them for us.

So here’s what I said.

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

April 14, 2019

Palm Sunday, Year C


And here we have it—the foundational story.  In the gospel of Mark, the description of the last week of Jesus’ life takes up easily half of the gospel.  In Luke, it’s less, but the impact is no less.  In the course of our liturgical year, everything has been leading towards this—all of Lent, the slow march after Christmas, we have turned our faces towards Jerusalem along with Jesus.  

At the beginning of this service, we channel the triumphant entry as Jesus arrives in Jerusalem.  We wave palms, and shout Hosanna to the highest heaven!  Hosanna!  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!  We reenact what the crowd did as Jesus rode into the holy city on a donkey, praising him, and praising God, who sends salvation.  

But the giddiness wears off quickly, and by the time we get to the Gospel reading of the passion narrative, we hear where the week ends up.  The palms are put away; the shouts are silenced, and Jesus is arrested, betrayed, and killed by the powers that be.

There’s a common enough way to hear this Palm Sunday story—that is to hear it as a story of the crowd.  It’s the crowd’s fault, we think, this inconstant crowd that first celebrates Jesus as he rides into town, and then turns on him at the trial before Pilate.  How faithless!, we are told.  How fickle they were!  We must not be like the crowd of Jerusalem!  

The fickleness of the human heart is an important failing to reflect on, to be sure.  However, as it is played out in the Passion narrative, it can be a dangerous one to dwell on overmuch. Historically, the story of the Passion has specifically been used to stir up antiJewish hatred.  People would watch passion plays in the middle ages, then so frequently go out and commit acts of violence against their Jewish neighbors that they began to be banned as early as the mid 14th century.  Even today, in our own time, In Kansas City, a few years ago, a man attacked the Jewish Community Center on Palm Sunday afternoon.  This story, and the way we as Christians tell it, has baggage.  This story has been used to damage and hurt, rather than to lift up and heal.  So we must be conscious and careful.

In point of fact, John Dominic Crossan argues that our assumptions about the crowd may be faulty.  He points out that the Passover was a well-known festival with political overtones, and Pilate was a notorious tyrant.  We know that the Romans always upped security around the high holy days in Jerusalem anyway.  And Passover was particularly sensitive—if you’re Pilate, you do not want mass gatherings of zealous faithful, recalling how God delivered them that time from foreign oppression.  They might get rebellious ideas.  

So the likelihood that Pilate would have allowed a mass gathering to greet Jesus as he entered the city at the start of Passover is quite small.  The word translated “crowd” here just signifies “more than two.”  In art, in our minds, we think of this scene as being a popular demonstration—but more likely, if they wanted to avoid immediate arrest, it was a small gathering of friends.

Likewise, when Jesus goes before Pilate, and the crowd shouts for his crucifixion—again, it’s the same Greek word.  We’re looking at any gathering larger than two people here.  And again, Pilate, notorious grump, is not going to allow any gathering of any size anywhere near his fortress.  Pilate—it’s worth noting—was such a despot that Rome actually had enough of him and recalled him in 36CE.  THAT’s how mean and terrible he was.  Even the Empire thought he needed to cool his jets a bit.

All of which is to say—it’s not the same crowd.  It’s not like the general inhabitants of Jerusalem adored Jesus one moment, and despised him the next.  Instead, what we are left with is a much more complicated situation.

We are left with collaborating religious leaders who want to save their own power.  Oppressive rulers who just care about order—but not what makes for peace, wholeness, or tranquility.  And a system that churns up the children of God as it runs along.  

The injustice that culminates in the crucifixion of Jesus is easier to swallow if it can be neatly pinned on one person, or one discreet group of people.  It was Pilate’s fault! It was Caiaphas’ fault! It was the crowd, it was Judas, it was the Romans, it was the soldiers, it was the one guy who always looked kinda suspicious.

Truth is, though, the sin that nailed Christ to the cross can’t be pinned to one person or group.  The sin that put Christ on the cross was the result of entire systems that everyone contributed to.  Entire ways of being that kept the world spinning, yet relied on daily injustice to keep going.  Systems that, in the words of Abraham Heschel, no one is responsible for, but where everyone is guilty.  To preserve the status quo, to preserve the world as it was, to preserve the lives that everyone knew and enjoyed—Jesus was hung on a cross.  Because of the sin of the entire world.  

Christ came into the world preaching the reign of God—a reign that fundamentally destablized everything.  Such a reign as he preached would have altered everything, every person’s life.  To make the last, first would have changed so much—the world can not allow it.  

The sin that condemns Jesus on that day so long ago still haunts us.  We live in a broken world that humanity has shattered over generations, and now the brokenness extends past what we ourselves can fix.  The brokenness is in the air we breathe, the assumptions we make, the water we swim in.  We live in Palm Sunday day in and day out.

Yet this is not where God leaves us.  God does not leave us condemned to the wreckage we make of God’s creation.  Even after our sin tries its best, Easter shows us that nothing can permanently stop God and God’s redemption.  Out of the darkness of this present hour, God’s love will come blazing forth ever more radiant.  We may be standing in Holy Week, but if we just wait in faith, God will bring us into Easter’s triumph.