Sunday, April 09, 2006

Palm Sunday reflections

It could be coincidental, but I think not. That tomorrow's nationwide demonstration on behalf of immigrants comes the next day after Palm Sunday. I don't think the timing was intentional on the part of those responsible for planning this event, but I have no way to know. However it came to pass, the timing strikes me as more than an accident of the calendar.

The Christian significance of Palm Sunday has in recent years been underscored in many congregations by a paritcipatory liturgy which involves having members of the congregation respond to questions posed from the pulpit as though they were not modern Christians but ordinary people in the street at the time just before the crucifixion.

As the Passion account is being read from one of the synoptic Gospels, there is a moment when Pilate asks the crowd what to do with Jesus. After his own personal examination he has found nothing for which he should be killed, so he turns the matter over to the crowd, whereupon they yell out "Crucify him! Crucify him!" It is a powerful moment when you find yourself reading those words aloud as part of the congregation. You realize at that moment that by doing so you become one of those participating in an execution, the execution of Jesus! No matter how often it is read, it is always a shocking reminder that we do that very thing almost every day we live.

Here are a couple of items to reflect on today with tomorrow's events in mind.

The first is a reflection by Frederick Buechner I came across via a comment left at a blog that I have been following. It is a story within a story within a story. Take time to read it carefully so that you don't get the stories mixed up. It is worth the short time it takes to slow down to pay attention. Here is a tickler:

A few years later, she returned to the Bay Area and remembering this friendship, she called up the man and said, "It is Maya Angelou. I'm back again. I would love to pick up our friendship where we left it off. I enjoyed you so much before."

He said, "Terrific. Let me tell you a little bit about what I have been doing during the interval."

He had been in Europe working with the problems of the American troops stationed over there.

She said, "How did it go?"

He said, "The black troops have a particularly hard time because they are black and there aren't many blacks around. But our boys, also..."

She said, "What did you say?"

He said, "The black troops have a particularly difficult time for various reasons but our boys, also..."

She said, "What did you say?"

A third time she went through it. All of a sudden, as she described it, he, himself, heard what he said and said in effect, "This is the most awful thing I have ever done. I can't continue the conversation. I have got to hang up, to have said such a thing to you, Maya Angelou, 'the black boys, our boys.'"

She said, "No. This is just why we must talk because that is what racial prejudice is. Beneath the superficial liberal utterance, there is the deep, ingrained sense of 'black boys, our boys.'"

Nonetheless, they continued the conversation and agreed to meet.

What happened then was she tried a number of times to get hold of them, to meet him and see him and his wife. Again and again, the calls didn't go through. She left messages which weren't answered and finally the whole thing just fizzled out. So that was, in a way, her answer to the question, "How about racism?"

It moved her and upset her and that was the last question she took that day.

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The second reading is this poem, also by Maya Angelou. (You will catch the reference above from the second comment.)

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own back yard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling
I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Something about poetry enlarges the experience of an individual to exemplify the collective experience of a people. And by the same dynamic, the experiences of one people can come to exemplify the experience of all mankind.

As the news reports play across tomorrow's screens, as the predictable vitriolic words of condemnation come spilling out of well-meaning pundits writing from the comfort and safety of their respective habitats, reflect on these words. And recall the image of the mob as it cries out to Pilate, "Crucify him! Crucify him!"


angevoix said...

Great Post! I am really pressed for time right now as I am preparing to go out of the country, but I will explore your blog in depth when I return!

Anonymous said...

You are an inspiration to this over educated lay person!! It is so good to see some wonderful theological expression that is deep and meaningful, yet simple to understand by all.

Thank you.