2023 04 02 Palm Sunday
Following on from what I wrote last week about The National Conference on the Constitution, some very true words were spoken by Adv. Tembeka Ngcukaitobi:
“I hear a lot of scepticism and dismissal of constitutionalism as a concept – sort of embedded in some of these remarks. I want to take them seriously that there is a sense of constitutional scepticism, but I want to consider a possible alternative to constitutional nihilism …
Consider a different perspective.
My own experience – having studied and lived in this country – is that if you destroy the rule of law, what you are left with is a state of chaos. People who benefit from a state of chaos are people with money and guns.
A state without the rule of law never benefits the poor, but the promise of the big man, you know who promises you a different future if you destroy the rule of law, is always that things will be better, but they never are.
So we have to sustain the rule of law for the poor, but not any kind of rule of law, but a rule of law that is grounded in justice, not to sustain it for the rich, but to sustain it for the poor. And we’ve got to understand that if we destroy the rule of law we destroy it primarily for the poor and we benefit the elites who pretend they are acting for the poor, but they are simply exploiting the poor by deploying their language, but ultimately what they are interested in is themselves.
So whenever someone uses constitutional nihilism as an entry point in the debate we have to be very, very concerned about what their true agenda is. So I am very sceptical about claims about selling out and very sceptical about the claims for constitutional nihilism.”
[Interesting trivia: Tembeka Ngcukaitobi was born on the 25th December 1976. Use it, don’t use it].
Now as we look forward to next week – Holy Week – we will be reminded of the story of Jesus’ anointing with costly perfumed oil. In John’s telling of this story, we hear Judas complain about the wastage and how it should have been sold and the money given to the poor. John adds a whisper to the reader regarding Judas’ motive: “Judas said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief…” This points to Ngcukaitobi’s insight about how there are certain “big men – elites – who pretend they are acting for the poor”. Yet, as he says: “… they are simply exploiting the poor by deploying their language, but ultimately what they are interested in is themselves”. Sounds like Judas would have fitted in well with those who wear RET (Radical Economic Transformation) T-shirts. The ancient story remains disturbingly relevant to our days!
During Holy Week (Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday evenings) we will be investigating who killed Jesus – but looking at some of the hidden players.
Spoiler alert: it was us. Not them. It is us.
Pussy Riot perform “Punk Prayer” in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour
Palm Sunday was an act of political performance art. The purpose of political performance art is to expose the powers. Exposing the powers to protest the powers. To hold up a mirror to them. To take the micky out of them. It is basically to declare: “The emperor has no clothes”.
Political performance art is all about symbolism and timing and place. Jesus was a whizz at this stuff. He knew how to put his finger on the political nerve of the Roman regime as we will find out again this Palm Sunday. The palm waving parade, complete with a Zechariah inspired donkey ride was political theatre at its best. This was immediately followed by Jesus’ dramatic performance shakedown of the religious powers in showing how to deep clean a state-captured-temple.
Jesus’ performance art would secure his execution for sure. Having peeved off both political and religious big wigs – it was a no brainer that they would come together to vote in favour of his killing. The state would supply the wood and nails and the religious establishment would guarantee divine approval.
It is a dangerous thing to dig up and expose the powerlines of any oppressive regime. Here are a few more recent examples of political performance art. Some explicit. Some more subtle. Some planned long in advance. Some spontaneous.
See the beginnings of the #RhodesMustFall student movement,
with Chumani Maxwele who threw poo on the UCT Rhodes Statue.
He describes in detail all the symbolism that informed the
See Pope Francis spontaneously stop and pray at the Apartheid-Israel wall soon after
praying at the Jerusalem’s Western wall.
And then finally some protest theatre against State Capture way back on 12 May 2013 wonderfully coinciding with Ascension Day. I officiated at a wedding. The couple have been in love for a long time and finally decided to come out in the open and get married.
See 2013 State Capture performance protest from civil society organisations in the city of Cape Town.
Grace and peace to you
The tradition of palm branches on Palm Sunday originates with the Jewish festival of Sukkoth, also called the Festival of the Tabernacles or Booths, which was probably the most popular holiday among the Jews in the first century. In the observance of Sukkoth, worshippers processed through Jerusalem and in the Temple, waving in their right hands something called a lulab, which was a bunch of leafy branches made of willow, myrtle and palm. As they waved these branches in that procession, the worshippers recited words from Psalm 118, the psalm normally used at Sukkoth. Among these words were “Save us, we beseech you, O Lord.” Save us in Hebrew is hosianna or hosanna. This is typically followed by “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” (Ps 118:25–6)
Palm Sunday might be one of the moments of the year when that peculiar lingering bittersweetness of the Gospel is strongest. If you’re anything like me, Palm Sunday – or rather, Holy Week, brings up a weird feeling. It’s a time when I grapple about the death of Jesus and why he died. Lent is almost over. Only a few days remain until Good Friday. The entry of Jesus into Jerusalem signals a shift towards the end. As Christians we continue to journey with Jesus. This week we will focus on the death of Jesus and what that means for us today. Palm Sunday begins that reflection. I am also reminded that I, too, am like the maddening crowd. Will I shout hosannas with the disciples or will I be silent as the Pharisees ask?
As I reflect upon that this week, I am reminded of the simple lyrics of this beautiful song:
Beyond this lifetime
Beyond this darkness there’s light
Your cross is shining
So people open your eyes
These chains are breaking
Your love is shaking us free
A great awakening
This world will finally see
the cross stands above it all
Burning bright in this life
The cross towers over it all
One hope, One deliverer
Saviour reigning high above it all
Christ has overcome
It is finished, He has won
Christ has overcome
We’re standing strong
© Tim Hughes, Nick Herbert, Ben Cantelon, Matt Redman
Peace and love,
Grace to you
We can tell a great deal about someone by the prayers they pray. This is true especially when trouble is in the air or in the soul.
In last Sunday’s scripture reading [John 12] we read that no sooner had Jesus spoken of being troubled – did he begin to pray. He prayed not to be saved from his troubles, but rather: “Father glorify your name”. He refused to center his prayer on himself, but rather on the true center of his being – the one he knew as Father – the Parental Love that holds all life together.
Last week I read out the prayer of another who lived during troubled times – Etty Hillesum – a young Jewish woman from Amsterdam who was killed at age 27 in Auschwitz in 1943. She too refused to center her prayers on herself. She prayed not to be saved but rather to “take care of God” and to “guard” that place in her where God dwells.
A week before she was killed, Etty prayed:
“I shall promise you one thing, God, just one very small thing: I shall never burden my today with cares about tomorrow, although that takes some practice. Each day is sufficient unto itself.
I shall try to help you, God, to stop my strength ebbing away, though I cannot vouch for it in advance. But one thing is becoming increasingly clear to me: that you cannot help us; that we must help ourselves. And that is all we can manage these days and also all that really matters: that we safeguard that little piece of you, God, in ourselves. And perhaps in others as well.
Alas, there doesn’t seem to be much you yourself can do about our circumstances, about our lives. Neither do I hold you responsible. You cannot help us, but we must help you and defend your dwelling place inside us to the last … You are sure to go through lean times with me now and then, when my faith weakens a little, but believe me, I shall always labour for you and remain faithful to you and I shall never drive you from my presence.“
Perhaps we can begin to pray for our prayers to center less on ourselves and more on others and the Divine Lover of all. A simple prayer may get us going: “Make my prayer less about me …” Perhaps this will lead us to salvation. Salvation as in: saved from the need to be saved – which is what this next week – Holy Week – is all about. If we want to save our life we will lose it, but if we can give it away for Love’s sake – we will find it.
Grace and gratitude,
Right now, in this point in history, there are people naming that the movements organizing for change are different than they were during the Civil Rights years or in the height of the Anti-Apartheid Struggle. The Black Lives Matters Movement describes themselves to be a “leader—full” movement and the students organizing through Fees Must Fall are organized in a similar fashion. There is something about this type of organization that speaks to a hope for decentralized power, for more voices at the table, for a multiplication of message. If these movements sustain themselves in this fashion, we will be witnessing the birth of something very new in the world.
There is always the need sometimes for one—one voice—one message—one call—that leads a people towards “the good” even if it is a nestled voice in the midst of many.
This one that I speak of must have space to rise in the midst of the many to be heard. Tracing through human history, the voices that rose to be heard were the voices of the marginalized. From the depths of the crucibles of their lives wisdom rose and was known in the world. The great struggle songs were born in the trials of life where people were formed and shaped in communities that knew what it was like to share life together, no matter the challenges before them, and they knew what it was like to have a song alive inside of them.
“We Shall Overcome” was a slave song. They would sing it in the fields as they worked. The first use in a political nature is traced to 1945 in Charleston, South Carolina in a strike against the American Tobacco Company. The workers were fighting for higher wages. They were being paid only 45 cents an hour. Some of the leaders from Charleston went to meet with leaders in Tennessee at a center called Highlander. The philosophy of Highlander was that “the people who have the problems are the ones who have the answers.” They organized groups to listen across lines of division and they would always sing together. It was at Highlander that “We Shall Overcome” was birthed into a Movement Song.
One of the young people at the Justice Conference sang an amended version of a South African Hymn that some of the students are using when they organize. They have changed it to make it their own. This young woman was hesitant to sing the song when asked by the group, but when she stood and lifted her voice, the pain she was relaying, the struggle for air, for space, for freedom was evident. Movement songs have this quality about them, in that they are born in the journey of life and wrestled into being.
We gather in worship on Palm Sunday morning to sing “Hosanna.” Do we know what it means when we sing praises to the one who leads us in the crucible way? Do we know what we say when we name we will follow? There are songs that bind us together in the Christian Faith, but let us always remember that God is always giving rise to new songs. May our ears always be listening for the new God is giving birth to in the world and our spirits be open for the change it will require in us.
With you on the journey,
Grace and Peace to you
This is a sacred week. A Holy Week. This week invites deep attentiveness from each of us. Attentiveness to what it means to be human for in this week we witness the heights and depths of the human person. In Jesus we see the heights and in the crowds, rulers and scattered followers we see the depths. In Jesus we see who each of us is called to be and who we were originally designed to be. In the others we see our brokenness and waywardness – the people we too often are. In Jesus we see strength and courage against oppressive power. In the others we see expediency – a fickleness of character and the crucifixion that inevitably follows from such cowardice. In Jesus we witness a fullness of life even in his dying as he lives for something greater than himself. In those who surround him we smell decay – their humanity has died even as they continue to breathe.
I invite you to read Luke 22 – 23 every day this week. Allow the story to seep into your inner being. Go deep into each of the characters. Each character is a mirror into our own lives. To be attentive – really attentive – we need to carve out space – un-cluttered space. Turn the TV off for the week. Ditch social media. Be still. Be quiet. Go for a slow walk. Muse! Turn off your lights and light a candle. Honour this Holy Week with your attention. In our busyness our mind becomes “dull and domesticated”. So we should fight for free space and free time. As Rebeca Solnit writes:
“Musing takes place in a kind of meadowlands of the imagination, a part of the imagination that has not yet been plowed, developed, or put to any immediately practical use… Time spent is not work time yet without that time the mind becomes sterile, dull, domesticated. The fight for free space – for wilderness and public space – must be accompanied by a fight for free time to spend wandering in that space.”
~ Rebeca Solnit: Wanderlust: A History of Walking.
We are not perfect. We need forgiveness.
There is no perfect family. We don’t have perfect parents, we are not perfect, we don’t get married with a perfect person nor do we have perfect kids. We have complaints of each other. We were disappointed in each other.
Therefore, there is no healthy marriage or healthy family without the exercise of forgiveness. Forgiveness is vital to our emotional health and spiritual survival.
Without forgiveness the family becomes a theatre of conflict and a bastion of grievances. Without forgiveness the family gets sick. Forgiveness is the sterilization of the soul, the cleaning of the mind and the liberation of the heart.
Who does not forgive has no peace of soul nor communion with God. The pain is a poison that intoxicates and kills. Having a wound of the heart is a self-destructive gesture. It is autophagy [a self-degradative process]. Who does not forgive sickens physically, emotionally and spiritually. That’s why the family has to be a place of life and not of death; territory of healing and not of disease; stage of forgiveness and not of guilt.
Forgiveness brings joy where sorrow produced pain; and healing, where pain caused disease.
~ Pope Francis
“I am not perfect …
I rely on the forgiveness of others.
Others are not perfect …
they rely on my forgiveness.”
Grace and Peace to you
On Palm Sunday we witness Jesus perform some seriously prophetic (truth revealing) street theatre that hilariously screams for everyone to hear: “The Emperor is not wearing any clothes”. This prophetic tradition is continued by an amazingly imaginative Rabbi Arthur Waskow.
Last Sunday afternoon, about 150 people met – seriously and joyously – at the West End Synagogue in Manhattan for a religious service, followed by an hour of street theatre – both aimed in the spirit of Passover and Palm Sunday, at the Carbon Pharaohs of our generation, especially the Koch Brothers.
The street theatre took place near and on Lincoln Center, at the David Koch Theatre. It featured a dramatic collision between a figure costumed as Pharaoh, traveling with a Pyramid of Power and followed by a gaggle of people carrying oil cans, coal bags, etc.
Mother Earth won …
Viva Palm Sunday Protests Viva!
Picture of Cross of Nails: With gratitude and recognition to http://dogbreathsoup.deviantart.com/