Palm Sunday

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,
Nicole

Resurrection Moments

Grace to you

For those with ears to hear, do you hear the stone being rolled away? For those with eyes to see, do you see the light stretch into the tomb? With those with noses to smell, do you smell the stench of corruption being aired? We are witnessing another resurrection moment in our land. The stone is not completely rolled away by any means – but it has shifted to let a little light to squeeze in while allowing some stale air from bloated and corrupt power to leak out.

This small resurrection moment (like all resurrection) is birthed out of crucifixion when crucifixion is the consequence of a life lived truthfully in the service of love and justice. A crucifixion, like that of Jesus, is the result of living life in life-giving ways that challenge the powers-that-be who are dependent on death for their survival. Resurrection follows the willingness of a courageous few who give themselves so fully to truth that they are willing to be nailed for it.

The brave I am referring to are the whistle blowers – some of whom are still in hiding. They are the remnant of journalists and newspaper editors who tirelessly investigated, fearlessly wrote and boldly printed the truth. They include others in key positions who refused to budge from principle and bend for profit. Some of them were fired as a result. Their commitment to truth and justice is what made the Nugent Commission of Inquiry into tax administration and governance at SARS as well as the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture possible. These inquiries are what I see as a resurrection moment for our land. Through them we see death lose its sting as lies begin to bow to truth.

Many countries never come back to life from the deadliness of corruption that we have been buried in over the past couple of years. If the Gospel writers were doing the reporting they would begin with the words: “The Kingdom of God is like…” You think I am over exaggerating? Last week a Judge appeared before the SARS inquiry and confessed that his very own judgement declaring a certain investigative unit as rogue was incorrect. That is repentance with a capital ‘R’ and must be almost unprecedented. We also heard of the daring story of how a certain hard-drive carrying over 300 000 emails known for the #Guptaleaks was secretly cared for and stealthily released. Those who were intimidating the truth tellers with legal threats have been forced to drop the charges. This is of water into wine magnitude.

Moments like this are both rare and hard won. They are also not guaranteed to succeed or last. And they will provoke opposition. We can be sure that those deployed to guard the tomb will make up all sorts of stories about the body being stolen rather than embrace the new life on offer. This resurrection moment needs to be followed up by a Pentecost-like moment if it is to be sustained and spread. For we need the Spirit of truth and love to blow over us while igniting resurrection conviction and courage within us. Then perhaps we too will join the remnant of the brave who dare to seek truth and love even if it means we lose our lives (or jobs). Trusting afresh that if we want to save our lives we must give them away.

Grace,
Alan

 

The crucifixions of our time

Christ is crucified again and again … and again

On this Crucifying Friday we gather to remember Jesus’ Crucifixion that took place long ago … and as we do we gather to name and engage the crucifixions of our time. Christ is crucified again and again … and again! We know this because Jesus himself said: “What you do to the least of these you do to me.”

Jesus’ Crucifixion 2000 years ago is to be for us a lens that enables us to see clearly how crucifixion today. This is true all over the world: from the gassed children and bombed out buildings of Syria; to the fleeing families of Sudan; to the seedless farmers of India; to the grieving Coptics of Egypt; to the walled-in Palestinians of Gaza and to the humanity denying inequality of our own land.

If Jesus’ Crucifixion recorded in the gospels does not illuminate the crucifixions recorded in our newspapers each and every day then we are denying the Crucifixion of old by the way we remember it.

In this crucifying light of Christ, please read the crucifying story of Nathaniel ‘Tenni’ Davids who died at 2:40pm on 24th March … another crucifying Friday.

Grace, Alan


Hanging boy was murdered, says Mom

Crime & Courts | 27 March 2017 | Genevieve Serra | Daily Voice

Cape Town — The mother of a 12-year-old boy who was found hanging from a fence at a Cape Flats train station believes he was brutally beaten and then murdered. Police who discovered the body of little Nathaniel “Tenni’” Davids said he had committed suicide. But his family says the child’s “hands and feet were tied up”, and he had a noose tied around his neck.

He was found dangling from a vibracete fence near Netreg Station on Friday just after 2:40pm by police who were on patrol. Cops have since opened an inquest docket into his death. But some Bonteheuwel residents believe the death may be gang-related. Ward councillor Angus McKenzie says messages circulating on the social chat group Outoilet, which claim Nathaniel had been murdered, have been handed over to the police. “It is all speculation at this stage that there is gang involvement, it is all based on messages which were received from residents,” he adds.

Nathaniel, who was in Grade 5 at Bramble Way Primary School in Bonteheuwel, was last seen on his way to a nearby shop to buy biscuits. His distraught mother, Louise Davids, 43, and aunt Diana Davids, 47, say the little boy did not attend school on Friday. “He was playing with his ball and his dog, Tessa, in the street the whole morning,” says Louise. “It was just before 2pm when I sent him to buy wafers.” “A man who had come from work stopped at our home and asked us what Nathaniel had been wearing.” “We said he had on a green sweater, Nike takkies and a tracksuit pants.” “He said a boy who was hanging at the station wore that kind of clothing.” The women rushed to the scene, but were not allowed to view the boy’s body, which police had covered with a white sheet.

Police spokesperson Captain FC van Wyk confirms an inquest docket has been opened for investigation and that a post-mortem will be conducted to determine the cause of death. While police don’t suspect foul play, Louise believes her son had been murdered. “I don’t care what the people are saying on the outside. I believe this is murder and God doesn’t sleep,” the heartbroken mother of four says. “My child’s hands and feet were tied with the string you find on a keyring (lanyard), and that was also around his neck. “You tell me how is it possible that he could hang himself when there was nothing underneath his feet and how could he do it if his feet and hands were tied?”

Diana admits Nathaniel was no angel, but says he was not a gangster: “No child in this house belongs to a gang, (but) he was stout (naughty), yes.”

The Jesus Test

This picture was painted on a garage door…

Those of you who have attended Manna and Mercy will remember that the first key that we learnt to help us to live out the Scriptures in Christ-Like (life-giving) ways is to ask: “Would Jesus say amen to our interpretation?” or “Would Jesus be pleased if we were to imitate the Word as we understand it?” So for example, Samson may have killed 10 000 Philistines believing it was God who equipped him to do so, but would Jesus (who instructs us to love our enemies) say ‘Amen’ to that behaviour? Surely not, and therefore we should not be imitating Samson in our relationship with any Philistines.

This question: “Would Jesus say amen?” is a simple enough question to ask — but which Jesus are we referring to? You see the question presupposes that we know who Jesus is and what would either please him or trouble him. Our answers will largely be influenced by how we see Jesus’ overall purpose.

For example if we see Jesus’ primary purpose to secure our place in heaven — then it is likely that we are going to interpret his teachings and actions in that light. In this light the parable of the vineyard owner (Matthew 20) who kept employing labourers throughout the day and paid them all the same — would mean that no matter when we give our life to Christ (early or late) we all receive the same reward. In this heavenly light we are blinded to any relevance the parable may have with regard to the payment of a just wage on earth.

There are other “Jesus’”. Jesus the miracle worker who aims to prove the existence of God in whom we are to have faith. Jesus the ethical teacher calling us to live a morally upright life. Jesus the spiritual guru offering us inner peace. Jesus the motivational speaker promising rich rewards for doing things his way. Jesus the doomsday prophet coming to notify us of the end of the world and urgently pleading with us to repent or perish.

This can leave us confused asking: “Would the right Jesus please stand up?” To help us apply this “Jesus test” we need to remember the most important thing about Jesus’ life, namely his death. No doubt this is the reason why the Gospel writers all spend a disproportionate amount of text describing Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion. To help us have “the right Jesus to stand up” we must check whether our understanding of Jesus would give the Roman authorities and religious leaders any cause to have Jesus crucified. Why would the Romans be threatened by someone who promised to get you into heaven if you just believed in him and his heavenly father? Why would they kill him for performing miracles or teaching ethics or promising peace and prosperity. Even announcing the end of the world would not disturb them. In fact, all these “Jesus’” would probably have been welcomed by them because it would have distracted the peasant masses from their oppressive struggles and calmed their desire to revolt against the powers.

So even though there are aspects of truth in all of these pictures of Jesus, none of them even remotely account for his crucifixion and this should make us wary of holding onto any of them too tightly. If the Jesus we are praying to or preaching about was not enough of a threat to get nailed to a cross among criminals, then the odds are we are not speaking about Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus was crucified because he was a threat to the political power and economic privilege of the ruling classes. Therefore, whenever we interpret Jesus’ words and deeds we must ask how our interpretation threatens the rich and powerful — if it doesn’t, we need to look again and again…

Parables as Subversive Speech, by William R. Herzog II is a book I highly recommend to assist us in interpreting Jesus as a threat to the powers.

Grace in the disturbance, Alan