Tuesday, April 03, 2012

A Heathen Speaks on Palm Sunday


On Sunday -- April 1, 2012 -- I led the celebration at Pebble Hill Interfaith Community Church. This entailed me guiding folks through the day's agenda and delivering a message about Palm Sunday.

Given that I am an ordained Interfaith Minister as well as Certified Heathen Clergy, my first reaction upon being asked to lead the celebration was to say no. Why should I participate in such a deeply Christian event? But then I realized two things. For one, Pebble Hill -- located in Doylestown, PA -- is a truly interfaith community. Its membership is comprised of lapsed Catholics, Wiccans, Buddhists, Atheists, Neo-Pagans of every stripe, and many other flavors of "spiritual but not religious." For another, Pebble Hill is my ordaining institution. And the final thing I realized is that I could certainly contribute by focusing on the work of myth.

So, I said yes, and accepted the challenge.

Now, reading my Palm Sunday "message" is quite a different experience from hearing it. One does not speak at Pebble Hill; one speaks with Pebble Hill. But I thought I should archive it here on my blog anyway. If you have an interest in how I unpacked the Palm Sunday story, read on after the break ...

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“What Could a Heathen Say about Palm Sunday?”


The Bulletin says here I’m going to talk about Palm Sunday. That’s funny because I’m probably one of the last people who could be expected to speak in a church on this topic. You see, the “heathen” in the title refers to me. I am an interfaith minister, but my personal spiritual path is the revived traditions of my Germanic and Scandinavian ancestors. It has many names – Asatru … Odinism … Heathenry – the particulars of practice kind of dictate what folks call it.

But the bottom line is that I have not observed, let alone celebrated, Palm Sunday in years.

So why am I here? Inviting me to speak seems like an April Fool’s Day joke! (Note to self: Check with the Celebration Coordinator later …)  

Well, I’m not here to share what Heathens do. There’s nothing to share. Today is just another day for folks in my tradition.

But my tradition does have something important that can be brought to bear: An appreciation of myth and story.

Please be aware that I’m not using myth in what has become the modern, accepted sense. As in, “The myth of the compassionate conservative.” That usage actually means “Hoax.”

No, I’m using myth in the original sense, that being “the most important thing that never happened.” Or, “that which may or may not have happened in history but happens over and over in our lives.” A core aspect of the Heathen tradition is to look at important myths and make them relevant today.

So lets look at the myth.

Depending on the Gospel source – and the scholarship you follow – the Palm Sunday story was written around one thousand nine hundred and fifty years ago (give or take a year or five). If you don’t recall the specifics of the Palm Sunday story, here is the Cliff Notes version: A well-known teacher – rabble-rouser to some; highly regarded by others – rides into Jerusalem on a donkey. People celebrate his arrival as a really big deal.

Maybe we need a little more detail.

Yeshua ben Joseph – Jesus – is heading to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. This was kind of like going to New York City for New Year’s Eve. The center of the Jewish world, Jerusalem, is where you wanted to be for a major religious observance like Passover.

But this isn’t just anyone coming into Jerusalem. He was a celebrity, the leader of a growing movement. People were usually on the lookout for him to arrive in their area while others traveled long distances just to see and hear him wherever he went. So you know he had to arrive in style. And what does he do? He gets a donkey to ride, of course.
Quick note #1: Eastern tradition dictates that a king came riding upon a horse when he was hell bent on war, but rode a donkey when he wanted to show he came in peace. Jesus riding a donkey = Prince of Peace come to Jerusalem.

What happens in Jerusalem? It was like Beatlemania. If you’re younger than me, ask your parents what Beatlemania was. But the people went nuts for Jesus. For one thing, they covered his path with their cloaks and rushes or palm fronds. So the road before him was completely covered and cushioned.
Quick note #2: It was customary to cover the path of someone thought worthy of the highest honor.

The people also waved palm fronds while shouting praises and “Hosanna!” – which translates to “Save us! Now!” or something similar.
Quick note #3: The palm branch was a Jewish symbol of triumph and victory. And that’s how we get the name “Palm Sunday.” (But in converted regions where palm trees couldn’t grow, other branches were substituted so the day could be called Yew Day or Branch Day).

That was just to get us all on the same page so I can do my real work, the work of delving into the myth and making it relevant.

When I look at this myth, I see reflection (or mirroring) and recognition.

Folks here at Pebble Hill, I am sure, understand mirroring.  Mirroring is what we do when we say something like, “I really don’t like because he or she . That person is, more often that not, mirroring something that is in us, but which we do not, or maybe cannot, yet acknowledge as part of us.

But just as it is difficult to recognize your own darkness that you see in someone else, it is even more difficult to recognize, or accept, your own light when you see it reflected in someone else.

Don’t believe me? Think about the typical human reaction to a simple compliment. How many times have you shaken off a compliment? “Oh, it was nothing.” “I didn’t do nearly as much as so-and-so did.” “What, this old thing?”  Let me expand on that with a personal example. The artistic director at Montgomery Theater, Tom Quinn, takes great care to thank each and every person involved in a production. Cast. Crew. Support personnel. Everyone. He does this publically at the closing party. I am the sound designer for most productions there. And I have consciously chosen to skip this party so I didn’t have to “endure” this ritual. Make certain you get this: I skip the party so I don’t have to spend a few moments listening to Tom as he thanks me for my artistry, for my contributions to a production.

But, like other people, I can celebrate when my favorite performer wins an award; when an author I like receives a good review; when my favorite team is in the playoffs. And it’s even better when other people share that experience. That’s kind of the operating principle of the Super Bowl, of the Oscars, or the Grammies. That’s why people camp out and wait in line to see a show or concert or whatever. On one level, it is about the performer/athlete/artist. But on another level, it’s about recognizing something that is also in you. It is like calling out to like.

And that’s what I see when I look at Triumphant Entry. The people who greeted Jesus were there because they recognized something in him, something that called out to them. What was it? Could be any one of many possible options: Capacity for compassion; thirst for justice; appreciation for his display of soft power; peace of living authentically. Or, maybe, it was just a general sense of recognizing that divine spark at work.

Even if they couldn’t recognize or accept that what drew them to Jesus was also something they had, it was still there.

And it is right here.

The Triumphant Entry is a model for anyone who sees it and wants to use it. I invite you to make your own Triumphant Entry into fully accepting the light that shines so brilliantly in your life.                       

Thank you.

1 comment:

Gregory Milinovich said...

brilliant! i, as a Christ-follower, see much more in this subversive little story, but i really appreciate this insight! thanks for responding to "the call" to share this message not only with the folks at Pebble Hill, but with us on the interwebz, too. peace to you!