Tuesday, April 19, 2011
A Palm Sunday Allegorical Meditation
(I've lately been in the habit of choosing random verses on which to meditate using allegory as a framework. This past Saturday, I happened to be given Matthew 21.5, just a day before Palm Sunday. I share my meditation below.)
Matthew 21.5 - Tell the daughter of Zion, “Look! Your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey; and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
I was baptized twenty-nine years ago, and Palm Sunday is the anniversary of my baptism. The Lord came and comes into the midst of the ruined city of my soul, the city of peace that has become a den of thieves and a market place of deceit, riding on the humble means of Word and Sacrament. In this baptism, this event which happened to and with me years ago, the Creator of the universe took up residence in the temple of my heart. Christ has made me the bride of his flesh. The Spirit is yet within me.
Tell the daughter of Zion. As in Zecheriah’s day, much has changed. This passage was once a prophecy, a hope, prediction, and longing. Zion, even then, had been fallen, destitute, ravaged. Sin ravages and shreds and turns to rags. Even so, Baptism built a bountiful kingdom, a second temple of Solomon. The daughters of this golden age, living as prostituted slaves in the shadow of occupation, needed to be told. My heart needs to be told, “remember your baptism.” Not just the sprinkling - but the grace in which I surely do stand, in the midst of destruction.
Look, your king is coming to you. My king. Not my lusts. Not my greed. Not my lies. But the King. The Lord. Jesus Christ by his Holy Spirit. He IS coming. He is my future, and he is the space opened up before me as I journey towards it. Except that he is also rushing to come to meet me. There is something very Song of Songs, something very sensual, in this prophecy. O Daughter, your Bridegroom is coming. Receive him into yourself. He comes humbly. But he comes to ravish you, and to restore you.
Donkey and colt. Does it really matter whether there were two beasts or one? Yet, there are ways in which I must “see” history differently, must learn to recognize the marks of the divine activity, in light of the promises and the realities of God. One writer, favoring Isaiah, might focus solely on the donkey, to the exclusion of the colt. Matthew, reading Zecheriah, noticed trailing behind Jesus a colt. And so, the vision of the Church, engaged in reading many different texts and hearing many different promises, can perceive the entirety of God’s revelation in ways greater than the parts’ sum.
Why do I shut myself off from those who can help me to see more? More of my sin, certainly, but even more promising, more of the promise? The gates of the temple that I am meant to be are shut, guarded by the hoarding claws of the money changers, in whose clutches birds do not sing from within their cages? The nations, the gentiles, the outcasts are kept out, barred from entrance. Profits, interest, and security are the name of the game. Prophets are not allowed. The Spirit’s flame is extinguished.
But humbly comes the Lord, on the donkey of Baptism and the colt of the Eucharist, or, if you like, in the Word of the donkey and its offspring, the Sacraments. Or, if you like, the humility of Christ’s earthly body, which begets the ugliness and awkwardness of Christ’s churchly and sacramental bodies. Either way, he comes in abject humility, in ugliness insulting to reason, in ordinariness transfigured. He comes to our offense, even as, at the gates, we laud him. He comes, but not alone, for he comes with us, for us, to us.
I am baptized into this humble reality. My words are meant to be donkey and colt, not war horse or chariot. Christ enters me, not in victory, not in triumph as Pompey or Titus, but as David writ small, to make me David repentent, and David eternal. This happens to fulfill the prophecy of the Son’s entrance into Zion, not as military commander or zealot, not as activist or radical, not as doctrine or as dogma, but as humility, as the Glory of the Lord, YHWH’s Shekenah returning to be with his people.
But first, of course, the temple must be destroyed. Unlike the days of Ezekiel, when the Glory simply settled on the tabernacle, this corrupted palace must be cleansed, and ultimately, leveled. But it is not annihilated. It is resurrected. The dead bones will rise again. The glory of our flesh that was made originally good is drowned in the waters of the Baptism of Christ’s death on the cross, so united with him in his resurrection, and on the rubble of earthly ambitions, pride, and flesh, is raised a temple of Living Stones, the Church, our new body that we are to live in and out of, and the Spirit comes to dwell in us. Grace transfigures nature - but only through death and resurrection.
Can these dry bones live again? Tell the daughter of Zion, Look! Look, like Matthew looked, and saw differently than Mark, because he was reading a different text. Look, together as a body of Christ, at the many promises, gifts, and acts of God in our midst, for the many ways God comes to us incarnate and externally, that internally we may be renewed! Look! The King comes, not as conquerer, but as Bridegroom, tenderly and humbly, to lay his kiss upon your forehead! Look! See! Raise a palm branch, follow to the temple, to the table, to the garden, to the cross, and to the tomb. Look! You are raised to new life! This is the journey of Lent, of Baptism, lived again and again! Look! It is the journey of God with God’s people, but now, it is the journey of GOD-WITH-GOD’S-PEOPLE, here in the flesh, so that in our flesh, we might also journey WITH GOD.
I was baptized, twenty-nine years ago tomorrow - give or take a few days. The shame that is sin means that Christ’s glorious re-entry must be repeated ad nauseum, that it is no longer an initial wedding night, but another attempt to give it a try. Christ comes, humbly, on colt and donkey. But just because the pristine is gone, does not mean the mercy, grace, and forgiveness are exhausted. Daughter of Zion, Look! This time, do not set up shop with the money changers. This time, do not wave empty palms and cry to the Son of David, when the one who comes is the Son of God. This time, do not sleep in the garden. This time, do not deny him to the world. This time, do not betray him for the love of money. This time, do not fail to recognize him, as did Pilate. This time, do not shirk from testifying to truth. This time, be crucified as one of the thieves. This time, be buried.
This time, arise. For the King of Glory comes in state. This time, may I be the donkey, or the colt, on which he rides. Amen.