What is Victory... and When?

Imagine being in Paris in May in 1944. Paris, the French capital, is occupied by the German army. Imagine if a man came into Paris in a Jeep, dressed in a British army uniform, and started crying out that the battle would soon be won, that God would soon be in charge, a great victory is at hand.

What do you think the Germans running Paris would have done at that point? ….. …. ….

I think they would have thought the man was crazy! Really!? You're going to overthrow the Third Reich— you!!?

But crazy didn't matter. If someone had started crying out about another kingdom instead of The Thousand Year Reich, the Nazis would have rubbed them out, on the spot. Just like the Romans crushed any talk against the Empire of Caesar. 

Actually, what the Romans would do was kill that sort of person really, really slowly and painfully, to make an example of them, and to act as a deterrent. That's what crucifixion was about. It was a slow inefficient way to kill people… but it made people afraid. In Paris, the Nazis threatened that if you killed a German soldier they would retaliate by killing a hundred civilians; it was the same sort of thing.

But what if that person had come into Paris with a donkey and a little cart, and begun handing out loaves of bread to the hungry citizens, and even to the German soldiers, and had said a great victory had been won. And that the city would soon be returned to what it should be. What kind of victory would that be? And how crazy would that person be?

Clearly, that person would be arrested and, probably, executed. Jesus was.

But the thing about all this is that we have imagined that person coming into Paris before liberation from the Germans in August 1940.  We imagine, somehow, that the battle is yet to happen, because the Romans are still in Jerusalem. But…

can you see that Palm Sunday in Mark is a victory parade? It is a triumphal entry. "Triumphal entries come after the victory, not before the battle." (Tom Wolthius)  The victory has been won. 

What the Romans didn't understand, and what many of the people who saw Jesus did not understand— what Mark is telling us, is that Jesus was not coming to start a war, or to overthrow the Romans. The victory had already been won.

Why? Because Jesus had trusted God and come to Jerusalem.   (Bartimaeus has trusted Jesus, and been healed; he can see, and he follows Jesus on the way. The healing and making whole of people and the world happens when we trust God's way, like Jesus, and follow Jesus. [This is the last story before Palm Sunday in the Gospel of Mark.])

So in the Gospel of Mark, there is a sense that the victory has happened. The cross and the resurrection are the final proof that the victory is real.  They are the proof that even death cannot undo the trust of Jesus.

Going to the cross is Jesus showing his trust, proving his trust, in God's giving to us a life which cannot be destroyed. And… the cross is also our judgement of ourselves because the cross is the world showing it does not trust God for life; the world only trusts that it can keep itself alive for a while by killing the people who are different, and who threaten it.  What will you trust?

And resurrection shows that the trust of Jesus, and the trust of those who follow him is vindicated. Death cannot contain them. Death is not their ending. Life goes on.

And yet there is no proof… there are no cast iron equations… there is only trust, which is faith that puts its money where its mouth is. In Mark, if you remember the original gospel text which we have just read, there is no resurrected Jesus whom we can see, or that anyone sees! Mark says you can only trust that the word of the young man in the white robe is true.  The young man in a white robe symbolises an angelic messenger of God,  and the young man symbolises a baptised follower of Jesus.  He is in a baptismal robe.

We've all met that young man. He is a symbol of the one who told us that Jesus is risen. And some of us fled like the women who first heard that message, and you know… maybe some of them are still running.  But most of us are here, I think, because as some of those women must have done, we turned, and have trusted what we have heard.  And we have found resurrection in our own lives.

What Jesus is doing on Palm Sunday is simply trusting God. He is doing what God calls him to do. He is announcing the kingdom. He is fulfilling all the prophecies. And some people will imagine war is coming, a great battle to free Jerusalem— Jesus has no control over what people will think—

but other people will hear something else. They will see something like a crazy man handing out bread in front of the conquerors.  And they will remember the one who came and healed all people, even the children of the conquerors; he healed the poor bleeding woman, he healed the daughter of the leader of the synagogue, (Mark 5) and he healed the servant of the Centurion of the Roman Empire. (Matthew 8, Luke 7) This is a different kingdom, a whole different way of being, a community of divine love.

And the healings— already— are saying the old way of being human, where class, power, and riches make a person— that way is over. All souls are loved the same.

And what Jesus says to us is that if we want to be his followers… if we want to save our lives, if we want to find the richness of life… if we want the sort of courage that could hand out bread rolls in Paris… we have to risk the trust. We have to risk the dangers of following him, of living like him… And one week the people may praise us for all our good works… and the next week the crowds may turn on us…

Yvonne is being received into membership today, and Raelene is affirming her confirmation and membership. What they are saying is they are willing to risk the trust. Where they live, they will live like Jesus. They will live to love, to serve, to heal… rather than to get rich, or be successful, or famous, or comfortable… already they are doing this. They are in the Palm Sunday Parade.

And that call, that invitation, is there for each one of us, every day. And each time we follow, the victory happens in us, as well.  Amen

Andrew Prior (2018)




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