Sunday 24 March 2024 Palm Sunday (Liturgy of Palms)
The courage to love
Context: Parish communion on Palm Sunday, including infrequent attenders
Aim: to reconsider what courage looks like
There is brave, and then there is stupid. The itinerant preacher leaps on a donkey, and parades into town to - let’s be honest - moderate fanfare. ‘Hosanna!’ they yell, their clothes on the ground, with branches they pruned from their gardens.
We know where this all leads of course, and probably so did he. Colonial powers do not take kindly to rebel kings. The intervention is brutally efficient. He will be betrayed and arrested and tried and sentenced. The soldiers beat him as if to check if his blood would run blue. When it doesn’t, they put it on the poster anyway: the king of the Jews. And then they kill him. ‘The king is dead’, said nobody; ‘long live the king’.
If Jesus intended to be a rebel king, he wasn’t very good at it. Sure, he had the colt from Zechariah’s prophecy and Solomon’s entry into Jerusalem; and he had the foliage from the 118th Psalm, which also provided the script for his entourage. But these hints of royal pageantry threatened just about no one. According to the Acts of the Apostles, Rabbi Gamaliel likens Jesus to Judas of Galilee and Theudas, leaders of revolts decisively crushed by Rome’s iron gauntlet, but Jesus is precisely not like them in that he neither led nor incited any such revolt. The so-called triumphal entrance into Jerusalem might have the appearance of the beginning of a failed coup but lacks its substance: it is a sign of something else altogether.
LOVE BEARING ALL THINGS
There is brave, and then there is stupid. And they were brave: Judas and Theudas. Whether we like to admit it or not, our dominant cultural representations of courage are still militant. Whether in the news or in summer blockbusters, the language of courage and bravery is deployed most frequently in contexts of battle. We valorise those who fight for us; perhaps we are flattered by the thought that we are worth fighting for.
This being the case, we run the risk of focusing on the wrong things, confusing courage for machismo or, worse still, the glorification of aggression. And so, Christians must turn elsewhere to learn about courage. We must journey with Christ to Jerusalem, and face him on the cross, to whom we are worth suffering for, worth dying for, you and even me. ‘Courage is love bearing all things readily for the sake of the object beloved,’ St Augustine ends up saying, and it’s obvious what and who he has in mind. For Christians, the paradigm of courage is not might but martyrdom.
So, then, was Jesus brave or stupid? Courage is love bearing all things readily for the sake of the object beloved, and we are the object of his love. And we might wonder whether we are worth all that trouble, considering the mess we keep making of things. And if not, then he was a fool, not for any political miscalculation, but for overestimating our value. But God respectfully disagrees with this self-assessment, without denying the facts of our failures. We are worth the trouble precisely because God dares to love us.
SEEING COURAGE IN EACH OTHER
Perhaps it is an obvious thing to say, that Christ is our model of courage. But then again, maybe it isn’t if we can better notice the courage around us. Courage in those who patiently endure hardship for the sake of those who depend on them. Courage in those who in their vulnerability seek help and in their shame forgiveness, because in their own healing is also the healing of relationships. Courage in those whose only available answer to the world for this moment is the silence that keeps them from giving up altogether. Courage, in other words, not in the mighty but in the meek.
Maybe it isn’t too obvious to say that in seeing courage in Christ’s own silence before Pilate, we can now better see our own capacity for bravery, which is nothing other than the love that drives us and helps us to face our own fears. Maybe it is worth saying if we can begin to realise that Christ, who loves us and is our courage, has brought us here together to be each other’s courage, to face together whatever comes.
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