SERMON FOR PALM SUNDAY – 2017 YEAR A
‘Tell the daughter of Zion . . . Behold!’
For me, coming to New Zealand five years ago was an odd experience – for although we all spoke the same language, culturally we were different. As Mark Twain said of America and Britain, ‘two nations divided by a common tongue’ 🙂 But English is a very problematic language and this goes much further than how we pronounce our vowels 🙂 for English makes the Scriptures quite difficult to understand, not simply because they weren’t written in English.
The Scriptures were written in Hebrew, and Greek (as well as a little Aramaic). Hebrew and Greek have about 1000 or ten thousand words respectively, yet there are more words in English than pretty much any other language in the world! (Over two hundred thousand!) So when we are trying to translate the New Testament from its ‘street Greek’, there are 20 times more words than in the original – or in the Hebrew – 400 times!!
The Hebrews and the Greeks were far less ‘wordy’ people. So each word they used encompassed a Wide range of meaning. Their World was one in which all sorts of things were woven together by a single word.
Take a simple example – the word ‘ruach’ in Hebrew, means Breath, it means Wind, it means Spirit . . . and our question is ‘but which one does it mean here or here or here . . . but that is a nonsense question to one of the Hebrews. ‘Ruach means breath/wind/spirit! you Know??’ As if perhaps Breath Wind and Spirit were somehow woven together . . . I’ll come back to that idea of a single word revealing how things are woven together at the end
A big problem of English is that in settling on one word we miss so much of the meaning – if we translate Ruach as breath we miss Wind and Spirit for example, and sometimes it leads us to missing the point completely. So today in our gospel – we all heard ‘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.’
If I said to you that the word we translate as ‘Look’ occurred over 400 times just in the gospels, and that if we add it’s Hebrew equivalent, more than 1300 times in the whole scriptures . . . we might perhaps realise that this was a very important word, perhaps the most important word in all of the Bible . . .but you won’t find ‘look’ over 400 in the gospels, or over 1300 times in the entire scriptures. we find ‘look’, ‘See’ ‘discern’ occasionally even ‘remember’. We have so many separate words we like to use them all and so things get separate.
But older translations like the King James Bible, which came from an age before English became so very very wordy use just one word over and over again . . . Behold! Over and over again ‘Behold!’ Behold the lamb of God, ‘and behold as Jesus came up from the waters’, ‘Behold, a vast multitude non could number, ‘Behold I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves’, Behod, I am with you always, even to the end of the Age . . .
But what does Behold mean?? Well it’s like ‘Look!’ See! Pay attention! Never forget this! It’s like standing in front of the most Amazing Incredible Awe inpiring, perhaps terrifying Reality you can imagine and way way more -with your eyes wide open so that you Really took it in, Deep in, so that what you saw changed you form the inside out, so that you were never ever the same again. So that you were lost for words – for you could not contain it, rather It held you! Like a new born baby taking it all in and being Held. Behold!!
Tell the daughter of Zion, Behold! your King is coming to you, humble and mounted on a donkey not even a donkey a mere colt, a donkey’s foal’ . . . your King comes to you as the lowest of the low – Your King . . .
As St Paul struggles to put this beholding into words he says this
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited, to make use of it,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
Behold the King on a donkey’s foal, emptying himself in utter humility – making himself nothing . . . even to the point of death on a cross . . .
Behold your King? Do you see?? SO Unlike a King by our standards – in fact the complete opposite – becoming the servant of all . . . But we didn’t get it, and perhaps we still don’t. For ‘Behold’ we built huge cathedrals, and Behold our clergy dressed in fine robes – and Behold our bishops wear purple the colour of the Emperor . . .
as we as a Diocese consider who might be out new bishop . . . I wonder if we have eyes to Behold, to See . . . or are our eyes trained to look on the surface of things?? Who on that Palm Sunday would have seen this weary, dust covered itinerant Jewish preacher and possible miracle worker as in fact the one in whom, through whom and for whom ALL things had been created?? I don’t expect the donkey was much to look at either . . .
Did they see?? Just a few days later the crowd that cried Hosanna to the Son of David stood before the stone pavement of judgement, this man stripped to the waist and flogged mercilessly and with a crown of thorns thrust onto his head – and Pilate cries out ‘Behold, The Man’. In human terms you might almost say, there is nothing to see . . . in human terms.
Pilate without realising it invites the crowd to ‘Look!’ See! Pay attention! Never forget this! It’s like standing in front of the most Amazing Incredible Awe inspiring, perhaps terrifying Reality you can imagine and way way more -with your eyes wide open so that you Really took it in, Deep in, so that what you saw changed you form the inside out, so that you were never ever the same again.’
Behold!’ See into the Truth. Behold The Truth . . . what is Truth Pilate asks and doesn’t behold The Truth stood in front of him . . . and now the crowd cry ‘Crucify’ They do not Behold their King . . .
As i suggest this calls into question how we look at the world, how we consider ‘what we are looking for in a Bishop’ – I must admit, I haven’t seen anything in the documentation which suggests that we are looking beyond the surface of things – we want a miracle worker no doubt . . . but Do we know how to Behold, the Deep Truth of things, the Deep truth of a person?? Or are we just looking for someone to save the Diocese?? Remember the Jewish people were looking for such a King, and when they see Jesus, they reject him . . . do we behold, Do we see??
But let us Behold for a moment or two. ‘your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ You King coming to you if you would but Behold! Yet he comes in humility – not offering himself to those looking for the spectacular – The word ‘humble’ – again it is just one word, but in Hebrew and Greek, it is humble, earthy, humus, soil, mud, it is Ordinary . . . in other word ‘humble’ is the stuff out of which everything is made – the stuff we see around us all the time and take for granted because it isn’t spectacular – because we do not behold. I am slowly, painfully slowly learning this – I can sit and Behold a tree for hours – as it ‘comes to me’ presents itself to me in all its Wonder Full Ordinariness . . . or Soil itself??
I remember a lovely piece of writing about an old metal bucket, which stayed forgotten on a hook under a tree and over the years leaves fell in it which slowly turned to soil and moss grew in it and bugs came to live in it, and occasionally a bird found a place for a nest in it, and the nest and the broken eggs added to the soil, which grew richer and deeper, slowly, without fuss, so you’d never notice – nothing to look at – Soil. But Soil Full of Life – Like the humble Jesus Full of Life but you wouldn’t have guessed . . . It is the Ordinary things which are the fabric, the soil, the humus, the humility out of which our lives come . . . Do we see our own ‘ordinary’ lives? Do we behold them?? With their joys, but also their sorrows? Their day by day quiet habits, a short prayer here, a phonemail to someone you haven’t seen for a while, a cup of tea with a friend . . . you see our Life if we Saw it is a thing of wonder, like that bucket of soil 🙂
If there is to be a future for the Diocese, it will come from those small things, for that is where all life comes from – the humble.
And that is The Truth of Things, for the Truth, the World’s King comes to US humble, Mounted on a donkey’s foal . . . and every Sunday in this worship we are so accustomed to, nothing special or flashy, this King consents to be handed over to us in a crumb of bread, a sip of wine . . . small, ordinary, humble things . . .
Bread and Wine – the Body and Blood of Christ – woven together so that you cannot tell one form the other. What if we only had a word for Bread AND Body, a Word for Wine AND blood?? If we ate the Bread/body and drank the Wine/blood . . . God made flesh . . . All of creation heaven and earth woven together in Jesus, so that you cannot tell one from the other. As if in this Bread/Body and Wine/ Blood we Beheld Everything? Wind, breath, Spirit, woven together so you cannot tell one from the other, if we but had eyes to See, if we did but Behold!