PALMS & PASSION B – 29 March 2015 – “What Are You Afraid Of?”
What are you afraid of? I started thinking about this question after seeing the movie “Still Alice.” As you may know Alice was was a highly respected professor at Harvard who was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. My mother had the late onset version. What am I afraid of? The possibility of losing my mind.
What are you afraid of? I have asked many people this question and the answers vary. Some are afraid that something awful could happen to their children or grandchildren. Others fear losing their job. While some do not fear death most are afraid of what happens while dying. And others are afraid of being punished for doing something they were told is wrong. Are we afraid of being abandoned, of being left alone?
We human beings are fraught with phobias. Although we can work to overcome many of them some of them are life altering. An immigrant without papers. A college co-ed being raped. A person of color profiled by police. We are surrounded by such fears each day yet we have a hard time talking about them or doing something to change them. Sometimes there is little we can do to change what we are afraid of.
We just heard this morning a terrifying story (the passion narrative of Jesus of Nazareth) that is full of irony. The very person who was to save the Jews, restore God’s creative process (Tikkun Olam), give hope to every one who is oppressed, is, himself, crucified for threatening the status quo.
The story began with Jesus coming into Jerusalem. The hosannas that we read about and sang earlier are found in Psalm 118. I was surprised to learn in a recent scripture class that hosannas are not really cries of victory. The word hosanna is a supplication that in the Hebrew language literally means “save us!” One wonders if we should change our tune next Palm Sunday.
Upon his arrival in Jerusalem Jesus plans his rallies and starts to stir up the crowds. After supper he goes to the garden of Gethsemane to pray. The gospel of Mark, unlike the other versions, tells us that Jesus became deeply emotional in the garden. He was troubled and agitated.
In the time that Jesus lived, men, especially those who were public figures, were not suppose to show emotion. Jesus of Nazareth was different. He was filled with fear, terrified of the death he was about to experience. The gospel said Jesus cried out to his father Abba to save him but there was no answer. There was nothing but divine silence. Did God actually forsake Jesus? Ever get that feeling yourself?
Scripture scholar Robin Whitaker comments that towards the end of the story there is a call to action. Jesus, angry and disappointed with his disciples who did not keep watch with him, says to them “get up, we have to go, we have to get out of here.” Is it possible that Jesus frantically wanted to escape and find refuge? How would the story end if he had? Would we be here in church if he had?
Often we resist admitting or talking about what we are afraid of. Whitaker suggests that in this world of ours, filled with so much terror, we are summoned to be in solidarity with those who are suffering and living in fear. The disciples failed miserably at this task and eventually left Jesus alone to suffer and die.
During this coming holy week you and I have an opportunity to ponder what frightens us. The liturgies this week offer us “calls to action” — to wash one another’s feet (on Holy Thursday) and to embrace the cross that symbolizes the injustices of the world (on Good Friday). We may not be able to eradicate all the fears that we and others have. We can try to name them, deal with them and help each other rebound and rise up in spite of them.