Sermon March 29, 2015
“The First Flash Mob?”
We have made it through the season of Lent and finally arrived at the beginning of Holy Week. Some of us slogged through this season and will be glad to move on to Easter. Some of us found meaningful connections as we practiced prayer in new ways. Some of us are curious – did we miss something? Today we stand at the threshold of a week we call Holy. It is an odd name considering the events of this week. The week begins with a festive parade and then we begin to walk with Jesus through his final days. We gather with him at the table on Thursday and recall the final meal he ate with his disciples. On Friday, we walk with him and remember his painful death. On Sunday, we gather again jubilant at the news that Christ is Risen! What a roller coaster of feelings and experiences this week!
I love Palm Sunday! I love singing and dancing as we carry the palms into the sanctuary. I am aware that many would prefer to slink into the pew and wish these showy palms would just go away. I love the joyful anticipation and celebration of this day. I love the songs we sing. I love the crowd. I love the noise and the chaos. It is funny to me that when we tell the story of this day, we describe a scene that is controlled and clean and neat and tidy. I don’t really think it was like that. The road was dusty. People put down their branches and coats to keep the dust from flying so much. In text study this week, someone noted that Jesus seems to have orchestrated this whole event. Jesus knew the colt would be there. He knew the words to say and what the person would ask. The parade itself is a very few verses of the reading today. The rest is the preparation. Doesn’t that often describe life itself?
Someone compared this parade to a flash mob this week in text study. That image really struck me. Wikipedia (the internet expert on everything) dates the term flash mob to 2003. Several years ago, I began seeing these fabulous mobs performing in public places – train stations, grocery stores, shopping malls – places where crowds were to be expected. Suddenly, some music begins to play and someone stands and begins to sing the Hallelujah Chorus in a mall food court at Christmas time. Soon others stand on chairs and join in. All who were simply eating lunch are now watching this growing mob singing all around them. They wonder what is happening. At first, it seems to be one person singing out of the blue, but it soon becomes clear that this is an organized group. It is surprising and delightful.
In Stockholm, a group spends 30 minutes learning the choreography. In a crowded public square, Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” blares out of the speakers and one guy begins to dance, he is joined by a woman, then a few more until a whole crowd of people are dancing together. As they dance, people gather to watch.
This phenomenon has taken hold in prisons, church, and my personal favorite: weddings. In a church in England, the minister proclaims the couple married and then she begins the flash mob, soon joined by the bride and groom, wedding party and the whole church. Last year, my friend Karen Oliveto led the San Francisco Glide congregation in an Easter Sunday flash mob to the song “Happy”. Do you think this is what Jesus had in mind when he orchestrated this parade? He knew what he was doing and he made sure that all the pieces were in place. He rode into town on a colt that had never been ridden before. That tells us we are in for a surprise. Chances are it wasn’t a serene ride. As he rode, people began to gather. They threw down branches and coats to create a path for him.
As he rides, he looks out ahead and sees the days to come. As he rides, the crowd gathers near and they see this one who has surprised them over and over. They don’t see what is coming. Yes, he has warned them about his coming death but they haven’t wanted to hear it and even if they have heard it, they aren’t ready for it. “Not now! We are just getting started here. We are just getting the hang of this. We are ready to follow and isn’t a parade a great idea?!” Here they stand in this moment so full of hope and expectation.
I can’t even begin to imagine what Jesus was feeling. Was he joyful? Was he scared? Was he content? So often, we stand in the moment and forget that there is more. Today, we say goodbye to the Bishop family. Nathan, Michelle, Emmalene, Elias, and Simon have given so much to our congregation. We send them off with very mixed feelings. It is interesting that they make this journey on Holy Week – a week filled with emotions and experiences. This is a week of endings and new beginnings. In the last week, John Dorhauer was confirmed by the UCC Board of Directors to become the next President. They followed his confirmation with his favorite hymn “Be Thou My Vision”. It seems right on a day like this to pray for vision. The coming days are mixed. The coming days are hard. The coming days are devastating. The coming days are beautiful. The coming days are holy.
Can we walk with Jesus through his final days? I can’t imagine what Jesus was thinking as he rode that colt. He may have known the colt would be there, but he couldn’t have expected an easy ride through town. By choosing a colt, he rode at the level of the people. Did he gaze into their eyes? Imagine that you have come to take a closer look at this one you have heard so much about. You know that he has done great things. You know that he scares people with his passionate teaching and his new way of doing things. You are curious. You are hungry. You come closer and as he rides by, he looks at you and he really sees you. He wants you to know that he does this for you. He does this for all of us. He does this to make the world more whole. He has come in person to show you what love looks like. He has healed and taught and walked and eaten and each time, he shows what love is. Love is action. He has astounded people with his love, but he is not finished. Today, he moves through the crowd humbly taking it all in and preparing for the days to come. Today is an opportunity for us to pause and take it all in – the pain and anguish, the disappointment, the hope, and the promise that despair and hate will not be the final word.
In April 2010, Westboro Baptist Church went to Charleston, West Virginia to protest at the memorial service of miners who were killed in the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster. A group from Covenant House had another idea. Covenant House was formed in 1981 to help people with the fewest resources by providing their basic needs: food, clothing, and shelter. They planned their own flash mob to a techno version of John Denver’s “Country Roads”. A big group showed up to learn the dance. Westboro’s protesters brought hatred to West Virginia, but they were met with a group dancing love. That is our call.
We are surrounded by hatred, despair, and destructive patterns in our world. Every day we hear stories of violence. This week, we are trying to process the news of a plane intentionally crashed in the Alps by the co-pilot. These final days of Jesus’ life tell of people who are threatened by Jesus way of being in the world. They can think of no alternative but to kill him. He responds to this by riding into town on a colt, a symbol of peace. He will not let violence and destruction have the final word. This week we will hear stories of human obliteration. We will be invited to believe that this is the last word. It is not. Jesus continues to ride the colt into the world where he will face those who cannot abide his love. Let us follow him and when the people filled with hate arrive, may we be the ones who dance with love. Perhaps we can begin a flash mob that tells a new story. This story tells of a God whose love cannot be extinguished by hatred and fear. Holy Week is here: let the flash mob begin!