Dom Helder Camara, the legendary archbishop of Brazil, once summed up how the church must be, a danger to the establishment and empire. He said: “When I give food to the poor they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist and seek to kill me.”
It is the second question that is always the most dangerous. All such questions about causes, structures, institutions and policy, asked according to God’s Kingdom’s demands for justice and mercy, threaten the establishment’s positions on what is right and wrong, what must not be challenged, its belief systems and worldview. It threatens the establishment to its core.
It threatens and challenges us to our very being because we are part of the establishment and we must ask ourselves the question Jesus asks of us as did Dom Helder Camara before.
Luke’s gospel (23:1-49) tells us Jesus is charged with stirring up the people, treasonous behaviour within the Roman empire, and blasphemous for the leaders of the religious establishment. It was something Jesus did throughout his ministry.
Jesus, by his words and behaviour, by his very existence, is a comprehensive disturber of the peace and he expects the same from his disciples.
Consequently, our Church today must take a long hard look at what it does and why, if it is to be an honest disciple following in Jesus’ footsteps.
The behaviour, the beliefs, the opinions we accept, shows those around us how we see God at work in the world today. We must ask ourselves, what sort of God do we worship?
As we stand with others to cheer Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, are we prepared to walk with him to the cross, through the marketplace, to be arrested, mocked and tortured to a criminal’s death?
Luke’s story this morning takes us straight into Jesus’ trial. The trial takes place because Jesus has been betrayed, by his followers and his own disciples. The betrayals are comprehensive.
Betrayal as the very deepest, most violent, most personal, most despairing of experiences.
Luke’s description of Jesus’ trial sees Jesus fall mostly silent as he accepts the betrayals and prepares to die.
The conscription of Simon of Cyrene to carry Jesus’ cross continues his silence and acceptance of his death. The experience of silence and active non-violence is often interpreted as unacceptable weakness, vulnerability, dependency and need. None of this is alien to God. It shows us clearly God’s own vulnerability in the face of human violence and God’s willingness to be in this place of pain with us, sharing the burden and not walking away.
God is the one who stays, making sense of this terror and transforming lives. The God we worship and follow has already experienced active cruelty, violence and torture at the hands of people, and a slow painful, excruciating death.
The God we see in our lives is a risen God who bears the scars of suffering and who nonetheless, is working in, with, around and through us, present in all things and all lives. Even when it seems no hope is possible, God is working to encourage and invite all creation, including humanity, into a restored relationship with God.
Jesus’ grief as he walks to his crucifixion, in response to the women’s tears, is remarkable. While saying very little in his trial, to the women mourning he acknowledges and shares their witnessing to God’s capacity to be present in all things.
Dietrich Bonhoffeur, the German theologian murdered by Hitler writes about how: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matt. 5:4).
Those who mourn are those who are prepared to renounce and live without everything the present world believes will provide happiness and peace. Those mourning find it too hard to accept the world, they cannot conform to the world’s expectations. They mourn over the world, its guilt, its fate, and its misdirected search for happiness, consuming and eating away the heart of creation.
Luther translates the Greek word for mourning, as ‘to bear suffering’. As disciples and followers and like the women, we must bear the suffering of Christ, witnessing and sharing the suffering of those around us to the world. Those who mourn are not seeking to suffer, but they do not withdraw into wilful contempt of the world either.
Indeed, as disciples we point to the uselessness of accumulating wealth, of trying to escape fear, in the hope we might escape from violence, oppression, corruption, suffering and death.
In Luke’s Gospel story, Jesus speaks to the women mourning. He asks them not to weep for him but to weep for the world around them. And as we lament with them walking this road together, we are reminded of Psalm 22:
I am poured out like water: and all my bones are out of joint: my heart within my breast is like melting wax. My mouth is dried up like a potsherd: and my tongue clings to my gums. My hands and my feet are withered: and you lay me in the dust of death. For many dogs are come about me: and a band of evildoers hem me in. I can count all my bones: they stand staring and gazing upon me. They part my garments among them: and cast lots for my clothing.
And yet the psalm finishes with the cry of hope:
But God has saved my life for God’s self: and my posterity shall serve God.
And then, crucified, in agony, and hanging on the cross, Jesus speaks again, this time to the thief, still offering comfort and trust in God in the face of certain death.
How extraordinary is this story? We too fall silent. We are brought to our knees in the face of such compassion and love, as he offers the thief hope, for ‘today you will be with me in Paradise’, even though this is a self-confessed criminal. Facing death, dying Jesus offers hope.
And then, God’s creation mourns, witnessing Jesus’ death. The sun disappears, the curtain in the temple is torn in two. In his last moment, Jesus acknowledges God in an incredible act of faith, trusting God enough to take the questioning and the despair, to take the darkness and turn it into light. To take the mourning and turn it into joy. Jesus’ cry is one echoed by the faithful around the world on this Palm Sunday, as we name our pain and our fear, and recognising all of suffering humanity by asking God, ‘How long?’ as we are offered absolution and compassion by God for our anguish and terror.
And now we come back to the beginning.
We come back to our starting point, to Jesus, a disturber of the peace. In life and in death, he disturbs us. His death helps us reclaim the work of active nonviolence in a violent, unforgiving world. Jesus’ powerful relationship with God in the midst of a terrifying death gives us hope for the world.
Instead of viewing ourselves as helpless in response to violence and rejection or becoming violent ourselves, we must again reclaim our discipleship responsibilities to cry aloud this weighty lament.
We speak confidently as followers who embrace God’s promise to overthrow terror, who holds us all with love, criminal and sinners, all citizens alike in God’s Kingdom, in life and in death, and praying God will grant us courage and wisdom to be also, disturbers of the peace.
We must ask the questions Jesus, like Dom Helder Camara, urge us to ask, about why things are as they are, and not simply live and accept the world because we do not believe God can change it; and stop looking for answers that do not disturb our peace.
This is not why Jesus lived and died for us.
We are not here to wave palms in celebration and then walk away.
This is not what the cross and salvation is about.
Our calling and God’s invitation is to be disturbers of the peace, following in Jesus’ footsteps to the cross, and trusting in God, into new life beyond the cross.
The Lord be with you.