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The Journey from Old Way to New Way

It’s important that we grasp that the narratives in that library we call

our Judeo-Christian Bible contain layers of meaning ranging from the literal-factual to the mystical-metaphorical.


Now, it’s easier to consider that it’s all factual or that it’s all metaphorical.  But sadly, those Biblical writers writing for different audiences, writing with different agendas, writing in different contexts, writing from different histories were sadly unaware of your modern desire for ease.


It’s easier to consider that it’s all factual or that it’s all metaphorical but it’s not.  Sometimes it’s factual.  Sometimes it’s metaphorical.  Sometimes it’s all of the above.  So, while it’s not easy, it’s important that we stop metaphorizing the Bible’s facts and factualizing the Bible’s metaphors.


Now, Unity tends to favor a metaphysical layer of meaning.  This means that Unity tends to interpret biblical places, events, things and characters as aspects of self.  Adam and Eve represent aspects of self – thinking and feeling, for example.  Mountains and valleys represent aspects of self – higher consciousness and lower consciousness.


In these layers of meaning, I like to say that the Bible can be their story, or the Bible can be our story, or the Bible can be my story, all at the same time.  Personally, I tend to favor the Bible as our story or as my story.


And so it is that I offer Christianity’s Palm Sunday as an introduction to a wisdom teaching common to every unfolding soul (and that includes you).  For on the more personal end of that spectrum of meaning, this is a wisdom teaching about the journey from an old way to a new way, from an old idea to a new idea, from an old awareness to a new awareness, from an old perspective to a new perspective, from an era that’s dying to an era that’s emerging, from old life to new life.


And while we’re all familiar with the crucifixion/resurrection narrative, we’re usually less familiar with the journey between the two.  And so, if you find yourself wondering, I wonder what Monday might tell me about the journey from an old way to a new way,


I wonder what Tuesday might tell me about the journey from an old perspective to a new perspective. 


I wonder what Wednesday might tell me about the journey from old life to new life. 


Consider reserving Saturday as a day of silence.  And if you can’t negotiate a day of silence, consider reserving a couple periods of silence throughout the day.  For in the story of Christianity’s Holy Week, Saturday is a most poignant of all days; it represents that uncomfortable space, that cosmic breath, between the passing of the old life and the emerging of the new life.


Everyone who has lost a loved one can relate to this symbolic Saturday.

Everyone who has left a soul-killing job with nothing waiting can relate to this symbolic Saturday.


I might suggest that everyone whose life has been upended by over two years of a global pandemic can relate to this symbolic Saturday.


Some history: It is recorded that Jerusalem became the capital during the era of King David which was about 1,000 years before the common era.  Now, David’s reign was seen as a time of justice and righteousness in the land.  He was associated with goodness, power, protection.  He was considered something of an ideal shepherd-king.  The tribes were united, Israel was powerful, and its people were safe.


So revered did the storied rule of David become that the Jewish messiah was expected to be a “Son of David,” a new David, even greater than David.


Now, King David had a son to whom was attributed the building of a glorious temple.  We know David’s son by the name Solomon.  And according to the Old Testament books of Kings and Chronicles, Solomon’s temple became the center of the Jewish world – the destination for Jewish pilgrimage.


And over time, Jerusalem grew in wealth and power, becoming the center of what Marcus Borg termed a “domination system” marked by a nasty trio of political oppression, economic exploitation and religious legitimation.


A political oppression in which the many were ruled by the wealthy and powerful few – the monarchy, the nobility, the aristocracy.


An economic exploitation in which as much as two thirds of society’s wealth went into the pockets of those wealthy and powerful few.


And a religious legitimation that went something like this: since the Emperor is the Son of God (and that was the paradigm), since the Emperor is the Son of God, then the political oppression and economic exploitation must be the will of God.  Since the Emperor is the Son of God, then the unjust social order must be the will of God – a paradigm which left all but a most courageous few mumbling something akin to, “Well, I guess this horrible situation must be God’s will.”


I could summarize the situation by saying a corrupt, greedy and wealthy few established an unjust social order, and justified it with religion.


And it was of this Jerusalem that the prophets of old spoke.  Micah, “Listen you rulers!  Should you not know justice?  You who hate the good and love the evil, who tear the skin off my people, and the flesh off their bones.  Hear this, you rulers who abhor justice and pervert all equity, who build Zion with blood and Jerusalem with wrong!”


And Isaiah, “How the faithful city has become a harlot!  She that was full of justice – righteousness lodged in her – but now murderers!  Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves.  Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts.  They don’t defend the orphan, and the widow’s cause does not come before them.  God expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!”


And Jeremiah famously, “Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, look around the take note!  Search and see if you can find one person who acts justly and seeks truth.  Has this house, which is called by God’s name, become a den of thieves?”


This inequity persisted through the temple’s destruction by the Babylonian empire some 500 years before Jesus.  And while the impoverished Jews returned and rebuilt a modest version of the temple, Jerusalem would later fall to Rome.


Now, Rome’s tactic was to appoint locals to rule, so Rome appointed Herod.  And this Herod became known as “Herod the Great” or “Herod the Monstrous,” depending upon the source.


This Herod built a palace for himself that would serve as a destination for visiting Roman governors.  Columns of colored marble, glittering fountains, shaded pools, ceilings painted with gold and vermilion, chairs inlaid with jewels, mosaic floors: his dining room seated 300 guests, you understand.


And the wealthy and powerful few continued to acquire, systematically reducing the many from owners to day laborers to beggars.  The rich got richer and the poor got poorer, and still the sad chorus rang, “Well, I guess this horrible situation must be God’s will.”


When Herod and his successors died, revolts erupted and Rome hammered Jerusalem, leaving Herod’s temple in shambles and some 2,000 crucified.

That’s the history.  It’s the context for our story.  It wasn’t pretty, you see.  It was a difficult time.


And I suspect I represent many among you when I speak of the one procession that entered Jerusalem on a spring day in the year 30, or so.  For if you’re like me, it evokes deep memories of waving palm branches around in church, year after year, clad in your Sunday best, your hair slicked back with something the old men called Vitalis or styled in curls or braids or a ponytail; patent leather shoes in every direction.


At the same time, I suspect I represent fewer among you when I speak of the two processions that entered Jerusalem on a spring day in the year 30, or so.  And yet it’s these two processions – together – that represent the climax to that 1,000 years of escalating tensions.


It was from an opulent city on the sea about 60 miles to the west that Pontius Pilate rode at the head of a column boasting horses, foot soldiers, leather armor, helmets, weapons, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, shimmers of metal and gold.  The air itself vibrated with the clamor of marching feet, clinking bridles and beating drums.


And it was from Galilee, about 100 miles to the north, that Jesus had come to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, entering the city on a borrowed donkey, to the cheers of peasant followers who laid cloaks, and fronds cut from the fields, onto his path, offering, “Hosanna!  Hosanna!  Hosanna!”

 

One was an imperial procession, the other a peasant procession.


Pilate’s procession represented a theology he might have called, “The Kingdom of Tiberius” (you’ll recall that an Emperor was perceived not only the ruler of Rome but also as the Son of God).


Jesus’ procession represented a theology he often called, “The Kingdom of God” – a theology which would have been perceived as a direct contradiction to the Kingdom of Tiberius.


Pilate’s procession represented a social order rooted in imperial power, violence and temporal glory.


Jesus’ procession represented a social order rooted in universal equality, peace and love.


So you see, Jesus and his followers introduced both a rival theology and a rival social order, landing Jesus in immediate conflict with authorities.  And to be clear, the suggestion of Palm Sunday isn’t Christianity arriving to challenge Judaism.  Jesus was an observant Jew, operating within a Jewish paradigm, referencing a Jewish bible, teaching a Jewish following, attending a Jewish festival.  The suggestion of Palm Sunday is equality, peace and love arriving to challenge power, violence and temporal glory.


Christianity’s Palm Sunday sets the stage, if you will, for a story of the journey from an old way to a new way, from an old idea to a new idea, from an old awareness to a new awareness, from an old perspective to a new perspective, from an era that’s dying to an era that’s emerging, from old life to new life.


And it’s a story that starts with tension.


So, I say if you’re at a point in life at which you’re experiencing some tension, I say give thanks.  I say give thanks because I’m willing to suggest that were we able to pinpoint that genesis moment to any elevation in thought, were we able to pinpoint that genesis moment to any transformation in life, were we able to pinpoint that genesis moment to any leap in consciousness, we would find something of a tension.


Were we able to pinpoint that genesis moment to any progress in matters of race, we would find something of a tension.


Were we able to pinpoint that genesis moment to any progress in matters of ecology, we would find something of a tension.


Were we able to pinpoint that genesis moment to any progress in matters of education, science, health, peace, we would find something of a tension.


While it’s not the only option, the human creature tends to respond to tension.  It’s often discomfort that gets us to evolve.


So, I say if you’re at a point in life at which you’re experiencing some tension, I say give thanks. 


And the beauty of Palm Sunday's fronds, as laid before that peasant procession on a spring day in the year 30, or so, is that the palm is a symbol of victory.  The palm, then, reminds each of us – from those moments of tension which would launch us into meaningful change through those symbolic Saturdays between the passing of the old and the coming of the new – that resurrection is assured, just as spring is the promise of winter.

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