Sunday, March 29, 2015

2015.03.29 Stories That Bear Repeating

“I will tell you something about stories. They aren’t just entertainment. Don’t be fooled. They are all we have, you see, all we have to fight off illness and death. You don’t have anything if you don’t have the stories.”

Leslie Marmon Silko (b. 1948), poet and Laguna Pueblo writer whom literary critics have called part of the first wave of a Native American Renaissance, said this. It is wise. She means ALL stories.


This Sunday, Palm Sunday, Christians tell our whole story in word and song. It's a repeat. We stream into the sanctuary waving palms and singing anthems, reenacting an ancient biblical story of tragedy and triumph. Mostly we only notice the triumph part.

But I'll tell you that what made my day was a tiny typo in the printed instructions, meant to organize the unruly processional mob:  "The organist will begin the fanfare for 'All Gory, Laud and Honor' as we are singing the refrain."

Gory glory? The mix-up made me laugh, sing louder than ever, and rejoice at the way truth can sneak into an old familiar story and make it new. I'm sure this is one way our great God almighty hits home runs from the sidelines.      

Christian churches today reenact an ancient drama in the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth. According to New Testament story, Jesus and his followers streamed into Jerusalem and entered the Temple precincts through a gate called the Golden Gate, also known as The Beautiful Gate.

This powerful story is known as the triumphal entry. It probably never happened exactly as the Bible tells it, because the Bible is prone to exaggeration. Don’t we all exaggerate when we have a fabulous amazing story to tell? Still, we can be sure, historically, that Jesus went to Jerusalem to carry his gospel message and entered through one of the city gates. 

This story marks the beginning of Holy Week, the days leading up to Jesus’ confrontation with religious and secular authorities, his trial, conviction, and execution by crucifixion, a punishment meted out by Roman law for common criminals and those whose actions presented a treasonous threat to the Roman emperor. It’s a triumphant story, and a risky one—more gore than glory.

Our foundational story is part historical fact, part proclamation, part prophecy, part memoir, and, for Christians, it is gospel/good news. From it we derive the pattern of a Christian life: being bearers of the unconditional love of God for all people. We wave palms about, sing loudly and listen again to the story. The better it is told the more spellbinding it becomes. We listen and wonder once more: What will God do? Has God indeed abandoned one of his most articulate servants? Will this gospel of Love survive or die on the cross? What will I do?

Why do we keep telling the same old story? We know it or how it ends. We never know it fully, and we do not know how it ends. It's the kind of story that thrives on typos, and the like, to ease the impact of its real spiritual power: one day we may be called upon to witness to the Love of God in unpopular ways. You may one day be called upon to wave a symbolic palm, or a Maple leaf, your favorite scarf, or banner, or sandwich board! Some day you may have to follow.

My husband and I are re-watching the popular TV series, “The West Wing.” There's a lot in it we missed. One of the scenarios showed the beginnings of a presidential run by a Democratic candidate with a new vision, riding high on a political wave of triumph.  As he spoke, listeners dozed off to the tones of the same old rhetoric. Suddenly, the candidate veered from the teleprompter to address angry dairy farmers in order to explain his vote in Congress against a bill which favored a boost in milk prices.

Here's the "typo":  the candidate admitted that, yes, he’d thrown the dairy farmers and their lobby under the bus. Why? Because there was such a high percentage of children starving, and it was more important to make sure milk was affordable than it was to get elected. Whoa! Not supposed to happen.

Some walked away angry but some followed, waving palms of hope, entering new territory to rewrite the old story once again.

I was struck by this image by artist Catherine Steinberg. It looked as if it could be Mary, the mother of Jesus, all festooned in palms as she followed the triumphant little band into Jerusalem, hoping against hope that her son wouldn't do anything foolish—again?