Today is Palm Sunday, which we observed in the traditional manner of singing along with Matt’s rendition of David Bowie’s “Starman” and liberally dousing ourselves and each other with biodegradable glitter. Donna picked up a handful of it and cried “Woo!” on her way to deliver the Ancient Testimony, the Palm Sunday narrative according to Luke; Valerie, before gracing us with the good news according to James Baldwin, more cautiously, dipped her palm in the sparkly bowl and commented, “Praise be to God.” And, perhaps to avoid any further trouble with NYU and the NYPD following a minor security incident resulting from this year’s burning of the palms on Ash Wednesday, we skipped the palms entirely and brought home only what shimmering bits remained stuck to our clothes (and hair, and bags, and coffee cups, and…). But it’s Judson. We’ll surely find new trouble before long.
Speaking of trouble, Palm Sunday, as Micah interpreted for us this morning, marks a dramatic shift in the particular kind and degree of trouble Jesus was willing to cause. As it happens, the famous donkey-and-palm parade of Palm Sunday wasn’t just fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah, which is, you know, a big enough deal in and of itself; no, it was also an elaborate act of political performance art, mocking the parade of Pontius Pilate into Jerusalem at the same time. It foreshadowed Jesus’s literal flipping of the tables in the Temple, where the poor and the many were at the mercy of the select few who could deem their sacrifices acceptable to God, and of course of the arrest, trial, and death of Jesus just a few short days later. The Passion represents, among other things, a pathetic attempt at upholding the authority of the Roman Empire, keeping the very worst kind of peace: a peace that comes at the cost of the poorest and most vulnerable. So this was one glittery thread of the fabric of today’s Palm Sunday: Jesus was a master of protest and defiance, who knew that a display of humility could also be aimed towards taking down the powerful and that power is best wielded to defend and uplift the humbled. (Yet another Lenten paradox?)
The glitter itself hearkens back to its original appearance on Palm Sunday a few years ago, a symbol of all that is queer and defiant and a bit too much. God knows Jesus could be too much. It was his too much-ness that put a target on his back, and his too much-ness that held it there out of his too much love for a people who, we can all agree, are themselves a lot too much. Nothing says too much like sparkling eyeshadow and high heels, in which Matt raimented himself for his turn at “Starman”; nothing says too much like Henco’s gold-and-black sequined blazer and coordinating bow tie at the piano; and, especially, nothing says too much like singing Episcopalian church music written specifically for an actual, literal coronation. Glittery indeed, and much too much.
And: have you heard about this black hole photo? You might know that a black hole is a dead husk of a star, collapsing in on itself and taking down whatever it can with it. It consumes everything within a million miles, including light itself. It is furious cosmic pettiness of the kind we, Jesus’s too-much people, know all too well. But a black hole is preceded by a supernova, a brilliant explosion that has the potential to “enrich the interstellar medium with the heavier atomic mass chemical elements” and even generate new stellar life. It is the end of one kind of life; it is the beginning of another. Jesus is the supernova of this metaphor, the keeper of generative, creative new life.
In the Modern Testimony, we heard from James Baldwin, who writes that one ought to “earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life. One is responsible for life: it is the small beacon in that terrifying darkness from which we come and to which we shall return.” I was reminded too of words attributed to Tecumseh: “When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.” In death, Jesus models yet another paradox: in the face of the inevitability, the entire lack of power humanity has over death, the struggle for justice and peace affords us a measure of power. And in giving over even his own human body to death, he foreshadows the ultimate destruction of that same death.
Lent has been exhausting this year even without giving up chocolate-covered almonds. I’m coming to the end of this season waiting for the Resurrection to remind me that Jesus said, “And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all things unto myself.” In most translations, Jesus says “all people” rather than “all things,” but I like this translation because it reminds me of the limitless power of God over everything imaginable, far beyond people. It includes black holes and supernovae, glitter and trouble and every Lenten paradox we can imagine or haven’t imagined yet.
In one last strange coincidence, David Bowie released “Starman” on this day in 1972. I listened to Matt sing those words this morning:
There’s a starman waiting in the sky
He’d like to come and meet us
But he thinks he’d blow our minds
There’s a starman waiting in the sky
He’s told us not to blow it
Cause he knows it’s all worthwhile
And we sang along, glittering along with him, waiting, trying not to blow it.