“Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” 1 Tim 6:12
Palm Sunday, 2013 Evensong
Everyone loves a parade.
Earlier today we began our service parading. We processed outside, following a bagpiper and carrying palms and singing “All Glory, Laud and Honor.” It’s movement for the entire congregation from the hall, outside on the sidewalk, and into the sanctuary.
There is a hint of ridiculousness about it. I’m in costume, and we’re waving palms, Following a fellow in a kilt, a festive Gaelic anthem with his pipes. I think he was Jewish. Leading us to the doors of the church.
It’s an expansion of what we do every Sunday, a miniature of the church’s intention. On most Sundays, the choir and a few ministers, for the sake of efficiency, process on behalf of the entire congregation. The procession itself can be a miniature of our collective walk on earth. Today we recollect this moment of expectation, hope and celebration.
Most of us love parades, and this one’s a spectacle. We follow Jesus on a Donkey. A Donkey. An ass. We might not be that organized – it’s spontaneous and festive; they didn’t receive a license from the police department. Some of the participants are not in line. Others might be laughing and shouting. Still others holding back. Perhaps we are all following him because we are fools; fools for Christ as Paul says.
Many traditions use the metaphor that describes life as a journey. I suspect the intensity of that metaphor reflects our culture’s individualism – we’re out there alone in uncharted territory with only our Good Friend Jesus holding us by the hand, leading us into the sunset of our days until the apocalypse or the end times. But that view diminishes the way we live together, which is a more chaotic, and less private than we think. We tend to go where others go, and we follow them, and lead others, and perhaps we don’t give that all that much thought when we’re always thinking of ourselves as individuals.
Many of us have been talking about “leadership” in the church, and it’s true that there’s a lot to be done, and a lot that could have been done if we knew what leadership was supposed to be. For some it’s charisma; for others it’s taking responsibility; and for others it’s merely having a follower. But one of the other ideas floating around is called “active followership.” We’ve got a lot of people who want to lead and need to learn. But then there are many of us who are just in the parade. Some of us don’t even know how we got here, but we’re having a good time and going in the same direction.
The letter of Timothy says “fight the good fight.” This alludes to one aspect of following. Good followership might mean working, struggling and fighting – engaging – with other people, even your leader. It means being the sort of follower who knows how to take the initiative and when to be wrong. It may mean allowing the leader to do the public work a leader does, for almost all the visible work a strong leader accomplishes only happens when there are lots of people supporting the same vision.
I sometimes say, “my bishop right or wrong.” Surely some times I’ll find that a difficult place to be. But I will submit as I’m convinced he’s got the interest of the church, of the world at large, and not merely his own, in mind. Certainly we will have our differences, but this practice is partially to admit – and I know this will be hard to believe or hear – I have, sometimes, been wrong. But the nature of followership, healthy followership, allows me to admit this possibility, and to offer the person I follow the responsibility of making decisions.
Certainly being a “follower” of Christ is not easy, especially as he’s always asking us who we think he is; but perhaps what makes it bearable is that we – this community here – we are in this ridiculous parade together.
But let’s take care. Where is Jesus going, anyway? In the reading, Jesus overturns the tables in the temple. Today we’re headed – to the temple. It would be completely reasonable for you to end right there and say you didn’t want to be a part of the parade any more. Perhaps it might be the reason we sometimes fight with one another: for the confrontation at the end of the line, the invitation to transformation, are going to be hard places to endure. But the good fight, one that is shaped by our Lord’s desire to reveal ourselves to ourselves, is how we will be able to stay in the parade and see the work of a changed world that is promised.
It is not all grimness, though the work is hard. It is not all sourness, though we can be resentful, impetuous and petulant. But we are led forward, led in a parade, shouting praises. Sometimes our solemnity and our serious is more like a circus, but we have confidence in our direction. It might be all we have, now at this time, moments of levity before our Lord is nailed to the cross. At least we know now what happens after. We’re graced like that, on the other side of the resurrection; an Easter world.
And everybody loves a parade.