- Published: 13 May 2015
It was an ordinary day, a day of working. A woman, in the middle of her life, readied herself for her commute home after another day’s work.
She took a seat on a bus. Other commuters embarked and disembarked, but soon the bus was filled. The bus driver was one of those management types, and in his world there was a particular way the passengers were supposed to behave. It was Montgomery, Tennessee, and “white” folk sat at the front and “black” folk sat at the back. The driver, noticing that four whites were having to stand, instructed four black passengers to give up their seats. This woman was one of them. She refused. You know her story and her name, she is Rosa Parks.
Rosa, reflecting upon her refusal, simply notes that she refused not because she was physically tired, but rather because she was “tired of giving in”…tired of giving in….tired…it was this tiredness that initiated a whole new era.
This is the dynamic that is happening in the Jesus story as we enter Holy Week. It is a Holy Week because it initiates a new era by a people who were tired of being beaten down.
It is amazing what can be born of tiredness. I spoke with someone this week who said they were feeling a little “flat”, not up, not down, just “flat”.
We had fun exploring that image embracing a wide range of possibilities from Isaiah’s image that one fills in valleys and levels mountains to make a way for God, where flatness is necessary to create a new way. We also explored the meaning of being “flat-lined” and what that means.
I don’t know if Rosa was feeling flat that day, but without pre-meditation she spontaneously responded as one “tired of giving in” and her refusal, her “no” became a "yes" to life.
Holy week is ultimately about “yes” to life. A conspiracy was beginning to swirl around Jesus as religious leaders and civic authorities and governmental officials, threatened by the songs of a people parading in the street, threatened by the songs of a tired people tired of being enslaved, threatened by a pople who were beginning to feel the wonder of freedom beating in their hearts, a wonder echoed in the waving of palms and in the shouts of hosanna. It was a people tired of giving in.
The conspiracy about Jesus was making life unsafe. So those closest to Jesus came to him and asked, “where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?” Jesus said “go into the city and you will meet a man carrying a pitcher of water. Follow him”
This is a detail in the story that is easy to gloss over. A man carrying a pitcher of water. In the time of Jesus, while literally thousands of water pots traversed the streets, so abundantly ordinary that no one took notice, except when a man carried water. Water pots were carried by women, sometimes by children. A man carrying a pot is unusual, and hence why those closest to Jesus would know who to follow.
Around Jesus was growing an underground movement with its own code language. There was a community that was gaining strength. We have been meeting this community through lent.
A woman, tired of being ill for twelve years, reaches out to touch the garment of Jesus. This woman was Rosa Parks like as she challenged the bus drivers of her day, broke down the social rules and norms because she was tired, tired of giving in, and in her tiredness reached out.
A woman disturbed a dinner party at the house of Simon the leper. She broke open an expensive flask of ointment. She was a prophet, tired of the dreariness of her life so in what appears to be an act of spontaneity as well as deep understanding and insight, she in Rosa Parks like fashion, acts with a simple beauty that is also an act of resistance. She endures criticism, her tactics are not to everyone’s liking, but Jesus values her, noting that her actions will be remembered, Jesus elevates her beside himself.
Do you know that it was the actions of Rosa Parks that sparked the Montgomery Bus boycott that propelled a young Baptist preacher new in town onto centre stage. There is no Martin Luther King Junior without Rosa Parks. The civil rights movement is the movement of a people and the Jesus movement, the spirit of the Christ lives in a community.
These two women, unnamed, were part of this underground community coalescing around Jesus, and now we have this unnamed man willing to carry water in the streets of the holy city, a whole community. Just as Montgomery became a holy city because of a holy people who walked for weeks hand in hand, voice to voice, face to face in resistance as they demanded justice, so Jerusalem becomes a holy city because of this man in his resistnce and all those live him. It is a holy city because of a holy people.
But like the civil right movement, the determination to say “yes” to life would face many obstacles. There would be house bombings, arrests, beating, murder and even crucifixion.
As the story of Holy Week unfolds, Jesus and his closest followers gather for that Passover meal. In spite of their yes to life, it is during the meal, that the one who will betray Jesus is identified. The time of confrontation is nearing. The refusal to give up the seat has arrived.
After the Holy meal is shared, Jesus and his followers sing psalms, sing the words of their ancestors in the faith. Rosa Parks said that in her tired “no” she could feel the strength of her ancestors.
After the psalm singing that allows the strength of the ancestors to be released, Jesus and his followers go to the Mount of Olives, to the Garden of Gethsemane, a garden where we see into the heart of Jesus, his fears, his struggles, his sorrows. One sees the heart of Jesus.
Into the mouth of Jesus, the storyteller places these words, words spoken to the closest followers of Jesus, “you will all lose faith for the scriptures say I shall strike the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered;”. With these words Jesus acknowledges, the fraying and failings, the falling asleep and feeling flat, the doubting and denying and disappointments and devolution that will happen.
But the storyteller also speaks a word of hope. Into the mouth of Jesus at that very same moment are these words “after my resurrection, I shall go before you to Galilee”. Galilee is the birthplace of the underground community.
We know the story. At the arrest of Jesus, those closest to him, the disciples, quickly flee. There is even a tidbit about a follower fleeing naked. Peter denys knowing Jesus despite his with his Galilean accent. Jesus is alone and abandoned...only...only if the truth be told, that is not completely true.
The underground community begins to work. It was in that community that the fleeing and the denying found safety and solace, found regrounding and renewed resolve. This is the gift of community. Sometime we fail, sometimes we lack energy, sometimes we are less than our best selves. It is in those moment that the community carries us, and understands us, and reminds us of our beauty. When we fall flat or feel flat, the community hold us.
Sometimes, the community is present in the songs of our ancestors, so that when we feel scattered like sheep, we hear the words “the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…though I walk through the valley of death, thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
While Jesus faced arrest and trial and crucifixion alone, the community that he had inspired quietly gathered, fearful and full of questions and angst no doubt, but they gathered. they gathered in their weakness to discover a strength they never knew before, a strength that first appears in the faces of women who followed Jesus and watched him die and unjust death. It was at the foot of the cross that these women became “tired of giving in”, in the face of suffering and injustice, a “no” rose up within, a no that is a “yes” to life, a "yes" they shared with the community.
This is the spirit that dances through Holy Week, the spirit that dances in the palm parade, and the spirit that is “tired of giving in”. Some of us feel like dancing today, and some of us feel “flat”. Some of us feel the brunt of injustice and others of us are filled by the wonder and beauty of life.
It is okay, we can be ourselves because all of these emotions are in Holy Week. Holy week tells our story, it tells the story of our ancestors in the faith, where they and we simply say "yes" to life just as Rosa Parks did.