Our Palm Sunday

Alfonso Sasieta
3/28/21
man smiling

Texts: Isaiah 42:1-9 & John 12:12-16

Good morning 8th Day,

Today’s Old Testament reading does not come from our lectionary, but rather, from my grandfather’s study. In highschool, I lived with my maternal grandparents, and my grandfather was a pastor and that means that my youth has a lot of really powerful memories attached to particular scriptures. My senior year, at a low point in my life, I broke two bones in my right leg & while we were speaking one night, my grandfather recited the first part verse 3 of Isaiah 42, a bruised reed God will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not quench. No acabará de romper la caña quebrada, ni apagará una vela que apenas arde.

Last week, I felt that our community was that smoldering wick. After all that we’ve been through in the last year both as a society & within the life of our little community, our failure to hold Wesley’s feedback prompted a sadness I had never felt in an 8th Day gathering. It felt like perhaps the bruised reed would break, & the fire would be quenched.

& then... we showed up. We came together around our dinner tables & mission groups & zoom calls & emails & we listened. We came together for worship last Sunday & were able to lean into the moment with our shortcomings & then incredibly, receive the grace that was offered. 

Our worship service last Sunday, & Kip’s statement, was a choice not to deny our own capacity for racism. That acceptance was a choice to move with grace. Rather than dodge the sin & shadow that are within us, we held our racism to the light, & God transfigured our sin into a sense of restored community. 

Last Sunday’s worship & our coming together around Cruz’s spiritual autobiography  brought to mind an image of God, kneeling beside a fire, head sideways, blowing gently onto a few embers & small flames, giving oxygen, breathing life back into us. I am very grateful to Connie & Kip & Karen, for guiding us thoughtfully & gracefully into the source of our pain.

David Whyte writes, “Heartbreak is an indication of our sincerity...Heartbreak is how we mature; Heartbreak is something we hope we can avoid; and yet, it may be the very essence of being human, of being on the journey from here to there, and of coming to care deeply for what we find along the way.” And he closes, “Heartbreak asks us not to look for an alternative path, because there is no alternative path.”

So what now? Now that the wind is at our back? Now that the embers are gaining heat? What is next?

In both our readings today, we are given a portrait of a messiah who is both compassionate & yet resolute, humble & yet unflinching in his purpose. Isaiah says of the Messiah to come— “He will not shout or cry out or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness, he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged until he establishes his justice on earth.” (Isaiah 42:2-4) 

In the Gospel reading, we find Jesus riding into Jerusalem, not as a conqueror, but as a man who knows the heartbreak that awaits him, as one who knows his call is to move towards the oppressive powers & meet them head-on. Gordon Cosby says this is the precise meaning of Lent — of walking towards the seat of power. Luke 19:51 reads, “when the days drew near for him to be received up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” On this Palm Sunday, we find Jesus resolving to go to the place he must because there is no alternative path.

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On this Palm Sunday, forty five years into the history of 8th Day, & seventy years into the history of Church of the Savior, I want to propose that this Sunday marks Palm Sunday not only in this year’s church calendar, but that as 8th Day, we are entering into the Palm Sunday of our life together. 

We are right next to the resolute Christ, the humble Christ, the quietly determined Christ who has resolved to go to Jerusalem because there is no alternative path. 

Those of us in the Inward Journey’s Lenten class are really sitting with this idea of walking towards the seat of power through the lens of the Poor People’s Campaign, led by Rev. William Barber. In his analysis, there are five interlocking injustices that all work together to crush poor people. Those read as follows: 1) systemic racism, 2) systemic poverty, 3) the war economy, 4) ecological devastation, and 5) a false religious nationalism.

At the heart of this campaign is the idea that there are multiple unhealthy ecosystems that all affect one another, and yet! Reverend Barber also said something recently in an interview with Cornel West that I found quite striking, given his expansive view of justice. He said, in America, racism is the distortion upon which all other distortions are built. (2x)

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Just on Thursday, Kate Lasso shared a statistic with our Lenten class from a recent study that highlights this fundamental distortion. It is a statistic about household wealth (i.e. a family’s assets like homes, vehicles, income, Roth IRAs, & stocks (so all those assets) minus debts like mortgages & college loans). So it’s not just what a person makes from their job. It’s the inherited wealth or lack thereof that we receive from our families. 

The study showed that in Boston, the average median wealth for a white household is $247,000. For a Latinx household in Boston, the average median wealth is $2,800. For a black, US-born household in Boston, the average median wealth for the whole household is $8. This statistic comes from before the Pandemic exacerbated these inequities. Once again, those numbers are $247,000 for a white household, $2,800 for a Latinx household, & $8 for a black, US-born household. 

Average Median Wealth for Household

White Household — Boston ($247,000), DC ($284,000)

Latinx Household — Boston ($2,800), DC ($12,000)

Black Household — Boston ($8), DC ($3,500)

A DC-based think-tank called Brookings Institute recently put out a study on the racial wealth gap that I will share my screen to show now.

figures

When I’m confronted by the lived realities of some of my former students, and when I’m confronted by some of these statistics, my first instinct is usually to go to strategy & analysis & doing.  

But Resmaa Menakem, the author of My Grandmother’s Hands, and a somatic specialist in racialized trauma... basically says, don’t do that! He says the first step is creating the container & creating the culture to face & hold these issues of race. To white people, he speaks of getting together with other white bodies to grind on race, to ask ourselves the question, is working with the construct of race a fundamental piece of who we are? Are we capable of sitting with the highly charged reality of racism as it exists not just in our political structures, but in our own bodies and relationships?

Resmaa puts it this way: “Rather than us going and genuflecting right to strategy for how to work through it and fix it, we first begin to do the work of what I call soul-scribing. We begin to notice the five intelligences, (not just logic), & what’s showing up right now for me. And then we begin to do that work with each other. We begin to give voice to it. We begin to hold each other and hold each other accountable to those things that are emerging forth. That’s what I mean by grinding. It is uncomfortable.”

He goes on, & I’m just going to play a short clip so that you hear his voice. (36:30-37:30) “The white body has so many dodges built into the structure, that all white bodies have to do is not do anything. And there are no repercussions with regard to race... There are these dodges, there’s these dodges around difference, there’s these dodges around crime, there’s these dodges around brutality, there’s these dodges around cognition, there are these dodges around pulling away. There are all of these built-in dodges. When I’m working with white bodies, one of the things that I’m saying is, resist the dodges. Hold it with each other and hold this charge communally so something else can happen.”

If I were to translate Resmaa’s words theologically, I would put it this way: there is no way to the heart of Jerusalem without a communal commitment to holding the electrical charge of race. There is no way to the root distortion without the community’s acceptance that confronting race is an essential part of our common path.  

Jesus could have pushed a political agenda with great sway, & busied himself with incessant doing, but instead, he created a way forward for communities that was built upon listening to its poorest & least privileged.

This is the groundwork for creating a new culture. Through individual & communal repetition, by working again and again with the charge & the weight of racism, we can create stamina & endurance & refuse to dodge or bargain with racism. This is what we’ve been feeling & doing for the last two weeks.

But now, we need to create the container to keep it going. It is incumbent upon a critical mass of us to name that yes, this is a non-negotiable part of what it means for us to be church. That holding the 400-year weight of race individually & communally is inextricably bound to our inward & outward journey. 

This is the threshold where we find ourselves. This is why I think we are at a kind of Palm Sunday & the next couple of years could be a kind of Holy Week for us. We are being asked, are we willing to go to the root evil? Are we willing to name that for forty-five years we have not deemed it essential to have a racially integrated leadership team? Are we ready to accept that the DNA of white body supremacy is physically lodged into our hearts & minds & bodies? Are we ready to accept the pain of this reality -- and the hope that we have the power to change it?

To say “no” would be to continue bargaining with racism & to continue to risk blowing these traumas back through the hearts & minds & bodies of black & indigenous people. 

To say “yes” by means of our showing up consistently over the next 10-plus years, to say ‘yes’ by institutionalizing ongoing anti-racist education as a part of our membership, to say ‘yes’ by writing it into our DNA that substantive cross-racial dialogue & discernment is fundamental to any sense of call, to say ‘yes’ by insisting that Santiago & Nathan & Destiny all grow up in a community in which there is meaningful, integrated representation on our leadership council—  one that speaks their languages, one that sings their songs, one that models a meaningful way to move through a racialized world: This is the ‘yes’ to which we are called.

Reverend angel kyodo Williams says, “We want to be reconnected to each other in ways that we’ve never been allowed to be connected before.” So let’s do it. Let’s refuse to bargain with the forces of segregation. Let’s refuse to turn away from the root distortion of racism. Let’s walk to Jerusalem together with all the resources we’ve been given, with the songs, & the hymns, & the prayers of our ancestors. 

Will we do this for our children’s children? Will those of us in the community who are white refuse to pass this work onto people of color? Will we commit to grinding on race for the next 2-3 generations, consistently, prayerfully, & fearlessly? Jesus is on the outskirts of Jerusalem, and he is looking to us, not so much for immediate solutions but for the willingness to face this great evil, with him, with one another, & with those who are being torn asunder. 

On the council, in our anti-racism team, and in our mission groups & study groups, organizing and strategy is gaining speed. Our anti-racism team has formally received yeses from people of color who will serve as our accountability partners. Our team has also presented the council with next steps that we feel are exciting & substantive, but with all that said, the deeper choice is our identity, the deeper question is our vision. Are we going to go all the way to Jerusalem, and are we going to go together?

This is why in our Lenten class, led by Ann, Gail, & Kate, we’ve been reflecting on how subtle & pervasive racism can be even in social justice movements. & so the group is doing some of the slow work of listening to the local, black activists. They are resisting jumping into action that cannot be sustained. They are waiting. They are holding the emotional & electrical charge of race. They are naming that their role is to follow & support the black leadership that is already in place.

This past Thursday at a Festival Center teach-in, organizer and activist Ana-Yelsi Sanchez Velazquez spoke to this idea of embedding anti-racism into the bones of community, and she spoke to how slow the slog can feel for white people. So for those of us who are white, let’s embrace that slog. This is not a two or three year fix. Because the construct of race has a 400-year-old charge, Resmaa predicts it will take 9 generations for white people to excavate white body supremacy & create white cultures that don’t repeat the old patterns of domination & denial. It will not go as quickly as we want it to go, but if we’re faithful to the culture of naming, holding, and transforming our racism, then we can die a true death, clearing the way for a new creation in partnership with God.

This is a journey filled with what Resmaa calls clean pain, with what Saint Paul calls longsuffering, with what David Whyte calls heartbreak, and there is no alternative path. There is no path in which the reed is not bruised, in which the fire is not reduced to embers & smoldering wicks. There will be plenty more moments of bruising and smoldering in this journey, but God never, ever breaks or extinguishes us. That’s the promise. 

To close, I’d like to end by reading Isaiah 42 one last time. If you feel led, I invite you to close your eyes & imagine yourself with this humble Messiah, resolved to go to Jerusalem. When I finish reading, Jesse will give you a couple of minutes just to close your eyes & notice Jesus, to look at his body language & to take note of his face & the rocky path ahead of him...and simply, to be there, with Him.

Isaiah 42:3-9

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold...

A bruised reed he will not break,

    and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.

In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;

    he will not falter or be discouraged

until he establishes justice on earth.

    In his teaching the islands will put their hope.

This is what Yahweh says—

the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out,

    who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it,

    who gives breath to its people,

    and life to those who walk on it:

“I, Yahweh, have called you in righteousness;

    I will take hold of your hand.

I will keep you and will make you

    to be a covenant for the people

    and a light for the Gentiles,

to open eyes that are blind,

    to free captives from prison

    and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

“I am Yahweh; that is my name!

    I will not yield my glory to another

    or my praise to idols.

See, the former things have taken place,

    and new things I declare;

before they spring into being

    I announce them to you.”

 

Amen.

Resources & References:

  1. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2020/02/27/examining-the-black-white-wealth-gap/

  2. https://resources.soundstrue.com/podcast/resmaa-menakem-somatic-abolitionism/

  3. https://socialequity.duke.edu/portfolio-item/wealth-inequalities-in-greater-boston-do-race-and-ethnicity-matter/