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Jesus Walks

Rev. Dan Smith
Sun, Mar 24

Palm Sunday
Text: Luke 19: 28-40

Those of you who have been coming to First Church for a while are aware of some of our worship traditions during Lent and Holy Week. For the past several years, our choir has begun our Lenten worship offering an acapella version of the powerful African American spiritual “I Want Jesus to Walk with Me”. The somber tones lend themselves to our more contemplative ways of being during Lent. On Palm Sunday, we begin our service with another sort of procession, in which we are all invited to sing and move as we reenact Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. We begin with palms waving, in joyful song. We end on a more sober note of reflection about the passion and suffering that lies on the path ahead. Throughout our Lenten and Holy Week journeys, we are invited to walk with Jesus, to join in an age old procession of body and soul through the heights and depths of human experience, from life to death to new life again. This morning especially, we are invited to literally ‘walk the talk’ of what it means to be followers of Jesus.

All this leads me to wonder…just how did Jesus walk? Really. Have we ever considered it? I mean…what do you think his gait was like? How did he plant his feet and his steps? Could he have been mildly pigeon-toed? For that matter, how did he think and feel about his own body? Was he like so many of us at all self-conscious about whatever unique bodily quirks? Maybe not. Maybe not, and yet I’ve grown increasingly curious about his body, not as an abstraction or a theological idea, the capital “B” Body of Christ, but about the lower case “b” body of that particular human being. These questions may seem a little far-fetched at first, but I ask them because I’ve begun to wonder what a more holistic, a more embodied approach to Holy Week would look like, especially given the bodily pain and suffering we are about to face in our Holy Week stories. As our own Stephanie Paulsell writes in her wonderful book, Honoring the Body, “when suffering comes, as it will, it might isolate us from other suffering people – or it might bring us into solidarity with them. If we have been trying to honor our bodies and the bodies of others in the midst of everyday life, if we have been attending to the sacredness of the body when we bathe and dress, eat and drink, run and rest and love, we may be better equipped to continue to honor the body when the body is in pain. And we might gain compassion, in our suffering, for the suffering of others, compassion that might change our lives”.

Palm Sunday is a good day to remember and indeed honor our bodies and the human body of Christ. There’s an implicit invitation to join the procession, to join in the waving of palms, to try to imagine and live into this story in our very bodies. I worry that too often we take our ideas about Jesus’ body for a ride into the realm of the theological. I worry that too easily we forget to stop and honor his body for his body’s sake which is after all for God’s sake too! Perhaps because of a discomfort and fear related to our own bodies, we too quickly jump to emotional and intellectual approaches and barely see the deep and inherent physicality that runs throughout our stories and tradition, especially in this coming week. Given centuries of bad theology that denounces and denigrates the body, its no wonder some of us have a hard time connecting and honoring the body in our tradition, let alone in our own lives. As New England Protestants especially, we have a reputation for being a decidedly neck-up and heady kind of crowd, especially when it comes to our worship ways. And yet there are deep traditions within Christianity and every religion that are all about living in, respecting, welcoming and honoring bodies of all shapes, colors, sizes and abilities. Some of us have barely begun to feel comfortable clapping, even though we read and recite so many psalms that invite us to clap and clang away as acts of praise. And yet when we sing and move and even shed tears in worship – by the way, there is a physiological connection between singing and crying, but I’ll save that for another sermon - and yet, when we sing and move and cry, we are sharing in some of our most human, most vulnerable, most tender, most embodied forms of love and praise.

For now though, let’s get back to walking the talk and the stories of this week. Consider in this Holy Week how many invitations there are to be mindful of the very physicality of all that Jesus traversed in these final days of his ministry. He expressed his anger physically when he overturned the tables of the moneychangers at the Temple. On the night of his last meal, he knelt and washed the muddy feet of his disciples and had his feet washed. That same night, he broke bread and drank wine with friends. He wept in the garden. On Friday, he experienced excruciating pain, unquenched thirst, tears, shortness of breath, and death on the cross. This movement through Holy Week that begins with our moving procession today stretches us beyond our theological ideas and intellectual understanding of what it all means. A much-needed compliment to our theological reflection comes in the way of a quiet attentiveness to our embodied lives and the embodied life of Jesus. Consider that not only our minds and our hearts, but our own bodies – our bodies! – may hold the key to more compassion and solidarity with others and with God, the compassion and solidarity with self and others that is an ultimate goal of our spiritual lives.

Do your feet know the story of the footwashing? If not, then come to church this Thursday night and join us in our reenactment of that an ancient ritual. I have yet to experience a more powerful expression of humility and love which may be why Jesus taught his disciples to do it for him and for each other as way of embodying the great commandments to love one another! Does your mouth know the story of Jesus’ thirst? Come to our service of lamentation on Good Friday and taste the bread of tears, bread we dip in salt and eat together. Has your body felt the weight of even a small piece of the burden and responsibility Jesus carried? And how might you remember and honor and walk that path of unconditional love and mercy and wholeness and peace?

In years past on Palm Sunday, we’ve laid down a path up here in the chancel and have invited us all to come forward, to walk the way together, laying down our own palms, or sometimes laying down makeshift cloaks, as the story goes. Our multigenerational dance group has already beautifully embodied for us how some of this done. This year, we’ve chosen another ancient symbol of walking meditation. It’s called a Labyrinth and in case you haven’t noticed it’s laying on the ground behind me. We will gather around it for our last hymn and watch as one of our members, Val Blanc, models the kind of intentional movements and walking meditation that the labyrinth invites. Its on loan to us from Hancock Church in Lexington and will be open throughout today and at various points in the coming week and into Easter season.

Labyrinths have been around for thousands of years. Some of the more famous are etched into stone in the floors of great Cathedrals, like at Chartres in France. They are beautiful metaphors in their own right, and yet they are also made for walking. If you’re one of those people who just can’t seem to sit still long enough to pray or meditate, the labyrinth may be just for you—a meditation that lets you keep it moving! There’s no right or wrong way to walk a labyrinth which is part of the discovery, to note the internal voices that will surely companion you on the way. If you choose to try it out, endeavor to free yourselves from those inner judgments, to ground yourself in the Spirit, to notice your breathing, your movement, your body, your every step. You may want to bring a poem or scripture reading with you. You may want to bring a living question or perhaps a mantra into the labyrinth. It’s a walking meditation, with a beginning, middle and end, with outer rings and inner circles and a clear center, and an invitation to walk it at whatever pace you like. Just finding the right pace can be a practice in and of itself! If you can find even a few minutes today or in the coming weeks, try it out! Receive it as a gift and an invitation to a more embodied spirituality. It’s open for you, as we continue to walk with Jesus, alone and together, through this week and beyond.

Friends, we all have different bodies, different paths, different heights and weights to walk into this week, and there is far, far more to say about the role of bodies in our tradition. For today, my point is simply this: that our own bodies may give us yet another entry point into the profound movement and mystery that occurs throughout this week. Each step of the way, from the procession into Jerusalem, to the courts of business, to foyers and tables in homes, to the cross itself, we have before us a deeply embodied rabbi and teacher, a person who models wholeness and integrity of body, mind and soul, one who walks and sets the path towards God before us. If we truly want to walk with him, we might begin today by keeping an imaginative eye on his every step and ours, and to see what we might learn by so honoring his body and our own, alone and together, as one body of Christ. Amen.

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