The Gateway

On the fourth Sunday after Easter – traditionally referred to as Good Shepherd Sunday – it is customary for the preacher to explore the protective and nurturing metaphor of shepherding.  As many of you know I’ve explored in previous years how the metaphor of the shepherd and the dynamics of shepherding offer a sharp contrast between modern and 1st-century methods of sheep farming. Good Shepherd Sunday also has a habit of falling on Mother’s Day and I’m somewhat relieved that this year we’re still two weeks ahead of that sermon challenge.

Coming from a country such as New Zealand – a nation of five million humans and over 40 million sheep – the life of sheep and that of the shepherds who manage them is somewhat familiar. In previous sermons on Good Shepherd Sunday, I’ve spoken of my nephew Hamish, who farms a hill country station – sheep farms are known as stations in the rugged hill country of NZ’s South Island – a topography familiar to many of us as the mountainous and foreboding terrain that formed the scenic backdrop for the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

In the 19th-century, Scottish farmers – familiar with the harsh topography of the Scottish Highlands – settled easily in the rugged high-altitude foothills of the imposing mountain range of the Southern Alps – running like a great spinal column down the center of the South Island (S I). For them this was as close to the homeland they had left as anywhere on the globe. Their sheep farming heritage easily transplanted into this new setting.

Like the Scottish Highlands, the S I’s high-country land is poor – expansive high-altitude grassland. With the granite bedrock only a couple of inches below the surface the land is completely unsuitable for arable farming. This landscape is only suitable to the particular Marino breed of sheep – a scrawny bread – bred not for the succulence of its meat but for the fineness of its wool – wool today much coveted by the Italian textile and designer fashion houses. The Italian fashion industry is the end destination for my nephew’s wool.

Easter IV draws its Good Shepherd theme from John’s presentation of Jesus as the good shepherd in chapter 10 of his gospel. Here we are given two contrasting images of Jesus. One is as the personification of the good shepherd- I am the good shepherd – hearing my voice my sheep know me and follow me. This image resonates with intimations of intimacy and loving care. The other image – which is the one presented to us on Easter IV in year 1 of the Common Lectionary – is the more striking image of Jesus as the gateway to the sheepfold.

Facing the blank looks of incomprehension on the faces of his disciples as he speaks about himself as the gatekeeper who guards against the illicit entry of thieves and rustlers seeking to mislead and steal the sheep, Jesus offers what I would have thought was an even less comprehensible metaphor – of him as the literal gate to the fold –I am the gate for the sheep.

On a baptism Sunday, the shepherd and sheepfold metaphors present us with fundamental questions about the nature of the church and the dynamics of belonging.  What is the Church; how do we get into the Church, and what are the hallmarks of belonging???

The Episcopal Church has this quaint phrase to identify one of its three main membership criteria. Following John 10 you might think the Episcopal Church would say that one of the core attributes of membership is to know and be known by Jesus. It is very telling that the Episcopal Church prefers to define membership as those who know and are known to the treasurer.  Easter IV being a baptism Sunday here at St Martin’s – lends an added poignancy to questions of belonging.

The Church is the Christian community – which may seem an obvious statement. But we have a very impoverished understanding of Christian community because we imagine that we are the Christian community – that without us there is no Church. IN this sense we think of the Christian community as a voluntary association much like being members of the tennis club. Accordingly the answer to the question what is the Church – is – we are the Church – the fruit of our organization.

However, the Christian community is God’s creation not ours. The Christian community is not a manifestation of our social organizing. It is the creation of God-in-Christ active within the dimension of time and space. Following this view, we don’t create Christian community – we simply participate in it. As the sheep entering the sheepfold – so we come into a divine community that is already awaiting our arrival and in which we are invited to participate.

That the Christian community emerges from our self-organization is only the first of two major mistaken ideas. The other widespread mistaken view is that being Christian is an individual thing – as in – you don’t need to go to church to be a Christian – or I’m spiritual but not religious. We each can be as autonomously spiritual as we like, but being spiritual does not make us Christian. The Early Church father, Tertullian summed it up when he said one Christian is no Christian. The only way to be a Christian is to participate in the life of the Christian community – which is the divine community of God-in-Christ or the Body of Christ – made visible in the dimension of time and space.

John 10 speaks of both sheep and sheepfold. The sheep don’t form the sheepfold – they enter the sheepfold when they pass through the gate. Likewise, we don’t form the Christian community, we enter the Christian community – the Body of Christ in the world – through the gate of baptism. If baptism is the gate, the rich pasture is the Eucharist. Through baptism we come to belong to a community that nurtures us with the rich pasture of the Eucharist – Christ’s mystical body – upon which we feed.

If John 10 is the metaphor for our entry and belonging within the Christian community then the first reading from Luke-Acts chapter 2 clarifies the nature of belonging. We don’t simply belong by virtue of becoming members – the hallmark of belonging is participation – active engagement in the covenanted relationship with God – and – more challengingly, a covenanted relationship with one another.

By covenanted relationship I mean a relationship in which we become responsible for one another. We read in Acts 2:42 that the first Christians devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and when they gathered to worship God, they broke bread with one another – praying unceasingly for one another, and for the world around them that often viewed them with considerable hostility. In addition, they practiced common fellowship which meant they shared their material resources – holding all things in common for the benefit of all. It’s this characteristic of early Christianity that not only facilitated the Church’s astonishing growth in a short span of time – and day by day the Lord added to their number – but has continued to inspire a vision of a society where each gives according to their ability, and each receives according to their need.

Through baptism we enter into belonging. By participation our belonging fosters believing – both signs of our taking responsibility for one another.

That we seem even further away from being able to embody this ideal as the hallmark of our participation together within the Christian community – is a continued matter for our profound repentance.


Image: Road to Emmaus by Ivanka Demchuck

Following the Great Three Days of Easter, we find ourselves among the various accounts of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. These come mostly from John but also include today’s gospel portion which is Luke’s account of the experience of two of Jesus’ disciples on the road to Emmaus – a village not far from Jerusalem.

Luke 24:13-35 is one of the iconic gospel passages – shaping Christian spiritual imagination down the ages. Emmaus is a name deeply associated with places of spiritual seeking and retreat – a name that Christians automatically associate with spiritual journeying.

The post-resurrection accounts from John that pose a direct challenge to our received Newtonian understanding of the laws of the physical universe – accounts where Jesus walks through locked doors and solid walls, one moment appearing, the next disappearing – and all that. Luke’s account relates an experience that offers no such challenge to our Newtonian rationality. Luke’s post resurrection appearance is immediately relatable because at its center is the all too familiar experience of minds clouded and hearts set on fire.

Jenna Smith in her article A Blaze of Glory published in The Christian Century, alerts us to the Ukrainian artist Ivanka Demchuk’s painting Road to Emmaus. Demchuk’s work is influenced by the techniques and aesthetics of iconography and in the painting, we see Christ, in white, facing the two disciples on the road. She layers gold filament in a way that draws the eye immediately to the disciples’ torso region – portraying that most significant phrase in the passage: Were our hearts not burning in us as he spoke to us? Smith comments that Demchuk’s use of gold, against the back layers of white, effectively lights up the scene, as if there is a ball of embers in the disciples’ chests. I love the image, both in the text and in this artwork, of hearts burning within us. It is, in this story, so good, such an indicator of trueness and of life. I’ve posted the painting to accompany this sermon online at and

We relate to Luke’s story on the road to Emmaus because, whether we know it or not – we are all on the road to Emmaus – journeying with minds clouded by grief and hearts enkindled by the fires of our yearning.

For the two disciples traveling to Emmaus, it had been a long and bewildering day. The Lord’s death – yes – can it only have been on Friday? – somehow time for them has stood still – the Lord’s death and now first thing today some of the women reported the disappearance of Jesus’ body from the now mysteriously empty tomb. The succession of these events is too great for them to bear. Faced with experience too huge and overwhelming to process – their minds shut down like a computer hard drive crashing. Numbed into mindlessness by grief – all they can think of to do is to physically react and get as far away from Jerusalem as a day’s travel can take them.

Viewing this story from the sidelines of history – from our 21st-century psychologically informed perspective– we’re curious about the dynamics of the experience these two disciples are having as they walk away from the city as fast as their legs can carry them. Along the road they encounter a mysterious stranger who asks to walk with them. He’s been following, perhaps, at a distance and having caught up with them he asks: What are you discussing while you walk along?

Oh, it’s bad enough this stranger intrudes on their grief, but he further burdens them with his dumb-assed question as well. Cleopas, one of the two, turns on the stranger and in a voice dripping with incredulity demands: Are you the only one in Jerusalem who doesn’t know what been going on there these past days?

As if to rub salt into their wounds the stranger simply asks: what things? The disciples commence to pour out their hearts – the first stage of articulating their grief by talking it out to someone else. They relate their grief and bewilderment, the devastation of their lost expectation: we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. And now the worrying disappearance of Jesus body – with only the witness of the women – unreliable in itself – as you know what women are like imagining all sorts of fancies. I mean women – being addressed by angles – really?

We can picture them standing dumbfounded when the stranger rebukes them: what fools you are – not only fools but faithless fools! He then begins a process of reconstructing the broken chains of memory – relinking associations which like broken links on a website no longer connect to the source of meaning. Today, we would recognize that the disciples were suffering from post-traumatic depression – a state of mental shutdown resulting from an overwhelming experience of trauma, grief, and loss.

Luke relates that Jesus beginning with Moses interpreted the things about himself in all the scriptures. In the guise of the stranger, he helps the disciples to begin to process their grief through a process of re-membering. When hyphenated the word remember takes on its original meaning. To Re-member is to put back together – to reconnect broken memory fragments weaving them once again, into a meaningful picture of the world.

There is a fundamental law of psychological life – that the mind only recognizes what it already knows. They could not see what their minds had no stored memory template for – offering a clue into the mindset afflicting the disciples’ on the road to Emmaus.

All forms of trauma – of which acute grief is but one form – interfere with the pattern mapping of memories onto real time experience that enables recognition – that is – the act of re-membering. We know how depression – depresses certain chains of memory capable of restructuring pain and loss – preferring instead memory chains associated with hopelessness and helplessness that simply confirm our current experience of suffering.

The disciples had seen Jesus’ death and burial. With his death all their hope died. They could no longer access the stored memories of him to map onto their real time experience. Cut off by grief from their memories of his teaching, they couldn’t see Jesus because their minds had no way of recognizing him.

As the three men journey on the road to Emmaus something deeply therapeutic is taking place. Grief has traumatized them – preventing remembering. They don’t recognize Jesus because they’ve lost access to the memories of him that could reconnect them to his resurrected body. Gradually with each step along the road – as the stranger beginning with Moses, interprets the things about Jesus in all the scriptures – they begin to re-member – a process beginning in their bodies ennkindling their hearts. By the time the stranger leaves them they can turn to one another exclaiming: Were our hearts not burning in us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?

There’s one more thing to notice in this story. When the disciples reach Emmaus and invite the stranger to stay and eat with them: Stay with us for it’s almost evening and the day is now nearly over. – it’s not only the day that is nearly over but the therapeutic process of reconnecting the broken links – allowing them to map memory onto real time experience is also complete. In response to their invitation – the stranger takes bread, blesses, and breaks it before sharing it with them. Luke tells us that then were their eyes opened and they now correctly recognized the stranger as Jesus. Process complete –memory pattern mapping onto real time experience has been rebooted – and Jesus vanishes from them.

Every therapist working with serious trauma knows that it’s action –as in controlled reenactment rather than words that matter. Over the sharing of the bread Jesus reenacts – reconnecting the last broken link in the disciples’ fuller recovery of memory in real time.

The road to Emmaus is the symbol for our spiritual journey. Like the disciples’ – we make this journey travelling in one another’s company. Like the disciples’, we walk the road to Emmaus with minds clouded by distraction and forgetfulness. Memory templates of doubt and fear rather than hope and courage map onto real time experience. Consequently, like the disciples’ on the road to Emmaus we fail to notice the ball of embers – our hearts burning with yearning for something more.

If we don’t see Jesus – maybe it’s because he’s not who we are looking for – until like the disciples’ we recognize him as he blesses, brakes, and shares with us his bread of life. Only then are our eyes opened in recognition of his abiding presence with us.

Living in the Time In-Between

Ayana Mathis, in her New York Times first installment in a series on American literature and faith titled The Prophetic, is recalling her childhood memories of growing up in a Black revivalist Christian tradition. She writes that:

the God of her revival childhood was all-powerful and relatively benevolent, but had a great many rules about what we should do  (go to church 3x a week, live by the Word of God, literally interpreted) and what we shouldn’t do (listen to secular music, play cards, watch movies, drink). These commitments and privations would be rewarded with God’s love, palpable, like a bird alighting on a shoulder.

She describes leaving this world behind with the memorable image of plunging into the world on the other side of the stained-glass window. Mathis views the beginnings of her adult journey as one of growing beyond her conservative Christian origins to become an artist. Her’s was a journey of learning how to disbelieve but be imprinted by belief.

How to disbelieve while remaining imprinted by belief struck a deep chord in me. Mathis asserts that American literature –and by extension mainstream American culture – remains imprinted by belief, freighted by ideas about morality, justice, and standards for living. Her assertion is that whatever the condition of our belief at the personal level – as in do we, or don’t we? – the cultural impact of belief remains imprinted on us. That despite many manifold wrongs and derelictions, the literary and cultural landscape of America remains deeply imprinted by the nation’s historically Christian heritage.     

She notes that this Christian imprint has both good and not so beneficial consequences –in her phrase it trucks in paradox. The Christian imprint on American society has often been used to justify great evil and at best inspire decency and generosity, acting as a hedge against oversimplistic notions of society and the individual. Her assertion is that our Christian legacy asks us to tolerate a degree of paradox – requiring us to wrangle with contradictory realities in mind and heart with sustenance and insight to be gained in that wrangling.

Omitting her more personal references to a fundamentalist upbringing, Mathis is speaking to many of us – I suspect- here in this church on this Easter morning. Few of us good middle-class, over-educated, professionally-successful, and predominantly White worshippers remain Christian if measured by orthodox belief and devotional piety and practice. Yet here we are on Easter Day. Some among us may be a little surprised to find ourselves sitting in these pews. Yet nevertheless we’re here – despite being unable to give a full account for why we have been drawn here.

Perhaps we’re being drawn by memories of an earlier phase of family life as children or as parents of young children? Perhaps it’s the influence of friends drawing us here? Perhaps – and this is the best reason of all – we’re drawn here by cultural tradition – tradition as the imprint of belief upon our personal struggle with disbelief? Deep-down being here reflects a questioning of certainties -once – easily taken at face value but alas no longer so. Many of us have lost confidence in a belief that Jesus was raised from the dead, and all is right in our lives and our world.

We are they who are seeking to find a fingerhold – to say a foothold here would be to overstate our confidence – to find a fingerhold on what it means to live well with a hope which at times aspires to the level of real courage – and love demonstrated through generous concern for everyone affected by our action or non-action – in short – a generous concern for our neighbor. We are they who are seeking a fingerhold on something ineffable. We wrangle with disbelief while remaining mysteriously imprinted by belief.

Many today think Christian belief is too hard. Belief has been reduced to yes or no answers. Such belief seems to us irrational – an artifact of a former time long passed. We think in terms of making the leap of faith – wondering can we leap that far or not. Edward Weber in a recent edition of the Anglican Digest recalls an Associated Press interview with John Updike not long before his death in 2009 in which he said that he was aware of the explanations for the creation of the universe, which did not require God, but that personally he just could not quite make the leap of unbelief.

So perhaps the leap of unbelief is as hard and irrational as any leap in the other direction? It’s not so hard to believe in a higher power. It’s not even so hard to believe in resurrection as an internal spiritual experience in the minds of the disciples. It’s quite another level of difficulty to actually believe in resurrection as a bodily experience for Jesus.

In his poem, Seven Stanzas at Easter, Updike unashamedly speaks of his belief in the literal, corporeal resurrection of Jesus. Despite his controversial lifestyle, and regardless of whether he practiced a conventional piety or not – John Updike remained firmly imprinted by Christian belief.

Make no mistake: if He rose at all It was as His body; If the cell’s dissolution did not reverse, The molecules reknit, The amino acids rekindle, The Church will fall.

It was not as flowers, Each soft Spring recurrent; It was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled eyes of the Eleven apostles; It was as His flesh; ours.

I’m convinced – whatever the condition of our personal Christian belief – we remain imprinted by the Christian social and cultural legacy. For me, belief is no longer an either or proposition. Belief is neither something I can possess, nor is it something I can lose. Belief is like the tide – it ebbs only to return in the flow. For me, as I am today, belief is the expression not so much of objective faith in a collection of doctrinal propositions but a heartfelt experience of being deeply imprinted by belief as a narrative – a narrative of belief that creates meaning and purpose in my life – continually correcting my orientation to the world around me in all its evil as well as its glory. Mathis echoes Updyke – faith as the practice of wrangling contradictory realities in mind and on heart and finding sustenance and insight in the wrangling.

I agree with Updike that if Jesus was not bodily raised to a new and transformed life – yet a life so continuous with his pre-death human life that he remained recognizable to the disciples – – the Church will fall.

By the church’s fall I’m not imagining the church as the respectable middle-class institution – of which St. Martin’s is one of the finer examples. I’m thinking the Christian legacy which remains imprinted on our culture. Despite the process of relentless secularization – Christianity’s cultural imprint is of a generous orthodoxy which gives our culture its distinctive shape.

There is at the heart of Christianity a curious paradox – Jesus died on the cross – but Christ was born in an empty grave. Wrangling with this paradox is worth it- for it leads us to the realization that resurrection is both a present time experience as well as a future hope.

For me this is the paradox of living in the season of the resurrection – a period of time I think of as the-time-in-between – that is – the time between the resurrection of Jesus and the divine restoration of the whole of the creation at a point we can only poetically refer to as at the end of time. To live in the-time-in-between is to live bookended between the resurrection of Jesus and the eventual restoration of all of creation. If we can forget our narcissistic worries about belief – what is it and do we possess it or have we lost it?, – we become free to embrace living in the time-in-between as a narrative opening us to an immense enrichment of meaning and purpose that continually refocuses our attention on the day and its task of building a future better than our past.

The onetime legendary 19th-century bishop of Massachusetts, Phillips Brooks, wrote: The great Easter truth is not that we are to live newly after death, but that we are to be new here and now by the power of the resurrection.

Living in the-time-in-between means the promise of being reunited in the Resurrection with all who we have loved and yet see no longer. It also means new beginnings after a failed relationship, healing after a messy divorce or a parent-child estrangement; it means new life on the other side of addiction recovery and the healing of old hurt; it means new life for a nation like Ukraine rebirthing in the fire of war.

The new life of resurrection in the-time-in-between can be found in the struggle for peace – not peace at any price but peace with justice; in the making real our hopes and dreams for a future better than our past – a future arriving step by step through our commitment to put right that which currently, is so very wrong in our world. In the-time-in-between we are called to strive for and to witness and to collaborate in the divine plan for restoration and renewal – challenging the world to see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new!

For us living in-the-time in-between the resurrection of Jesus and the resurrection of the whole of creation – poetically referred to as at the end of time – means to wrangle with paradox – holding contradictory realities in mind and heart, and thereby drawing sustenance and insight in that wrangling (Mathis). To disbelieve while being imprinted by belief is the best description I can find for living in the-time-in-between. All well and good you might say but what of the bodily resurrection of Jesus? All I can say is that living in the-time-in-between – we should rule nothing out.

Fickleness of Crowds

Featured Image: Entry to Jerusalem, Sadao Watanabe

There is something mysterious about crowds. Being part of a crowd can be an exhilarating escape from our individual sense of isolation and helplessness. In crowds we find an experience of shared solidarity. An experience of mass protest builds networks to support ongoing action when we return to the sphere individual life. Crowd experiences can become an in-the-moment expression of the more expansive currents of aspiration and longing for change.

But there is also something menacing about crowds. Being caught up in a mass mind-meld can be frightening. Crowds morph in the blink of an eye from peaceful protest to violent action. The journey from exuberant celebration to mass hysteria can be a very short one. We are right to fear being caught up in the experience of mass manipulation when an unscrupulous and skillful orator stokes our fears. Fear-stoked messages become conduits for the surfacing of repressed collective memories and imagined grievances – an experience that we in America are all too familiar with.  

Crowds become the conduits for the resurfacing of shared cultural and historical storylines. It matters greatly which storylines echo through a particular crowd’s collective awareness.  In short crowds can be fickle.

He had come to celebrate the Passover. Having traveled from Bethany, Jesus entered Jerusalem through the East Gate to the wild acclaim from the crowds that greeted him. They stripped the fronds from the palm trees to lay them as a carpet before him as he entered the city gates.

The surfacing of collective memory – acted out in real time – is often the best interpreter of a crowd’s mind-meld . The waving of palms was a gesture that tells us everything about the mind of the crowd welcoming Jesus.

Jerusalem with its estimated population of 40,000 had swelled to well over 250,000 for the Passover festival. Accommodation in the city was at a premium, hence Jesus, during the two weeks prior to the festival had been commuting the two miles from the Bethany home of his friends Lazarus, Martha, and Mary to the city. During this time his reputation had gone viral. Jesus was the name whispered on every breath. Who is he? they whispered to one another. A question couched within the question – the only question that really mattered to the crowds – is he the one?

It’s the palm branches that tell us everything we need to know about the crowd’s expectations. Like the MAGA – Make America Great Again – slogan – the waving of palm branches was a political gesture echoing and earlier storyline. Some 160 years before, the triumphant Judas Maccabeus, the last leader of a successful Jewish rebellion against foreign domination, had led his victorious partisans into the Temple. One of their first acts of victory was to cleanse and rededicate the Temple – the memory of which is celebrated by the Jewish community in the festival of Hanukkah. For us, the important point is that the partisans used palm branches to cleanse and prepare the sanctuary for rededication after its defilement by the Syrian tyrant, Antiochus Epiphanes, whose erection of a larger-than-life sized statue of himself placed in the Holy of Holies was the initial trigger for the rebellion.

The waving of palm branches speaks of the crowd’s expectations for Jesus as a new national liberator in the mold of Judas Maccabeus – come to free them – this time – from the hated Roman occupation.

Of interest here is to what extent was Jesus the hapless victim of a mistaken historical identity – and to what extent was he deliberately playing into the MIGA Make Israel Great Again storyline – colluding with the crowd’s frenzy of jubilation? Again we don’t need to search far for the answer. Riding into the city on the back of an ass proclaimed another historical storyline – that of the prophet Zechariah:  

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
    Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
    triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on an ass,
    on a colt the foal of an ass.
Zechariah 9:9

Of course, as events played out, we know that Jesus had a very different interpretation of what kingship in this context meant. However, we should not miss the implication here that he seems not to be averse to playing on popular messianic expectation of an earthly liberator king.

At the same time as Jesus entered through the East Gate, another triumphal entry procession wound its way into the city through the West Gate. The Roman Procurator, Pontius Pilate at the head of his Roman Legion had also come up to Jerusalem for the Passover.

Pilate did not live in Jerusalem. He chose to avoid the city’s ancient warrens seething with civil and religious discontent. Pilate and his Roman administration preferred the sea breezes and mod-cons of Herod the Great’s former capital at Caesarea Maritima – 60 miles to the west on the coast and now the administrative center of the Roman occupation of Judea.

Pilate hated and feared the crowds of Jerusalem. He feared them most during the Passover which required him to come up to the city with a show of preemptive force to forestall the potential for insurrection. For Passover celebrated Jewish collective memory of liberation from an earlier period of slavery. Pilate’s arrival was indeed a wise move, for the crowds that hailed Jesus, were in insurrection mood.

Holy Week commemorates the events beginning on Palm Sunday of Jesus’ last week in Jerusalem before the Passover. The echoes of three historical storylines merge from Jewish collective memory to intersect and clash with an alarming result as Pilate, the crowds, and Jesus all become caught up in an escalation of events – which in the end – none could control.

The storyline of worldly oppression and political violence intersects with a storyline of populist resistance and nationalist longing for liberation at whatever cost. Both confront the third storyline which concerns the next installment in the epic narrative of God’s love and vision for the world.

I have spoken over recent weeks and days concerning Holy Week and the Triduum – the Great Three Days of Easter – as our liturgical enactment of a drama in three acts. Palm Sunday is the overture – setting up the major themes that will play out from Act I on Maundy Thursday through to Act III on Easter Day.

Of course, we know how the drama ends. But like a Shakespeare play – our knowing the ending does not deprive us of experiencing its spiritual impact in new and unexpected ways. Remember, it’s one thing to read the play in the comfort of an armchair, but it’s always a more meaningful experience to attend its enactment.

Crowds can communicate the exhilarating experience and act as conduits for a people’s collective memory. In American collective memory we find both a storyline of revolution and liberation alongside a darker storyline of civil war. Both storylines vie and clash in our collective memory – and in the present time we remain uncertain which storyline will find a conduit in the action of crowds.

Crowds are fickle because they evoke competing storylines.

Richard Lischer in his 2014 article in Christian Century notes his South African friend Peter Storey who once remarked that “America is the only country where more Christians go to church on Mother’s Day than Good Friday.” It is a sobering thought. Those who skip Maundy Thursday and Good Friday only to show up on Easter Sunday are missing the essential truth of Easter – which is that the Messiah was born in a grave (Paul Tillich).

We too are the victims of competing storylines. For like the crowds praising Jesus as he entered the Holy City, we enthusiastically hail our next political savior until that is, he or she no longer is. We long to do the brave thing, until that is, the moment when we don’t.

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