Delivered at St. George’s Episcopal Church, La Canada, CA

Palm Sunday, 2010

Samaritans

I invite you all to imagine that this is the year 40 C.E., and you are sitting in a home somewhere in Jerusalem, where a visitor has been invited to speak; a  voice of prayer can be heard outside in the distance.

Ah, yes…the Shema…..the great prayer… Sh’ma Yis’ra’eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad. Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One. These are troubling times…Israel is not one, and the Lord our God is not one…at least with the people of the earth…and I am forbidden to join them in prayer at their synagogue.

My name is Aaron, from the tribe of Joseph, and I am a Samaritan….and amongst the Hebrew people, I am an abomination, I am not pure because my ancestors worshiped God on Mt. Gerizim and intermarried with foreigners, not out of disrespect to God, but to survive after the Assyrians destroyed and brutalized my nation, and my people. I have lived, and my people have lived with this memory for generations, and it has taken root in our souls. Living your life as an abomination is a tough thing, it seems each day I am reminded that I am nothing, I am not worth the dirt a person steps on.

For as long as I can remember, my people and the Judeans have held our lives in mutual contempt. In fact, by speaking to you in this place I am in great danger as I am not allowed to set foot on this land, as the Judeans are not to walk on my soil. But, the Judeans and the Samaritans have much in common; we are both a conquered people, and a people whose existence is marked by violence, and oppression.

One day, almost at the end of my rope, I traveled through a village where I spoke with an old woman who had met an amazing man. She told me that he was more than a prophet, or a teacher, and that he had an amazing gaze, and when he spoke, his voice contained so much authority that people came away from the experience healed.

She told me that he was a Nazarene from Galilee, and that his name was Jesus. She said that he did not keep to custom, and that he spoke of acceptance for all: Jew, Gentile, Samaritan, and Romans or Greek. She said that he was the walking embodiment of God’s Wisdom and Glory; he is the Shek-in-ah walking among us, the Glory of God with us in the flesh. I somehow had to find him, and in time I did…I heard him preach.

I can’t tell you exactly what he said, but I remember when he finished, I knew for a fact that God was asking us to be one….I could tell that God was reaching out beyond the barriers we had obstructed. Because of Jesus, God was not this being up there, out of reach, so majestic it would be impossible to experience communion. Jesus taught God was with us, in each of us, filled with love beyond our understanding. Jesus taught that God was not vindictive, and that God was not to be feared like the Assyrians who destroyed my people……God’s love, and care reaches out to all of us, each and every person…..but, at the same time, I learned that God desires justice and mercy for all….for the first time in my life, I was made whole, and the abomination I felt for myself, and my ancestors was lifted. My healing and transformation had begun. Jesus made it possible for me to celebrate my wholeness as a human being.

I know…yes…..you brought me here to share my memories of Jesus, but I can’t help including myself because that’s the way Jesus works…he may be speaking to a multitude, but the inside of your being each person was automatically included, through all joys, each person’s suffering, and his compassionate grief.

After my first experience with Jesus, some time passed and I wanted to learn from him again.  Word reached me that he arrived in Jerusalem. I tried my best to dress as a Judean, and made my way to the city, only to discover he had been arrested…..arrested for blasphemy, saying he was the Messiah, but some said he had claimed to be the Lord God….I don’t recall Jesus saying anything like this, but his being claimed the power, and awesomeness of the Lord; a cedar tree does not have to explain what it is, it just IS….Jesus did not have to claim anything….he IS.

Once I made my way into the city, not far from the temple, I heard a large commotion, so I stood with the crowd in front of Pilate’s palace, and when the doors opened, there stood Jesus, bloody, and beaten…..and then a large wooden cross was placed on his shoulder…the weight was great, but he was able to support it. In my heart, I got the sense that he was taking the weight of all outcasts on his shoulder, accepting each and every person’s private pains, even the ones shouting insults.

The crowd was large, and seemed to have an energy of its own, almost out of control, but greedy to witness pain. I was pushed the shoved, but I followed his path. I saw him stumble and fall. Then a Roman soldier grabbed a man from the crowd, and ordered him to help Jesus. As the younger man offered help, Jesus, with complete graciousness, smiled; in misery, kindness flowed.

As they make their way, Jesus stumbles again, and I heard a loud crack of the lumber as it hit the stone path. I thought of my failures and how I wished I could retreat from life, but here is Jesus, symbol of humanity, a model for gentleness, and strength willing to fall in public, and accepting help without shame —I learned that falling does not mean failure……even through this humiliation, Jesus is teaching…and allowing others to grow.

I remember hearing a scream, a women confronting the soldiers leading Jesus to Golgotha. “What are you doing to my son!” And I see an older rugged faced women standing in the center of the street slowly making her way to her son. The guards prevent her from getting too close, but mother and son look deeply into each other’s eyes with a communication so intense and perfect it bares no explanation. Through this public and intimate moment, I was witness to her quiet strength and resolve, allowing her son the freedom to follow his chosen path with absolute trust.

After this I ran….I don’t know the city well, but in time I made my way out the gate, and I sat on a hill, numb, and confused. I closed my eyes, and wished I had the power to disappear, but soon realized, I don’t even have the power to live….when I opened my eyes, below me, in the distance, I could see the image of Jesus nailed to a cross, flanked by two other people. I can see him trying to raise himself up to breath…but I know he won’t last long….. I stand transfixed and can’t move. In my silence, I wonder what will happen to his followers, and what will happen to me, and those like me who were offered hope, what will become of us?

At that moment, hope was lost, and nailed to a tree. As my inner soul felt the weight of a thousand pounds, the sky suddenly grew dim, and darkness covered the city. I heard Jesus give out a loud cry, and he died.

Tears fell, I closed my eyes once more, and I could hear the sound of weeping echo off the rocks, bouncing around like fireflies of grief. I realized that all of us at that place were a conquered people, a product of violence, subjected by people’s need to control others, to use acts of violence to condone power over other people and nations. At that moment Jesus taught me that aggression, in all forms, crucifies the innocent.

But Jesus also taught me something about love, and compassion, and it was at that moment I realized I was no longer an abomination, that there is no power on earth that can destroy compassion for others, and the love that God had freely given to me, and everyone……My name is Aaron, from the tribe of Joseph, and am loved by God, and I am follower of Jesus, the anointed, who was crucified, and died.

With my head bowed, as my inner soul felt a power it had never experienced, I could feel someone take my hand, and then another person placed their hand on my back, and another person touched my shoulder. A bit startled, I opened my eyes and realized other people were standing with me, each and every person coming to terms with this intense experience. Each one of us, through our numbness, was transformed.

A woman from the group spoke to me saying that I looked as though I were a stranger, and offered me a place to rest and eat. She said that she had only heard about Jesus when she had come into Jerusalem for Passover and asked if I had met him. I said that I had not, but I had heard him preach. She asked me to share with her, and her household, all that I knew……I have been sharing my memories ever since, and will continue to do so for as long as I live.

But I must be going now…and I thank you all for your kind invitation, allowing me to share some of what know of Jesus. Sh’ma Yis’ra’eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad. The Lord IS ONE, when we are one with each other, and transformed by the light of Jesus; may it burn in our hearts forever. Amen.