(Mark 11:1-11 & 15-19)
I used to hate getting my palms messy.
I hated chalk dust, I hated pizza grease, I hated dried glue.
I hated Little League baseball, where I was doomed to play Right Field, that dark netherworld where nothing ever happens in Little League except for this queer little kid, one day, picking up something that looked like a discarded shirt, but actually turned out to be a bloody, dead kitten.
I loved pretty things. I hated messiness.
I also hated parades. I hated heat and sweat and tired feet and no-access-to-a-bathroom-to-wash-your-hands-for-sometimes-hours.
And I especially hated glitter.
But before you think I was just a pint-sized killjoy, let me tell you about two pretty things I loved: Jesus and David Bowie. And though this may be the only sermon in existence that places these superstars side-by-side, I know why they both appealed to my young, queer little heart: They are both chameleons. Bowie shifts from image to image, style to style, character to character, defying gender and sex and definition, while still remaining, at his core, a human being whom we think we know. Bowie does this image-bending to himself. With Jesus, we do the image-bending for him.
So how many different Jesuses are there? Billions. Whether you believe he was God incarnate or whether you believe he was just cool or whether you believe the world would be better off without him, inside each of us who have ever heard his name, there’s an image, maybe several ever-evolving images, of who Jesus is, could be, should or shouldn’t be. We create the Jesuses we want to follow and the ones we want to question.
Well, today, I want to make a bid for balancing out that pristine Easter Jesus we’ve created, the one who died to save us as long as we’ll accept him as our personal Lord and Savior, with another kind of Jesus. I believe the best Biblical image of Jesus is right there in today’s Ancient Testimony. This is Passion Jesus, the Jesus of Palm Sunday and Monday, the rabble-rouser who playfully enters Jerusalem in full lampooning style, staging two incredibly well-orchestrated, outlandish bursts of radical queer protest street theater.
Now, next week, we can celebrate Easter Jesus to our heart’s content. Easter Jesus can be of infinite use, and I’m sure we’ll explore that, as we should. I, myself, prefer Passion Jesus to Easter Jesus, but it’s much like intense Bowie fans preferring Ziggy Stardust to Aladdin Sane or the Thin White Duke or, God help us, the Goblin King from Labyrinth. If we care enough, we’ve all got our shifting favorites and neither Bowie nor Jesus is safe from our hip, critical eyes.
But the image of Easter Jesus, at its worst, does true harm, both to our inner selves and to those for whom the Bible has only been known as a rule-spouting, hate-sputtering, identity-punishing weapon. And, even though I used to prefer comforting cleanliness, I have been converted to dirty, do-it-yourself-ness. I even like parades and marches and messy palms. So, today, I offer three interconnecting thesis statements (I still like a little bit of order), three thesis statements contrasting the dangers of pristine, saving, untouchable Easter Jesus at its worst with messy, troublemaking, glittery, on-the-ground Passion Jesus at his best.
Thesis 1: Easter Jesus, at its worst, furthers the status quo. Passion Jesus is queer as all get-out.
In the Gospel of David Bowie, Chapter “Oh! You Pretty Things,” Bowie exclaims: “Oh! You pretty things, don’t you know you’re driving your Mamas and Papas insane? Let me make it plain: You gotta make way for the Homo Superior.”
On Palm Sunday, Passion Jesus and his followers burst into Jerusalem, having already driven their own Mamas and Papas insane, and they made way for the Homo Superior by carrying out a well-planned, scripture-based act of non-permitted, non-violent protest. This orgasmic colt-riding, palm-waving entrance finds its scriptural basis in old prophetic writings by Zechariah and models itself on such traditional acts of street theater like those of famous kooks Ezekiel and Jeremiah. Passion Jesus knew what he was doing and what he was doing was using tradition to make trouble.
Remember: There were two processions riding into Jerusalem on that Sunday. The major, permitted one was that of Pontius Pilate, a representative not only of imperial power, but also of imperial theology, through which Caesar was not only the ruler of Rome, but was thought to be, literally, the Son of God. Pilate was entering Jerusalem as a divinely-appointed hall monitor.
So on the other side of town we’ve got Passion Jesus and his palm-waving circus. Now, sure, Passion Jesus’ donkey show is a seriously-planned protest. But it’s also low comedy, a lampoon, a camp, playfulness at its most foolish. In Mark’s words, Jesus orders his followers to grab him a colt and it’s well worth the chuckle to imagine the queerly ridiculous, theatrical image of a rag-tag crowd bowing in histrionic worship as Jesus, weighing down an annoyed, mangy, Shetland-sized ass, hobbles slowly into the city, a funhouse-mirror reflection of Pilate and his threateningly-majestic stallion.
Passion Jesus is a comedian with no respect for the dominating systems of the world and these dominating systems of political oppression, economic exploitation, and religious legitimization of empire, were back then, and are now still, thanks in part to our Easter Jesus, the status quo. Passion Jesus is acting up, he’s reclaiming the streets, he’s building excitement in his followers while simultaneously sticking both glittery middle fingers up to the oppressive status quo through queer performance art.
Passion Jesus is queer because, even before this radical spectacle, he’s been hanging out in the country, spouting the words, “repent” and “believe,” and these words are much queerer than we stuck-in-the-Easter-mud Christians have been taught. At their ancient roots, “repent” means “to go beyond the mind that you have,” and “believe” means something more like “to trust and commit yourself.” So when Jesus tells folks to “repent and believe in the good news,” he’s asking them and us to look beyond those status quo systems, those boxes of normalcy, those stultifying binaries we’ve created, to trust that there is a better way and to commit ourselves to working together to find it.
Sadly, our Easter Jesus, at its worst, has co-opted these words and made them scary, paralyzing edicts. We throw “repent” and “believe” around like they’re The Law, and neither sounds very fun.
But Passion Jesus playfully embodies these words and takes them back to their original meanings, showing us that there’s a whole lot of fun to be had while you’re figuring out how to find a more inclusive way, how to ask more invigorating questions, and how to eviscerate the straight-laced systems that have bound us up for too long.
Thesis 2: Easter Jesus, at its worst, is “meant” to die. Passion Jesus earns his death.
We give this version of Easter Jesus a whole lot of airtime. This is the Jesus who was sent down to the Earth as if he were some personified version of Noah’s Flood, divinely charged to die for our sins, wait it out for three days, resurrect, and then come back and punish all of us who won’t quote-unquote “repent” and “believe,” and it’s all part of some plan that leaves us feeling powerless and just a little bit evil.
But Passion Jesus doesn’t need this plan, because his Palm Sunday spectacular, followed by Monday’s temple-demolishing stunt, clearly shows an activist with nothing left to lose, an activist who is willing to take his message as far as he needs to, who is not afraid to die, because he is earning his death through on-the-ground, messy, confrontational, direct action.
If we only trust in saving, punishing Easter Jesus, we create the totems and blood sacrifices lambasted by James Baldwin . Crosses keep ourselves from accepting the fact that death is coming for all of us. Fighting to make our lives more beautiful, more glittery, more messily inquisitive, is the livelier way to live. It’s the only way to know that, when death comes, we’ve earned our rest.
There are those with no choice but to face the fact of death. And then there are those who have to make the choice, who have to step outside the comforts that our privileges have given us, in order to fully live. I, a tall, white, sometimes-anonymously-gay man with so much money I can afford to have a whole crap-ton of student loan and credit card debt, I need Passion Jesus to continuously kick me in the butt with his glittery stiletto heels. Queer-as-all-get-out Passion Jesus looks a whole lot like those queer folks who still get hunted down on the street. He flips over tables and screams at the top of his lungs because he has to. He has nothing left to do but try to make life safer, more open, more gorgeous, and more glitter-infused for those who party in the shadows because they’ll be killed in the light.
Passion Jesus earns his death by living more authentically than I ever have. Passion Jesus gets his hands messy with confrontation. He doesn’t save us through some divinely-planned sacrifice. Instead, he shows us that we must live as authentically, as passionately, as glittery as he did if we are to have any hope of ever saving ourselves.
Thesis 3: Easter Jesus, at its worst, merely asks us to be spectators. Passion Jesus compels us to be “spect-actors.”
This term, “spect-actors,” comes from Augusto Boal’s theories of Theatre of the Oppressed. In Theatre of the Oppressed, the barrier between performers and spectators is demolished, creating a populist platform for the voiceless to make some noise. In the world of Theatre of the Oppressed, nobody sits and watches. Instead, everyone is asked to look at the scenes presented and to join the narrative, transitioning from a role as spectator to a role as “spect-actor,” changing the plot, devising communal solutions to pervasive problems, and putting themselves in one another’s shoes in an effort to transform reality for all.
The image of Easter Jesus, at its worst, keeps us sitting, slack-jawed, amazed at all he has done, dumbfounded by his sacrificial act of dying for our sins. It invites us to watch and wait, certain that, if we only believe in all the things decided for us about Christology, atonement, and blood sacrifice, we’ll be alright.
But Passion Jesus implores us to follow his lead, to embody our most authentic selves and embrace the differences and connections between us all. Passion Jesus gives us no choice but to jump up as “spect-actors,” joining in the parade, in the acts of civil and uncivil disobedience that remain necessary in a world still so frightened of thinking outside the box.
Spectators don’t repent or believe. They sit and receive and don’t get their hands messy.
Spect-actors repent and believe so fully that they can’t stay clean.
Now, if you think that the dividing line I’m drawing between Easter Jesus and Passion Jesus leaves no room for the idea of resurrection, have no fear. I think Passion Jesus was and is resurrected, just differently, because his glittery spirit jiggles inside us and around us every day. We are the resurrected Passion Jesus as long as we passionately choose to be. Passion Jesus acts up through our big actions, our little actions, our actions completed with humor and seriousness, as long as they are authentic actions.
Passion Jesus is resurrected over there in Moon from Theatre of the Oppressed NYC, in Amanda from Dead Darlings, in Ken from Queer Nation, in Jacqui and Lee from our Reproductive Rights Initiative, in Michael Conley from the West Village Chorale, in Jane, Grace, Keen, Donna, and our entire New Sanctuary Coalition, in Sadat Iqbal over there, who works at the Lower East Side Harm Reduction Center, the group that provides supplies to Kim Kelly and her heroic harm-reduction kit-making team, in Ruby from Teddy Cares, in Doris from Community Board 2.
And Passion Jesus is there in you, you, you, and all of you, pouring your hearts and souls and sweat into queering the norm, shaking up the status quo, because the world needs your passion and you have nothing left to lose. You feel that thing inside you threatening to explode through your chest, showering glitter bombs of justice all over the street. You might not have a donkey, but, as long as you balance your high-horse with a bit of playfulness, your passion points you toward a new way, questioning your own presumptions and forcing others to question theirs.
So, today, I invite you to do exactly what each of us up here has been symbolically doing throughout the service. There’s a pool of glitter for the taking. You’ve got the whole rest of the day. Get your palms messy. Dip yourself into everything you sometimes ignore. Reclaim the streets and make your own parade. Flip over the tables of all the comfortably clean systems and shout praise for those who need us most. Queer every boundary. Be the glitter you wish to see in the world. Don’t wait. Don’t spectate. Activate. That is exactly what Passion Jesus would do.
Mark 11: 1-11; 15-19
When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’”They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?”They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
“Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves;16 and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written,‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.”
And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching.And when evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.
James Baldwin, from The Fire Next Time
"Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death—ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life."
 Marcus J. Borg & Dominic Crossan, The Last Week.
 see the Modern Testimony, from James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time.