Entering into Promise

Mary Magdala Community

“Entering into Promise”(c)

Palm Sunday–  March 24, 2024

Rev. Jim Ryan, M.Div., Ph.D.  — jimryan6885@gmail.com

Pastor,  Mary Magdala Community,  maryofmagdala-mke.org

Our Lenten journey transitions this week from a season of renewal in faith to accompanying Jesus and his followers with a focus on the Paschal Mystery, on Jesus’ dying and rising.  One last time we consider the Exodus story with its 3 stages of leaving, roaming, and entering; leaving the place of bondage, roaming in the desert of reflection and repentance, and entering into the land of Promise.  All in the name of freedom the people underwent this sojourn of liberation.  They were compelled to assert their right to 1) freely affirm the One God, and 2) responsibly honor the Covenant.

The Promise which motivated them was based on their living out the relationship of mutuality between YHWH and the people.  As the story goes (incorrectly interpreted, as it turns out) promise was interpreted to be about land and population.  It took about 1200-1400 years for the vision of promise to be correctly taught by Jesus, the Teacher.  Rather than promise being about land and tribe it is about sharing, about becoming a people of justice.

First, let us consider the view of promise as it has to with land.  This view continues to be deeply embedded, namely that God has given the gift of land to the people who are faithful.  You may recall our own country’s policy of manifest destiny; the justification of removing native peoples from the land they had occupied for thousands of years, in part, because God called us to do it.  The current war in Gaza includes trappings of the belief that the land belongs to one population because God decrees it.  No longer ought we to maintain this link of God’s favor with a certain plot of land.

Israel’s own prophetic tradition provides the insight that land is the Creator’s to give and not a thing dependent upon a  human declaration of permanence, let alone a sign of the Covenant with God.  For example, last week’s first reading from the prophet Jeremiah reminded us:

“the covenant I will make with the house of

Israel after those days, says YHWH: I will

put my Law in their minds and on their

hearts. I will be their God, and they will be

my people.” (Jeremiah 31:31)

The prophet Isaiah sees covenant in light of the call to justice when we read,

“I, YHWH, have called you for the victory of justice,

  I have grasped you by the hand;

  I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people,

  a light for the nations:

  to open the eyes of the blind,

  to bring out prisoners from confinement,

  and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.”  (Isaiah  42:6-7)

You would think that the idea of Promised Land as private possession would have been clearly rejected by those who left Egypt and wandered in the desert before occupying the land.  We read in the book of Joshua, where God says:

“I gave you a land which you had not tilled and cities which you had not built to dwell in; you have eaten of vineyards and olive groves which you did not plant.”  (Joshua 24:13)

After all, one assumes – with the view of faith – that the gift which God gives on the basis of Promise may also be taken away.

The Paschal Mystery reveals to us that just as promise is not tied to the land, as such, neither is it a connection with the growth of one’s “tribe.”  This covenant we are looking at began with Abraham and Sarah; it passed on to their children and continued to the time of Joseph.  Included in the entry into the land of promise is the story of bringing the bones of Joseph from Egypt to be buried in the new land.  The reason for this was the position which Joseph held in the history of this covenanted people.  Remember that Joseph had gained rank and status in the court of Pharoah.  When his brothers came to visit him it was mostly because they had been suffering a severe drought in their own land.  They hoped that Joseph would forgive their earlier sin of selling him into slavery and accept them into his new land, Egypt, where the brothers and their families would survive and thrive.  In Hebrew the name, Joseph, means “he will add.”  So, Joseph made it possible for the people to add, increase, and multiply. 

Thus, the spiritual meaning of burying the bones of Joseph in the new land of promise was to petition YHWH for the blessing of filling the land with new descendants.  This beginning which speaks of the Promise of filling the earth must surely serve as an accusation against the descendants of Abraham, who include Jews, Arabs, and Christians. with their inability and unwillingness to live in peace.  We have become many, but in the process we have lost the vision of Abraham.  It is this vision which the author, Marilynne Robinson, writes about in the current issue of Commonweal.  She reflects on the book of Genesis and Abraham’s vision of many descendants when she writes about his view of the stars as visions of the entire human family, “(I)t might be possible to say that Abraham saw as God does, valuing humankind as God does.”

The point I’d like to make here is the Promise has been ultimately fulfilled in the sharing of the Paschal Mystery.  If it ever was verified through the possession of land or the procreation of descendants of one tribe or another, this can no longer stand the test of what is true about Promise.  Our second reading today is from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.  It was Paul, and those who shared the universal vision of inclusion which Jesus taught and justified by his own self-giving death, who points us to all who share the Promise.  He writes,

“In Christ Jesus the Gentiles are now co-heirs with the Jews, members of the same body and sharers of the promise through the preaching of the gospel.”  (Ephesians 3:6)

So, we begin this Holy Week with a new vision about Promise; one no longer dependent upon land or tribe.  Rather, may we approach this week with the hope which Thomas Merton wrote about, hoped for, and desired to the shortened end of his life.  His hope of sharing the Promise came with the desire for depth.  Who among us does not share with him the desire to have a faith of such depth that we recognize all people, all creation, all God’s gifts in its pursuit?

May we experience this week the Paschal Mystery to its depth – the reenergizing of our faith in the One who fulfills the victory of justice, the sharing in the Promise of Jesus the Beloved Messiah. 

Prayer (JR)

A Blessing of Palms

         To begin this Holy Week, All-Holy and Righteous One, we walk with Jesus on the road from Bethany to Jerusalem.  We  devote this time to hear the Teacher’s words of encouragement and hope, of challenge, and of love.  Our worship space is that temple of holiness in which we pray for forgiveness and reconciliation.

      See these palms which we use for your glory, All-Holy and Merciful One.  They are symbols of respect for the person of Jesus who invites us to walk with him on this journey to New Life.  Bless these palms, so full of the memory of past Palm Sundays – full as well of the spiritual means to clear the cluttered pathways of our life today which separate us from your love.

      We bless you who comes in the name of our God.  Amen

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