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Dead man’s walk

by davesandel on March 28th, 2021

Palm Sunday, March 28, 2021 (today’s lectionary)

Dead man’s walk

Christ Jesus emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, becoming obedient to the point of death.

Returning to the desert where they were nearly killed, Woodrow Call, hero of Lonesome Dove, said, “We’re back to where it’s wild again.” His new Scottish friend Lady Carey said, “Yes, it’s wild isn’t it. It’s like a smell. I smelled it in Africa and now I smell it here.”

“It means we have to be careful,” Call said. “Quite the contrary, Corporal Call,” she said. “It means we have to be wild, like the wild men.”

And so author Larry McMurtry sets up one of the bawdiest, most brazen and beautiful scenes of desert boldness this side of the Brazos. When the small party inevitably encounters their murderous nemesis Buffalo Hump, Lady Carey, who is leprous and also a magnificent opera singer, gets naked, mounts a black horse, and leads them through the panicked warriors, singing at the top of her lungs. Her young son’s seven foot boa constrictor is wrapped around her body. Bringing up the end of the procession her maidservant Emerald also disrobes. She is African, black, holding a shining sabre high in the air and leading a white mule.

They brought the donkey to Jesus and covered it with their cloaks. Others spread leafy branches they had cut from the fields. “Hosanna,” they cried. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

Will you forgive me if I think of Jesus riding on his own white (maybe) mule? In my fevered Christian imagination, this crazy scene from Dead Man’s Walk (first of the four Lonesome Dove novels, reminds me of Jesus’ entry today into Jerusalem. No one can arrest him. Everyone is awed by him. He walks through enemies and finds friends, he settles in for Passover, and “many begin to believe in him.”

When the Comanches appeared on the horizon and their Texan bodyguards were panicking, Emerald said calmly, “The wild men are here, my lady.” “Yes, I believe they are,” Lady Carey said. “I believe I smell them.” The Comanches were singing their war song as Lady Carey prepared their procession. She began to sing her own song, Giuseppe Verdi’s songs of life. Walking slowly into the midst of the Indians, she dropped her reins onto her horse’s neck, and spread her arms as she sang.” The warriors stopped singing, screamed in terror, and ran for their lives.

The Lord God has given me a well-trained tongue, that I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them. Morning after morning he opens my ear that I may hear. I have set my face like flint, knowing that I will not be put to shame.

In time our heroes Gus and Woodrow, with their team of “wild” men, escorted the Scottish family onto a ship at Galveston. They were paid handsomely. More great and dangerous adventures awaited them. Lady Carey and her wild calm brought out the best in them. Everyone was learning from each other.

Take and eat, this is my body. And drink from this cup, this is my blood. After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Today Jesus rides into Jerusalem, and soon he will be led away, arrested. I think of his disciples and imagine myself one of them, how they have learned from him and will be learning from each other.

Is there not such great joy in this way of life, following a white mule, riding a black horse, listening to every unexpected, wild, hope-filled word from God our Father?

Even the centurion, who stood facing Jesus dead on the cross, saw how he breathed his last and said, “Truly, this man was the Son of God!”

(Mark 11, John 12, Isaiah 50, Psalm 22, Philippians 2, Mark 14-15)

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