This post on Palm Sunday is an adaptation of posts I have written in previous years. I am reblogging it here because I feel that it is very appropriate for the theme of this year’s Lenten series What Do We Hunger and Thirst For? It particularly came to mind after I read my husband Tom’s post for Saturday Thirsting for Justice in a Society of Growing Inequality and the comment by Joe Carson, one of the co-ordinators for the Occupy EPA rally.
I suggest you should connect the “hunger and thirst for righteousness” with “suffering for righteousness’ sake” in the ways the privileged Christians who read your blog will most likely find opportunities to do so – related to their vocations.
But that is, in my experience, a “red line” Christian religious professionals will not cross, because the “blowback” from the pew sitters could well leave them saying “would you like fries with that?” in their next job.
The message of Jesus was always subversive, and no more so than on that day that he entered into Jerusalem.
This coming Sunday is Palm Sunday the beginning of Holy week. Many of our churches are busy making palm frond crosses or preparing for a Palm Sunday procession around the church. Stores are full of Easter eggs and hot crossed buns, trying to divert our attention from the real meaning of Easter to their commercialized version of it. And how many of us are sucked in? What is the focus of your thoughts as we head towards Holy week – is it on the life, death and resurrection of Christ or is it on the upcoming Easter egg hunt and your new spring outfit? Most of us know that this day commemorates Jesus triumphant procession into Jerusalem on donkey’s back but few of us are aware of the deeper and very subversive implications of this event.
Palm Sunday gives a preview of Jesus Messiahship and the advent of God’s kingdom of wholeness and abundance. What many of us don’t realize is that there were actually two processions into Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday morning – one that symbolized the Roman culture of Jesus day and the other Jesus proclaiming his upside down kingdom.
According to Borg and Crossan’s important book The Last Week (2007), it is probable that there were two processions going on into Jerusalem on that day. In the year 30, Pontius Pilate was the Roman governor assigned to Judea and Jerusalem. It had become the custom of the governors to live outside Jerusalem, but it was also their custom to come with their soldiers to Jerusalem for Passover. To provide a very visible and powerful Roman military presence at that volatile time, to prevent any potential uprising, for there are already been uprisings and many crucifixions.
His procession would have come from the west at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers – an impressive and lavish procession specially designed to impress the people with a visual display of imperial power: cavalry on horses, foot soldiers, leather armor, helmets, weapons, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, sun glinting on metal and gold.
On the other side of the city, down from the Mount of Olives in the north came Jesus and his humble procession – no pomp, no ceremony, dressed simply like the people, riding on the back of a donkey and followed by his disciples drawn from amongst the peasants and the common people. I can imagine the lepers he had healed and the once blind man dancing and rejoicing with him. And there is Lazarus with Mary and Martha a living symbol of the triumph that this procession represents.
Here was the truly triumphant procession and the true rejoicing of the season. Jesus and his friends were greeted with cheers and shouts by crowds all along his path. “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna!”
Much of what Jesus’ life and teaching was about was the conflict of the kingdom of God with the empire of Rome. Theologically and politically. The Romans believed their emperor was to be worshipped as the son of God, the savior of humankind.
When Jesus rode into Jerusalem and his followers acknowledged him as Lord and Messiah, this was not only a personal theological statement but a political statement as well. Jesus’ belief in a liberating, inclusive, non-violent, peace-seeking kingdom of God was over and against the oppressive, greedy, elite-loving, peasant-starving kingdom of Rome. No wonder his was so angry with the Temple hierarchy – the chief priest, the elders and the scribes – who had become servants of the empire and not of the kingdom of God.
Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem was obviously headed for a collision with the powerful Roman empire – collision that would cost his life and change history forever. Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem may have begun with crowds shouting Hosanna but it ends with Good Friday and the apparent triumph of the powers of the Roman Empire and of Satan. It does not end with a gold crown but with a crown of thorns. Jesus’ triumphal entry ends with his willingness to take into himself all the pain and suffering of our world so that together we can celebrate the beginning of a new procession on Easter Sunday – a procession that leads us into God’s banquet feast and the wonder of God’s eternal world.
The question for all of us as we approach this Palm Sunday and enter into the celebration of Easter is: Where is our allegiance? Where do we find ourselves in these pictures? Are we part of that ragamuffin discipleship band following Jesus fully aware that we are on a collision course with the values of our secular culture? Are we some of the misguided enthusiasts, cheering our own idea of a messiah, that looks more like the Roman emperor than the humble Jesus? Are we enamoured by an idea that has little to do with what Jesus has come to teach? Do we only want to follow a Jesus when we think he promises health and happiness here and now? Have we so misunderstood him and his purpose and that we are ready to turn against him when he turns out not to be who we thought he was?
Perhaps however, we’re not part of Jesus’ procession at all. Perhaps we’re standing at the other gate, cheering for the symbols of empire. Dazzled by power, attracted to wealth, wanting to identify with the victors, not the vanquished, hoping to be counted as one of the elites of our time.
Actually most of us are probably part of both processions – wanting to follow this Jesus whom we find so don’t fully understand but also caught up in the excitement of Easter egg hunts and spring fashion displays.
And the beauty is that Jesus, in his humanity, sees and knows all of us. . . the flawed humanity that surrounds him. . . the flawed humanity of each of us. . . and he sees it and he forgives it, and loves us, and gives his blessing to all of us as he clops along the dusty road toward his confrontation with power, his time of trial, his abandonment, his death.
Let us enter the city with God today,
And sing hosannas to our king,
Let us turn our backs on the powers that grasp and control,
And open our hearts to the son of God riding on a donkey.
Let us join his parade,
Surrounded by outcasts and prostitutes, the blind and the leper.
Let us follow the one who brought freedom and peace,
And walk in solidarity with the abandoned and oppressed.
Let us shout for joy at Christ’s coming and join his disciples,
Welcoming the broken, healing the sick, dining with outcasts.
Let us touch and see as God draws near,
Riding in triumph towards the Cross