Sunday of the Passion / Palm Sunday
Prayer of the Day
Sovereign God, you have established your rule in the human heart through the servanthood of Jesus Christ. By your Spirit, keep us in the joyful procession of those who with their tongues confess Jesus as Lord and with their lives praise him as Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Readings and Psalm
Isaiah 50:4-9a The servant of the Lord submits to suffering
Philippians 2:5-11 Humbled to the point of death on a cross
Matthew 21:1—11 Processional Gospel – Jesus enters Jerusalem
Matthew 21:12-17 Jesus clears the moneychangers in the Temple
An Unlikely Resistance
It was a textbook show of power. A parade of arriving dignitaries. Troops armed to the teeth. Symbols were carried – indulgent signs of power that the conquerors planted everywhere they went, marking territory, intimidating the populace, replacing any signs of those who had ruled before them. They knew how to put on a good show. They had done it many times over around the Mediterranean world. Nations had been defeated, peoples suppressed, kings turned into puppets, resources gobbled up and profited from. And these parades served as constant reminders of who was in charge, who was calling the shots. Roman was on parade in Jerusalem that day that Pontius Pilate, Caesar’s man in Palestine, came to the great city in anticipation of the feast of Passover. The had started at Caesarea Maritima – Pilate’s residence and headquarters – the ruins of which we got to see on our tour of the Holy Land last year. A seaside paradise compared to dusty and overcrowded Jerusalem. Another sign of power – the victors possess the best real estate. Yes, Pilate was coming to Jerusalem just in case there was any trouble during Passover – after all the Jews would be celebrating their deliverance from Egypt. The Roman’s wanted to make sure that any sparks of longing for liberty started by that ancient story of deliverance were quickly extinguished. A good show of power, an intimidating parade should remind the people of Jerusalem to stay in their place as the occupied people they were.
It was a textbook conspiracy of collaboration. The religious leaders who ran the temple in Jerusalem could not have been any more in bed with their Roman overlords. They convinced themselves they were doing it for the good of their people, the good of their faith. But it sure looks like they were doing it for their own guarantee of power, their own comfortable, rich living. Together, this foreign power and the local leaders created a domination system that was built on: the rule of a few, economic exploitation, and religious legitimation.
This domination system was in place, they would say, for the sake of peace. The Romans wanted peace, as in the absence of trouble. The chief priests in charge of the Temple wanted peace so that they could continue in their way of holding onto power and collecting wealth. They would tell the people it was so they could practice their religion in peace.
There were rebels and zealots who fought back. They tried to defeat the well-entrenched domination system with violent uprisings and assassinations. They tried to demoralize their overlords. But they only got themselves killed or arrested and then executed. Famous among them is Barabbas who will be the crowd’s choice when Pilate offers to free either the rebel or the rabbi known as Jesus of Nazareth on Friday of this Holy Week.
But today, from this rabbi – we see the most unlikely show of resistance. Pitiful really. Barabbas and his friends probably didn’t even see it as part of the resistance movement that they were trying to ignite. There were no weapons, just palm branches. No shouts of war, just songs of praise and looks to the heavens. No blood was shed; just cloaks were spread in his way. The city of both power and rebellion, was united in its confusion of what to do with this one who had been walking the countryside, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, raising the dead even, and teaching of love and forgiveness, offering hope and peace to those who were oppressed by the Roman occupiers and mistreated by the local religious collaborators.
Yet, Jesus’ resistance movement, as pacific as it may have been, does not stay away from this hot bed of oppression, collaboration, and rebellion. He does not stay in the countryside where his message soothes and comforts. He walks into the ring, on to the battle field, into the arena. He arrives with none of the weapons, symbols, antics, or fury that any of the other players are using to control, collaborate or to confront.
His resistance reflects the love that is proclaimed by the kingdom of God in opposition to earth’s kingdoms. His resistance reflects the hope that is at the heart of God’s presence in our lives in spite of the oppression and manipulation we face. His resistance reflects the peace that is beyond human understanding yet is ours in the midst of domination systems – some we are victims of, some we are participants in. What he brings in this unlikely resistance is peace that oppression cannot create regardless of what it promises to squash. Hope that self-serving collaborations cannot inspire. And world-changing love that violent rebellion cannot include in their tactics.
There is nothing textbook about this resistance that has Jesus parading into Jerusalem. And yet, in the course of the week this resistance will stand up to the oppressors from Roman and the oppressors who seek to separate us from God aka death. In the course of the week, Jesus’ resistance movement will invite his followers to an even deeper collaboration with the God of love as he offers them an ongoing promise of his presence in the meal of bread and wine, and an advocate in the Holy Spirit to guide and inspire. In the course of the week Jesus’ resistance will assure us with deep peace that all victories are won by him and shared with us. There is nothing to fear.
So let us begin this week of unlikely resistance by first disengaging from those oppressive forces with which we participate and collaborate. Let us not be shy about following Jesus into the ring, the arena, on to the battlefield, knowing full well in some cases we will have to battle what is deep in ourselves if we want to participate in his resistance that has the power to free us, fill us with joy, usher us into new life. Let us disconnect from domination systems of racism, sexism, xenophobia, classism, and those closer to our hearts – resentments, grudges, pre-judging, selfishness. Let us take a hard look to see where our collaborations are merely self-serving.
For in the clearing of the temple marketplace – that den of robbers that was the most outward symbol of the domination system that stood as an obstacle between the people and their God, we see the fury with which Jesus – our resistance leader, opposes anything that keeps us from access to God. The cross stands as testimony to just what lengths he will go to restore our relationship with our creator who loves us.
See the cross that is our leader’s symbol of power, not through oppression but with hope and peace. And then hear the called to have the same mind in us that was in Christ Jesus, who, though in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. His is a most unlikely resistance. Yet, world-changing in its effectiveness.
Like the donkeys in our processional gospel – the Lord has need of us. This is the week we learn the methods and practices of the resistance movement that he leads. And we end the week with the promise that this resistance does not fail. For the unlikely one is the victorious one. And his victory now is our victory. Fear not. Join the parade. Join the resistance. Join the walk to the cross. Because it doesn’t end there.
The Rev. Mark Erson,