- At the Desert Retreat House -
Today is “Palm Sunday” on the Christian calendar. Most Christians are quite familiar with the story of this day, and even if you aren’t a Christian you most likely have seen the movie on TV - the story of Jesus’ grand entrance into Jerusalem as he is hailed with shouts of “Hosanna,” a week before he is crucified.
The problem with the all-too-familiar story of Palm Sunday is that it doesn’t tell the whole story of what went on and what Palm Sunday is all about. The tale of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is, in fact, a story about a “protest march” in the cause of justice and compassion.
In the untold story of Palm Sunday, as Jesus enters Jerusalem there is another procession going on at the opposite end of the city – a march into Jerusalem by flanks of heavily armed Roman soldiers on mighty steeds, parading into the city as a show of force. They marched into the city to remind the people on the streets that Caesar and everything he stood for was emperor and Lord.
The march of the army into the city is, in fact, the perfect icon of the oppressive and dominating culture of the all-powerful empire in which there was no room for the poor and weak and only the strong survive.
As the mighty power of the empire enters into Jerusalem on one end of the city, Jesus and his ragtag group of disciples enter on the other end and the contrast couldn’t be more striking. Jesus is seated on a little donkey and all the “riff- raff” greet him and walk along with him - small children, beggars in rags, the sick and lame, people who don’t really count, those who have been thrown into the trash heap by those in power. Instead of brandishing weapons and swords, the people in this procession wave palms and olive branches- signs of peace and tokens of love.
Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is, in fact, a protest march, a peace march, a march for justice and compassion. As the Jesus procession enters the city, the air is filled with hope and expectation that a new way of living is marching in - a new world order in which the powerful will no longer lord it over the weak, where compassion is the order of the day, where there is a place of dignity for every human being.
The story of Palm Sunday is a tale of two opposing cultures marching toward another – one, the dominant culture of empire and exclusion, the other a culture of compassion and inclusion, and the story of this upcoming Holy Week is a story about the clash of these two cultures, so stay tuned.
As I see it, the narrative of Palm Sunday is not just a tale told to Christians, but a story for all people who walk any path of justice and compassion- a path that will always clash with those marching in the opposite direction of violence, domination and oppression. On Palm Sunday I do not only think of Jesus entering into Jerusalem, I think about all the many people over the generations who have tread along a deliberate, counter-cultural “protest path” in the cause of compassion and justice.
In my Palm Sunday meditation today I imagine Jesus marching alongside the Buddha and with them is the prophet Muhammad, and they walk with the great prophets of Israel who were voices for the voiceless ones. I also imagine Gandhi in this march walking along with Nelson Mandela and of course there is Dr. King and Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa, Caesar Chavez and Harvey Milk.
In my meditation, this great throng of protest marchers call out to me and they call out to you: “Don’t just watch us, come and join us on the march.”
Martin Luther King once said:
Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable.
Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice.
On this Palm Sunday all people of goodwill are called upon to wave palm fronds and olive branches of peace and to take steps marching toward the way of justice and compassion in a culture that so often walks in the opposite direction.