"Palms at Daybreak"
- At the Desert Retreat House -
On this weekend Christians around the world celebrate “Palm Sunday.” I imagine most everyone is quite familiar with the story of this day - the tale of Jesus’ grand entrance into Jerusalem a week before he is crucified, greeted by crowds waving palms branches and shouting “Hosanna."
The problem with this too-familiar tale of Palm Sunday is that it doesn’t tell the whole story of what went on that day, often failing to grasp what Palm Sunday is really all about. The tale of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is, in fact, a story about a “protest march” – a march against the powers of domination and oppression, a march to proclaim and promote the cause of justice and compassion.
The fact is that, on that first 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 through the streets of the city to remind the people that Caesar and everything he stood for was emperor and Lord.
The march of the army into the city is a 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 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 a “protest” march, a peace march, a march for justice and compassion. As Jesus 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 two opposing marches are clearly on a collision course that, by the end of the week, will ultimately lead to a cross and an empty tomb - 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.
I am also struck by the fact that, on this weekend, people from all across the United States will be marching through the streets of this nation "protesting" the rampant gun violence that has infected the land. As I see it, beside carrying signs and placards, it would be most appropriate for all of the marchers, regardless of the spiritual path they may be on, to be waving palms and olive branches.
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 hand-in hand 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, pick up your palms and come and join us on the way.”
Martin Luther King once said:
Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable.
Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice.