Sunday, March 25, 2018

Palm and Passion Sunday: A Meditation from Littlefield Presbyterian Church

March for Our Lives in Detroit. Photo: Julie Gruber Delezenne

"Introductory Meditation on Palm and Passion Sunday"

Mark 14 and 15

The streets around our nation were filled yesterday with young people and parents and other supporters, for March for Our Lives rallies. Hundreds of thousands gathered in our nation’s capital. They came from Florida, where their high school peers were gunned down on Ash Wednesday and from around the country.  There were student-led marches around the country and in other nations, protesting gun violence and demanding reforms that will make the world safer.
            We’ve witnessed-- and some of us have participated in--women’s marches… and protests against travel bans.  There have been vigils to grieve mass shootings.  Every week there are rallies to support immigrants who are being deported.  There are protests of various kinds of injustice.
            Beginning the day after Mother’s Day, there were will be a series of peaceful actions in Washington and in state capitals around the country as part of the new Poor People’s Campaign.  

            A few minutes ago, we heard the story of another peaceful demonstration, when Jesus entered into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey on that first Palm Sunday, in a dramatic act of political theater. Jesus enters into Jerusalem like a king, challenging the authority of every earthly kind and even of Caesar himself.[1]
            The political implications of Palm Sunday have been lost in many of our churches. With the people in the crowds that welcomed Jesus that first Palm Sunday, we wave our palms and shout “Hosanna!” and sing “All Glory, Laud and Honor.”  But we may not realize that what we’re doing is challenging the Empire.  If Jesus has all glory and honor, there is none left for Caesar.[2]

             On the other side of the city there was another parade.  Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of the region, was entering the city with his cavalry and foot soldiers, as he did every Passover.   There was often trouble in Jerusalem around the time of the Passover—a festival that celebrated the Jewish people’s liberation from an earlier empire, when Moses led them out of Egypt.   So, the governor brought in extra troops to reinforce the troops that were permanently stationed near the Temple, as a show of power and force. 
            The story of Palm Sunday, as Mark tells it, draws on Old Testament prophecies to show Jesus as a messianic king. Six centuries earlier, the prophet Zechariah had proclaimed a messianic vision of a king like David returning to the throne in Jerusalem, and Mark uses this imagery in describing Jesus’ procession into Jerusalem.  Zechariah says,
            “Lo, your king comes to you, triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.[3]  
            The people would have recognized this imagery. So, when Jesus came riding into Jerusalem, it must have felt to the peasants in the crowd as though they were on the threshold of an exciting new era.   By entering Jerusalem in this way, Jesus claims to be the legitimate “king”.  This is a counter-demonstration that challenges the authority of imperial rule over Jerusalem.
            In Zechariah’s prophecy, the new king would banish war from the land— no more chariots, war-horses, or military weapons.  Jesus’s procession deliberately countered what was happening on the other side of the city.
            Pilate’s procession embodied the power, glory, and violence of the empire that ruled the world, the Roman Empire that exercised power through military domination, using the cutting-edge military technologies of the day.
            Jesus’s procession embodied an alternative vision-- the kingdom of God.  His victory will be won through humility and nonviolence and love. Jesus’ humble claim to a peaceful kingship was radically counter-cultural. It was politically subversive.
            This contrast— between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Caesar— is central to the gospel story--   to the story of Jesus and the early church.
            Jesus enters the city and proceeds to the Temple. Now, in that time, the Temple wasn’t just a religious center, but also the place where Judean society interfaced with the Roman Empire. As Robert Williamson points out, it was the job of the chief priests to collect taxes as tribute for Rome and to keep Judea functioning smoothly as a loyal Roman province.  “Through the Temple, religious elites kept the Empire operating smoothly. They provided a theological rationale for the political and economic domination of the Roman Empire, which enriched the upper classes at the expense of the poor.”[4]
            According to Mark’s Gospel, Jesus returned to the Temple on the following day to overturn the tables and cast out the money changers, protesting the Temple’s collaboration with an Empire that enriched the few and oppressed the many.

            In a few moments, we are going to hear the story of Christ's Passion, as told by Mark.  Today and this Holy Week, may we be startled and challenged into seeing God’s Reign afresh, as the subversive, empire-challenging reality that it is.
            Following Jesus on the way of the cross, we need to choose. Will we collaborate with the Empire?  Or will we choose to participate fully in God’s revolution of love, which promises abundant life for all?  If we see injustice and evil in the world around us, will we walk the way of humility and non-violence and love to resist the that injustice, trusting in God’s abundance and faithfulness?
            The good news we hear in the Holy Week story is that God emptied God's self for the sake of every beloved creature, including you and me-- because it's God's very nature to love us that radically.  We know what God's love is like by seeing it in the self-emptying servanthood and humility and self-giving on the cross! 
            So, let us go there and be with our Lord in his suffering and in his triumph.  See his great love for you...   and renew your great love for Him.
            Listen for the good news:

At this point, we heard the story of Christ’s Passion, as told by Mark the Evangelist, in chapters 14 and 15.

Rev. Fran Hayes, Pastor
Littlefield Presbyterian Church
Dearborn, Michigan
March 25, 2018                      

[2] Robert Williamson Jr, “Palm Sunday in the Time of Trump (Mark 11:1-11), at

[3] Zechariah 9:9
[4] Williamson.

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