Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!
* * *
Today is Palm Sunday. Today Christians will march in Brasilia, Myanmar, Hong Kong, Beijing, Mariupol, and Moscow, and on the Pentagon, flashing water pistols, waving sunflowers, hoisting images of Thich Nhat Hanh, and shouting: HOSANNA HEY SANNA SANNA SANNA HO. MAKE LOVE NOT WAR.
That’s what should happen. But that’s not what will happen.
Instead, children will parade along with adults chanting hosannas and waving green branches while processing into church sanctuaries. Palm Sunday is fun. It celebrates the triumphal entry of Jesus—Israel’s true king, the Son of David—into Jerusalem to claim the throne.
Five days later the acclaimed king was dead, crucified beside a highway like 10,000 other Jewish young men the Romans considered terrorists. It’s what empires do. Quash dissent. Assassinate dissenters. Send a message to would-be dissenters.
(Putin uses that playbook.)
The first “Palm Sunday” was not what most people think it was. It was street theatre.
Jesus rode on a mule accompanied by a battalion of children waving toy swords, mocking the Roman garrison poised on their stallions at the gates of Jerusalem, ready to brutally crush any outburst of Jewish insurgency during the high holy days of Passover, when patriotic fevers always ran high. The Romans would meet violence with violence.
But Jesus, as it turns out, was not a warrior like David. Nor was Jesus a spineless pacifier. Jesus taught and practiced nonviolent resistance to the brutal Roman occupation. Bread, not swords. His partisans would later call him “Son of God,” “Prince of Peace,” and “Virgin born” to subvert Emperor Augustus who had bestowed all those titles upon himself and stamped them on Roman coins.
The gospels are sectarian tracts advocating compassion for all and nonviolent resistance to evil. Love your enemies. Do not return evil with evil. Turn the other cheek. (Show them you’re not afraid.)
That’s how I read the gospels. That’s how Leo Tolstoy, Harriet Tubman, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, Cesar Chavez, and Thich Nhat Hanh read them.
But that’s not how Emperor Constantine or a host of bishops, popes, kings, and presidents have read them. They coopted Jesus.
I believe in the original way of Jesus. But Putin’s savagery in Ukraine is testing my faith.
See Paula’s new photo on the home page. Posted April 10
Thank you. Today I will attend a Palm Sunday Service at a power plant in Grant Town, WV that burns Joe Manchin’s dirty coal. Bishop William Barber will lead our worship and our work to protect God’s creation as corporations burn our Earth and climate.
Palm Sunday appears to be irrelevant with innocent children and naive adults waving palm branches. But as Biblical scholar Marcus Borg reminds us, it is really about a choice between identifying with the powers of Divinity or the forces of this world—the former for peace and justice and the latter for control and domination. Perhaps, in the words of Paul, we need to “give up childish ways” and become more aware and mature. As William Sloane Coffin put it, “How many times has the Church mounted the barricades, facing the wrong direction?”
Oh, if it was only religion that had died upon that Cross instead of Jesus. Seems that the few have been marching for thousands of years to no avail. We have truly forgotten the Way and unless we have a Jesus that is reborn in each of us, the coming history of the world is being held in a delicate balance.
How many paths have been lost and forgotten
How many words have slipped from remembrance
Never written down or written and misplaced
like the events that shaped our heart, that brought transcendence,
that were Music to our Soul.
Thank God for those who have not forgotten and wish to waken us All.
I enter as a willing student today. As someone who does not think that war is a just means of settling differences, Putin’s actions — and historically, those of most nations — are/have been unconscionable and unequivocally evil. If “right action” was to turn the other cheek, with compassion, Putin would today celebrate victory over a fully annihilated Ukraine, all of her people gone forever. May Christians everywhere think long and hard before they pray today. As His Holiness, The Dalai Lama once said, “Yes, I slap and kill a mosquito when it bites me!” Not every creature that causes harm needs to take its next breath. Thank you, Randy, for your powerful words today. As for the Gospels’, I’ll have a rethink while appreciating their loving intentions.
Ever & always a choice… we are looking to see what choices we can make to support Ukraine, democracy; & to stand against brutality & authoritarian destruction.
Perhaps by fasting one day a week & donating to the World Central Kitchen feeding the hungry. Perhaps by driving less, slowing down the use of fossil fuels. Perhaps by planting trees & edible plants, and mindfully tending them as the living beings they are – in gratitude for their gifts – small steps in reciprocal living; & appreciation.
We are in the questions… what can we BE? What can we DO… to HAVE the world of peace we envision?
Palm Sunday seems like a good time to contemplate, and take action. Thank you for stimulating our hearts and minds today… once again🙏🏼💓
Thank you for this deeply-felt and inspired essay and for the truly thoughtful comments it evoked. When there are even tiny lights of caring and love flickering somewhere in the darkness of greed and empire, how can we keep from singing on Palm Sunday?
As always, thought provoking. One bit of clarification. Turning the other cheek had nothing to do with being passive and accepting. In that society, the elite could strike each other with an open hand, always the right hand. However, the elite were forbidden to strike a servant or other “lesser” human with an open hand, only with the back of the hand. So Jesus is saying, turn the other cheek so the person doing the hitting could only strike again with an open hand, thus admitting that the servant was his equal. This same idea is found with the “go the extra mile.” It’s a way to nonviolently say to someone that we are all equal and the same.
I do know that was the intent of that atypical response as well as “if they take your coat, give them your cloak as well.” Such responses transformed the victim into an actor as well. But alas I have a self-imposed 400 word limit and thus couldn’t include that apt explanation. Thanks for doing it for me.
Thank you Randy and Craig, for this educational moment and provocative interpretation. As you both seem to imply, the problem with parables is that they leave out nuance and context. “Turn the other cheek” may work in a very brief folk tale or unilateral incident involving two unarmed, equal individuals. But in a world with active shooters, police brutality, nuclear weapons, and biological and chemical warfare, I’m not so sure. I’m not advocating war. Dear god, no. But I keep thinking how ineffective pacifism was in the build-up to World War II and hope we are not repeating history again.