Sunday, March 20, 2016

Today is Palm Sunday, a day that commemorates Jesus's "triumphal entry" into Jerusalem. This was an incredibly subversive act on his part, both politically and religiously--a bit of prophetic performance art--as Jesus and his followers reenacted the ancient Jewish ritual of the king's enthronement (for which Psalm 118 was written and used). But, as biblical scholar James Sanders points out, in the case of Jesus, "The messiah has arrived and been acclaimed king. He has been recognized as king by acclamation not from those with power or authority but by a rather scragly crowd of disciples and followers."

The participants shouted "Hosanna!" which was a cry to God for justice and mercy. "Hosanna" was what a person would cry out to the judge when they came into court, a reminder to the judge to be just and fair and merciful in hearing their case. At the triumphal entry, the people were calling out to God to hear their case against the oppressive religious/civil/economic system that they were under.

Sanders says, "This enactment of the psalm [118] as a prophetic symbolic act would have been no less blasphemous and scandalous to those responsible for Israel's traditions (and they would have known them well) than similar symbolic acts performed by the prophets in the late Iron Age [such as Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel]." 

What Jesus and his followers were doing was tactically closer to what the Russian feminist punk rock group Pussy Riot did when they disrupted a service at a Moscow cathedral to protest the Orthodox Church's support of Vladimir Putin. The "triumphal entry" into Jerusalem was akin to the Occupy movement's takeover of Wall Street in order to protest social and economic inequality. A day or two later, Jesus would drive out the money-changers from the temple and he and his followers would occupy it. 

So, if you go to church today and see the children waving palm fronds, consider that what they are reenacting is a moment of bold and dangerous prophetic civil disobedience against rulers and powers and authorities and systems of oppression, and the audacious proclamation of a different king and kingdom--a rule and reign marked by mercy, fairness, truth, compassion, kindness, peace, inclusion and grace. A kingdom of shalom.  A kingdom of love. The kingdom of God.


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