Sunday, April 09, 2017

Palm Sunday

Today is Palm Sunday, a day that commemorates Jesus's "triumphal entry" into Jerusalem. This was an incredibly subversive act on his part, both religiously and politically. It was 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 had been 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 in Jesus entry into Jerusalem 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, often as a result of having fallen behind on their crushing debt obligations (such as from having to borrow money in order to pay the temple tax). "Hosanna!" was 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 terribly oppressive religious and civic and economic systems that they lived 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 Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel]."

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 risky prophetic public action against rulers and authorities and systems of oppression. It was the audacious proclamation of a very different kind of kingdom and king; marked by care for the "least of these" and fairness and integrity and compassion and kindness and peace and radical inclusion and grace and love. The kingdom of God.


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