This post was also in Tuesday's newsletter for St. John's, Decatur. To read the rest of the newsletter, click here.
If Jesus processed into our city this Sunday morning, what path would he take? Where would he begin his march? Where would it end? Who would walk with him? Who would stand along the sidewalks and cheer him on? Who would gaze uncomfortably at his procession?
For two years, I have walked alongside my son’s Cub Scout float in the Decatur Christmas Parade. As with most parades in our city, the route begins at one end of the downtown economic district on Second Avenue before turning to make its way past the shops on Bank Street. That central path gives people in our community the chance to spread out along the parade route and see the action. The mile-long, gentle climb gives those on the floats plenty of time to wave to their family and friends and other excited onlookers. But I do not think it is where Jesus would stage his demonstration.
This Sunday, as we begin our worship together, we will hear the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. It is easy to read the text of Mark 11:1-11 and hear the crowd shouting, “Hosanna in the highest heaven!” and think that Jesus’ procession was a joyful parade that accompanied the Passover celebration. While there was joy among his followers and many of those who gathered to see him enter the holy city, the spirit behind his triumphal entry was closer to the Selma to Montgomery March than a local holiday parade.
Jesus brought his movement to Jerusalem to confront the religious and political powers that stood in the way of God’s people’s liberation. Although Jesus spent time during his ministry among the elites of his day, his primary interactions were with the peasant class. His disciples were mostly tradesmen. His healings were offered mostly to social outcasts. When it came to the social systems of first-century Palestine, Jesus was more of an irritant than a participant. He dared to pronounce forgiveness of sins without appealing to the established religious hierarchy. He repeatedly questioned the traditions of his people, including rules that governed Sabbath observance and ritual purity, which were being used by those in authority to deny access to healing and community life to those who needed them. His defiant entry into the capital city was not an endorsement of the established Passover festivities but a rejection of them.
This Lent, our Wednesday-night series has focused on The Last Week, a book by John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg that explores in depth the conflict between Jesus’ movement and the established power structures that he encountered during Holy Week. The authors claim that Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was a direct challenge to the political-religious alliance between the Roman imperial authorities and the Jewish leaders who supported their rule. While Pilate rode into the city in a military parade to remind those who had gathered for the Passover that Rome was in control, Jesus came into town on a donkey as a non-violent lampoon of the Empire’s power. When the crowd of peasants and zealots shouted “Hosanna!” as Jesus rode past on his way to the Temple Mount, they were literally crying out, “Savior, save us!” Their words show that they were endorsing Jesus as the one who could deliver the Jewish people from Roman oppression, and the imperial authorities and their religious allies who looked on became nervous because of the crowd. Ultimately, the clash between Jesus’ non-violent demonstration and the authorities who wielded earthly power resulted in the rebellious rabbi’s execution on the cross.
A few weeks ago, as we read from The Last Week, someone in our home group invited us to imagine where Jesus’ procession into Decatur might begin. Where would he go as he gathered those supporters whom the religious and political powers of our day have ignored? Where would he take them as he challenged the systems that kept society’s outcasts locked in the chains of poverty? As we will hear this Sunday, Jesus began his procession in Bethany, which is about a mile and a half away from Jerusalem. That is only a little less than the distance between the tent village behind Bender’s Gym, where many of our community’s homeless people live, and our church. If Jesus were to begin his procession there, he would only need to walk three miles to get to the Morgan County Courthouse. I wonder who would cheer him on. I wonder who would look on nervously.
This Sunday, we will gather at Common Ground, our community garden, at 10:15 a.m. to begin our Palm Sunday procession into the church. We will walk from that garden, which seeks to make the bounty and beauty of creation available to all people, around the Episcopal Center, where low-income patients receive medical and dental care at the Free Clinic and where at-risk parents and children receive support from PACT. We, too, will shout “Hosanna in the highest,” as we celebrate Jesus’ arrival into the holy city. But, when we do, will we have Jesus’ offer of salvation to the poor in mind? Will we bring society’s outcasts with us as we enter the church? Will we join Jesus in confronting the powers that hold them in poverty?
On Palm Sunday, we begin our journey into Holy Week, when God’s promise of salvation confronts the powers of this world. May we journey with Jesus and celebrate God’s gift of redeeming love to all people.