"Palm Sunday, 2015"
- At the Desert Retreat House -
Back in the time of Jesus, the people of Jerusalem were used to grand processions on their city streets. Almost every day flanks of heavily armed Roman soldiers mounted on fierce mighty steeds, would solemnly parade along the main streets as a show of force. They carried banners proclaiming Caesar as king, warning Jewish citizens that they had better remain docile and submissive lest they incur the wrath of the mighty empire.
Today is Palm Sunday on the Christian calendar, a day to commemorate another kind of procession on the streets of Jerusalem, a day when Jesus and his ragtag group of disciples formed a little procession and marched into Jerusalem along the city streets - a procession that was deliberately meant to be an obvious "in your face" protest against those mighty parades of the powerful forces of Rome.
Instead of being mounted on a warhorse, laden with weapons and clad in armor, Jesus comes into the city riding on the back of a jackass armed only with the weapons of love and the armor of compassion. Walking next to Jesus are his disciples, a bunch of simple fisherman, a group of women, a handful of children and in the crowd of onlookers are the outcasts of society - those people who had been cast onto the trash heap by the rich, powerful and famous of the popular culture. In the crowd there are beggars in rags, sick people on stretchers, and those hobbling around on crutches. There are others in the crowd with faces emaciated from hunger, those that are notorious public sinners, and lawbreakers who have no place among upstanding citizens.
And instead of brandishing swords and clubs the people on the Jesus' procession are waving palms and olive branches - signs of peace and tokens of love. The air is filled with a sense of hope and expectation - a new way of living is entering into the city of Jerusalem and into the world, a new order in which the powerful will no longer lord it over the weak, where there is a place of dignity for every human being.
We often see Hollywood movies about Jesus' entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Most people don't realize that this was actually a subversive protest march in which the forces of love and justice march in direct opposition to the forces of empire and domination - setting the stage for an inevitable clash.
This morning as I think about that Palm Sunday protest march of 2000 years ago, I am reminded that this year we are also celebrating the 50th year of the infamous March on Selma. As I think about it, what happened in Selma 50 years ago was very similar to what happened on the streets of Jerusalem some 2000 years ago. The events of Palm Sunday were indeed a "March on Jerusalem" - the clash of opposite forces on the city streets, the seemingly meek and weak armed with love and thirsting for for justice going head to head with the powerful might of the status quo. Surely there is no hope for love to win the day? Or is there?
On this Palm Sunday as I reflect upon this March on Jerusalem, the question I ask myself is "are you going to just sit back and watch as the parade goes by, or are you going to join the marchers?"
In the imagination of my meditation, as I sit in the quiet of my garden I hear a parade going by on the street outside my house- the "March on Jerusalem" continues. So I get up from my comfortable chair in the quiet of my garden and I join in.
As I march along I see that I am walking along with millions of others. Jesus leads the way along with the Buddha, the prophet Muhammad, the great prophets of Israel. And look, over there is Gandhi, and of course there is brother Martin Luther King marching right next to Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa, Caesar Chavez and Harvey Milk. We are all plucking off palm and olive branches from the nearby trees and waving them - signs of peace, tokens of goodwill.
As the march proceeds, I notice that there are some people on the sidelines who don't like the noise we are making disturbing the complacency of their quiet lives. Still others are angry and they aim to stop us on our way. How dare we sing songs about "lifting up the poor and outcast from the garbage heaps and sitting them in places of honor next to princes and kings?"
In the imagination of my Palm Sunday meditation, I am carrying a banner:
On the spiritual path
the afflicted are comforted and
the comforted are afflicted.
And I ask myself once again, "How can this rag-tag bunch of people, armed only with love and compassion possibly hope to win in a head-on clash with the powerful forces of the status quo? Surely there is no way for love to win the day?
Or is there?