When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’’’ They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve. (Mark 11)
In January of 2015 one of my favorite theologians passed away, Marcus Borg. Dr. Borg’s books have been an invaluable tool during seminary and later in congregational ministry. He has a great way of helping the Gospel come alive and I love his telling of some of the history of Palm Sunday from Mark’s Gospel:
“The week begins with Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem at the beginning of the week of Passover. The city had an ambiguous, almost contradictory, status for Jews in the first century. On the one hand, it was the center of their world and devotion. the place of God’s presence in the temple, the destination of pilgrimage, the “Holy City.”
Yet the city had become the center of religious collaboration with imperial power. The high priest and his circle of aristocratic families ruled the Jewish homeland on behalf of the Roman Empire. They owed their positions of power and wealth to appointment by the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate.
On Sunday, Palm Sunday, Jesus entered Jerusalem from the east in a procession riding on a donkey cheered by his followers. At the same time, a Roman imperial procession of troops and cavalry entered the city from the west, headed by Pilate. Their purpose was to reinforce the Roman garrison stationed near the temple for the season of Passover, when tens (hundreds?) of thousands of Jewish pilgrims filled the city.
The contrast between Jesus’ entry and the imperial entry sounds the central conflict that unfolds during the rest of the week. Jesus’ mode of entry was symbolic, signifying that the kingdom of which he spoke was a kingdom of peace. According to the prophet Zechariah, the king entering Jerusalem on a donkey was to banish the weapons of war from the land and speak peace to the nations. The kingdom of Rome on the other hand was based on violence and the threat of violence.
It is clear from Mark that Jesus pre-arranged this way of entering the city. In modern language, it was a planned political demonstration. Of course, it was also religious: Jesus did so because of his passion for God and the kingdom of God.”
Dr. Borg’s central theological idea is that “Jesus sacrificed his life because of his passion for God and the kingdom of God.”
Remembering that Jesus stood for the reign of God on Palm Sunday with his alternative procession is a theological concept that I always remember when I begin Holy Week. Jesus stood clearly for who he was and what he was. Jesus offered an alternative procession and an alternative worldview. We begin Holy Week each year celebrating Palm Sunday and re-remembering the alternative procession and the alternative worldview of our Savior that clearly delineated the totality of his ministry and message.
How are we engaging an “alternative procession” wherever God has planted us?
How are we modeling the alternative reality of the our faith, and the radical message of the Resurrection to those around us?
How are we not just speaking but living peace?
These are always urgent questions for those who follow Jesus but they are particularly urgent when we consider all of the ways violence invades and pervades life on the micro and the macro-scale. How are we creating the alternative procession of peace? It is one of the things our world and our local communities are most hungry for today. As we imagine and plan for new ways of being “Church,” how are we keeping close to the calling and ministry of our Savior Jesus Christ?
From Marcus Borg: “Thus Palm Sunday announces the central conflict of Holy Week. The conflict persists. In words from St. Paul, the rulers of this world crucified the Lord of glory. That conflict continues wherever injustice and violence abound. Holy Week is not about less than that.”
As you receive a palm branch today, may you be offered the gift of re-remembering that as a disciple you are called to take up your place in the alternative procession.