Worship Reflection Sunday, April, 2, 2023

“Our Palm Sunday Choice”

Our Palm Sunday Choice

I picture Jesus’ Palm Sunday Parade as masterful street theater carefully planned down to the smallest detail. It is an orchestrated event. I see Jesus coming into the capital city through the South Gate riding on a borrowed donkey. In the Bible the donkey is a symbol of service, suffering, peace, and humility, even wisdom. Balaam’s donkey had

wisdom beyond its master’s knowing. Donkeys are also thought of as stubborn animals.

They are gentle, dependable, surefooted, strong and true. Mary rode on a donkey when she and Joseph went to Bethlehem. That’s how Jesus’ story begins. Now, near the end of the story, Jesus rides into town on a donkey. The people, many of whom he helped during his ministry, are there to greet him: the woman whom he healed, the blind who had their sight restored, perhaps a few of the 5,000 he fed. They are all there to greet him with shouts of “hosanna” which is a word of praise and adoration, and may also mean “save us.” Happy people threw their garments on the road and waved Palm branches. Palms being a symbol of victory and triumph.

I imagine that on Palm Sunday Jesus entered the capital city surrounded by all these symbols of peace, praise, and joy, and victory. I call it street theater because it is a counter-narrative. At the very moment that Jesus is coming to town through the South Gate, the governor is coming into the city through the North Gate. He is on the opposite side of town. The governor is dressed in royal finery and sitting astride his mighty war horse, a horse he has taken into the heat of many battles. Maybe he is brandishing a sword in his hand. Royal trumpeters and drummers are going before him. Elite guards are surrounding him. The band is playing “Hail to the Chief,” and the crowds are shouting “long live the king.”

It is a tale of two cities. For some it is the best of times, for others it is the worst of times. I imagine myself as a resident of the city. I step out of my house thinking that I am going to go to the South Gate. With all my heart, that is where I want to be. I am so tired of listening to political leaders offering prayers and condolences to families whose children and loved ones have been murdered in churches and classrooms and shopping centers and on street corners. I am bone-tired hearing political leaders say they are sorry. They aren’t. If they were, they would do something to stop it. They don’t. I am increasingly thinking we need a nation-wide strike. The French can do it to protect their pensions. Surely, we can do to protect our families and our children and our schools and our churches. I want to go to the South Gate. I am tired of the hypercritical politicians who profess to care about women, but who are intent on regulating every aspect of women’s lives down to the most intimate detail. I am fed up with stories of hungry people living in food deserts in the middle of this breadbasket of the world. I learned just this week that there are 72 agencies in Sedgwick County working to end homelessness. Seventy-two agencies. I am sure they are all doing great work. But every night roughly 200 people go to the Lord’s Diner for a meal, and I wonder where do they sleep and why are they here and we cannot expand KanCare. The richest nation in the history of the world is spiritually bankrupt. I want to go to the South Gate. I want to stand with my friends and shout “Hosanna.”

Then, I pause, I hear the sound of distant drummers and the trumpets, and I pause. I am glad that the US and NATO allies are supporting Ukrainians. I recently read that the fighting is so intense and the armies are using up munitions so fast that the suppliers are having trouble keeping up with the demand. Meanwhile people in the Pentagon are already preparing us for the next war which will be with China. The world is a dangerous place. We have to be prepared.

Standing on my imaginary street corner, I wonder which way I should go. Which path should I take? Should I go north, or south?

The world at the North Gate is endlessly demanding, dangerous, coercive and exploitative. Every war is a just war. The ends are tailored to justify whatever means will get us there. In a society prone to violence there is no end to violence, no alternative to violence. Didn’t Gandhi say the world has enough for everyone’s needs but not enough to satisfy one person’s greed.

Now I remember a story I heard just this week. It is a story about enslaved people who were forced to do hard labor in harsh conditions. Thomas Jefferson owned 6,000 enslaved people. George Washington owned more than 300. Most of them actually belonged to his wife, Martha. In her will Martha did not free these people. She gave them to her children so that they could live like she did, benefiting from the labor of enslaved people. According to another story I read, the enslaved people were granted a twenty minute respite. During this twenty-minute break they could go to the well to refresh themselves with a drink of water. It was, for them, a precious twenty minutes of freedom during which time they could greet each other, call each other by name, and reclaim their humanity in a system that was trying in every way possible to beat it out of them. Only twenty minutes, but how precious those twenty minutes were. Twenty minutes. It probably took Jesus less than twenty minutes to ride through the South Gate on the back of a donkey. Not long, but long enough. The people who were there could remember what it was like to welcome a different way of being in the world. They would have a story to tell. It was time to choose. If I stayed home, I would be safe. There would be no risk to life or limb. I could read about it all tomorrow or watch it on the evening news. Or I could go to the North Gage. That was the safest bet. And yet, there was this rag-tag parade at the South Gate. I had to make a decision. I had to want to be there, want to participate, I had to want to show up. It was time to choose.

Funny isn’t it. Mary and Joseph had to go to Bethlehem. For them it was a forced march. The magi had to choose to follow the star that led them to the stable. Now, it’s my turn. Jesus is coming. I have to choose.