Today is Palm Sunday. It is a joyous and celebratory Sunday as we praise Jesus as the Son of God. We process into the sanctuary with palm branches waving high. It is a special time. But, Palm Sunday is also the hinge in the Jesus Story. Palm Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week, when the story takes a dramatic turn.
History tells us that there were two processions that day into Jerusalem. From the east, Jesus entered on his humble donkey, and from the west Pilate entered with his array of imperial power. It was a visual reminder of who was in charge. The soldiers, the chariots, the swords, and the bows- all instruments of war – reminded the people of Jerusalem that Caesar was King.
And not just King. The imperial power came with an imperial theology that clearly stated that Caesar was Lord. Caesar was a son of the god Apollo. Pilate’s procession did not only bring a political reminder, but it also brought with it a theological reminder – that all this talk about a Jewish Messiah was nonsense because the people already had a son of god in Caesar.
Jesus’ procession, which we know from the Gospel text, was planned. Before arriving to Jerusalem, Jesus gives his disciples the instructions to prepare the donkey and her colt. Did Jesus know that Pilate was processing in from the other end of town? Assuming that he did (he is Jesus), it is yet another incident when Jesus turns the world upside down.
Jesus offers an alternative to Rome. Jesus’ procession into Jerusalem is one of peace. Jesus – the Christ – the long awaited Messiah – will drive out war with love and peace. The instruments of war will be replaced with instruments of peace.
Pilate’s procession represented the kingdom of Caesar, while Jesus’ procession proclaimed the Kingdom of God. This is the conflict that is Holy Week.
Some scholars have referred to the Palm Sunday procession as a political demonstration. A few years ago, the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations received a lot of publicity. There have been Occupy movements before and since then. These movements, according to Wikipedia are about “social and economic inequality.” Instead of the 1% getting all the good stuff, while the 99% struggle to get by, there should be equality across the board, rather than a hierarchy. Some of you may remember this image floating around social media at the time:
No matter where you stand on the whole Occupy thing, Jesus’ procession into Jerusalem with so many people boldly proclaiming him as the Son of God (and not Caesar) was certainly seen by many of the day as a political demonstration. But when we read the rest of the story, we know that the proclamation and the praise turns into threats and cries for blood.
Palm Sunday reminds us of the tension that is the conflict between the earthly kingdom of power and war and the peaceful Kingdom of God.