Sermon. April 5, 2020 (Palm Sunday)
Rev. John Steitz
The text for Palm Sunday has Jesus entering into Jerusalem on a donkey and a colt. Is Jesus riding on the donkey, the colt, or somehow on both?
In order to unpack this somewhat awkward entrance we need to frame it within the context of the way of conquering Empires. The conquering Empire would hold displays of power and domination. Think of the Soviet Union and their grand parades of tanks and missiles. The imperial army would proceed into the conquered city. Slaves and captives would be paraded. At last the conquering general or governor or Emperor would come in. He would be on a chariot lead by war horses. The people would shout out how he was the “Lord.” This was a proclamation of imperial triumph.
All of this was a display of power and domination to let the conquered people know that they were being ruled by an Empire mightier than they. Resistance was futile. These displays would take place at regular intervals. In an age before mass media, TV and internet, they were propaganda to remind the conquered people that the ruling Empire was still strong and mighty. Any attempt to challenge the power and domination of the Empire would be ruthlessly put down. To even consider rebellion was foolish.
Into this context, Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a colt or donkey or both. And the people shout Hosanna! Hosanna doesn’t mean “hurrah,” celebrating the one being called. Hosanna means, “Help us!”
Jesus is engaging in a nonviolent demonstration, a nonviolent protest action. He is using humor to mock the pretentions of Empire. Rather than ride in on chariot drawn by war horses he is on a humble donkey. The drama demonstration of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem is designed to mock imperial triumph and call people to a new mindset. A mindset that fundamentally challenges the imperial mindset.
The people call out for help. However, their understanding of how this help will come is still trapped in the imperial mindset. If Jesus has such power he could raise a force capable of defeating the occupying Roman imperial forces. Jesus understands however that it is not the imperial forces that must be challenged and defeated. It is the imperial mindset. To defeat the imperial forces using the methods of Empire would only replace one imperial domination system with another.
Although on the surface it seems that Jesus and his followers are totally and completely outmatched by the Empire, the revolution of love that Jesus initiates will in time shift people’s allegiance away from Empire, and toward God.
It is clear that the situation that those who shout hosanna – help us, is dire. They are considered disposable by the Empire. Their only value is to extract wealth from their homeland to support the power and domination of the Empire.
It is into this context that the Jesus community, the early church will form. To those considered disposable by the Empire it will offer a community where people love one another. A community where people care for each other. A community that makes sure everyone has enough food to eat, one day at a time.
It was only five weeks ago that we gathered as a congregation to look at how we might engage in community ministry. There was much energy that morning and initiatives were began.
We are in a radically different context right now. We are being called to be the Church in new ways. By new ways I don’t mean digital ministry, although this is an important tool. But digital is only a tool. The essence is love. The essence is care giving. The essence is community.
Last weekend I shared a post on Facebook that I want to share here. It was on thinking about self-care.
Sabbath. Make sure you take time off. The transition from doing things in person to doing them digitally involves a lot of mental energy. Without the human touch we need. Rest. Take a day off. Know that it is okay to go slow.
Savor. Enjoy the blessing of life. Ake a walk outside and enjoy the beauty of God’s creation. Connect with family and friends by phone or video. Enjoy being in their presence online.
Spirit. Take time each day to pray. We are now holding a daily prayer circle on Zoom at 12 noon, Monday through Friday. Join us. Take time to worship God. Take time to center. Connect with God’s Love and allow yourself to be embraced in this Love.
Safe. Stay home. Practice physical distancing. Wash your hands often and well. Make safety an everyday spiritual practice . These precautions can help protect ourselves, our loved ones, and our neighbors.
Strike! This crisis is asking us deep questions about who we are as persons and as a people. About how we live our lives. About what we consider most important and the people we want to be in deep connection with. About how we want to live as a society.
Jesus led a nonviolent action that was a nonviolent strike calling into question the imperial mindset. A mindset based on the ways of death.
Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem calls into mind the words from Deuteronomy 30:19 -“I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.”
The first Jesus community, the early church went on strike against the imperial ways of death. They affirmed the ways of life through loving one another.
Let us be the Church and affirm life! Amen.