This Sunday all over the world Christian churches will celebrate Palm Sunday. Some referring to it as the Triumphal Entry, it is the day we set aside to commemorate the final entry of Jesus and his disciples into the Holy city of Jerusalem. In many traditions churches will pass out Palms and people will sing songs of celebration. This is for some, one of the most festive times of the year where the church is decorated in special colors and other visual cues reminding congregants of majesty and glory of the Christian faith. For some there will be pomp and pageantry, and some may even present the celebration in ways that have imperial and militaristic undertones.
With all this celebration, I wonder if we are remembering anything at all? I wonder if in our time of celebration we take pause to consider the radical otherness of Jesus? Jesus was a member of a minority group in the midst of a larger dominant and controlling group. How many churches will remind congregants of the historical setting in which Jesus grew up, the psychological mood, or the economic and social predicament of Jesus’ family (Thurman 1976)? Are we in our congregations having discussions of the embodiment of Jesus who knew intimately refugee status, occupation and colonization, social regulation and control (Copeland 2010). Do we remember that the triumphant entry was a political satire? The Jewish people, the people of Jesus were not just trying to survive in terms of economic viability, they were in a fight for their culture and faith. Roman military intimidation and brutality coupled with Herodian economic exploitation and taxation uprooted and displaced people from their land, forced them into debt, and occupations less than what was indicative of their capacity. This celebration of Palms was a genius and most creative act of resistance. This was a clear moment where an oppressed people exercised self-determination. The Romans were famous for their parades of militaristic might, oft times amidst Jewish feasts and celebrations and here is Jesus mocking the horses and chariots of Rome while the whole Jewish community came out to cheer! Here he who is born in poverty unhinges the relationship between the underpriviledged and the privileged. Here in this moment without wealth or military might, Jesus becomes a King by being proximate with those who are on the underside of power.
In this time when so many people in our world are suffering under the interlocking sociopolitical systems of imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy a fresh look at the person and work of Jesus may be precisely what we need (hooks 2004). Perhaps this year we are being invited to turn our celebrations from spectacles into deep rituals by lifting up the radical nonnormativity of Jesus. Ritual is that ceremonial act that carries with it meaning and significance beyond what appears, while spectacle functions primarily as entertaining dramatic display (hooks 1992). This may hurt our liberal sense of erasure by forcing us to actually see those members of our communities who are disinherited. This may injure our conservative pietistic ego’s need to hyper-spiritualize the memory of Jesus. This is an invitation that may cost us. Liberation theologies of all sorts have focused on reformulated patterns of communal ritual as one primary bearer of the hope of liberation; perhaps this Sunday in our churches can be for us Liberation Sunday (Lathrup 1993). A holy Sunday of resistance; the kind of resistance that takes seriously the person and work of Jesus. My prayer is that in each celebration the church will find a way to offer the exploited and oppressed a vision of freedom that is linked to the struggle to end systems of domination in the world.
Peace Is Possible,
Bishop Edward Donalson, III | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY
Copeland, M. Shawn. 2010. Enfleshing Freedom: Body, Race, and Being. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
hooks, bell. 1992. Black Looks: Race and Representation. Boston: South End Press.
—. 2004. The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love. New York: Washington Square Press.
Lathrup, Gordon W. 1993. Holy Things. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
Thurman, Howard. 1976. Jesus and the Disinherited. Boston: Beacon Press.