This week more than ever, as we head toward the celebration of Palm Sunday, I am excited by the liturgical opportunity offered. As we remember the radicalism of Jesus riding a donkey into the center of town as a form of opposition to the Roman Empire we are encouraged to think about the damaging impact of imperialism in our own time. Taking seriously the satirical nature of a feigned parade, which in reality was a massive protest of people living under occupation, we have the opportunity to discuss the nature of public prophetic witness in fresh and new ways. We can never forget that the triumphant entry was an act of resistance centered in critique of the bourgeoisie. It is that epic moment when the proletariat speaks truth to power and the Gospel takes center stage in the public square. How could any true liturgist not be excited about this Sunday where we can remind the church of the politics of Jesus?
In far too many cases our churches have slipped into a coma brought on by a belief in the false dichotomy of personal piety vs. public prophetic witness. Many have traded the message of Jesus for a personal relationship with Jesus, as though the two could exist separate from one another. Jesus the Savior from sin is in too many cases disinterested in corporate sin and only concerned with individual behavior modification as though systemic sin is nonexistent. It is as though some have completely forgotten the tripartite assignment for the Church: (1) To proclaim the reality of Divine liberation, (2) to actively participate in the struggle for liberation, and (3) to provide a visible manifestation that the Gospel is a reality (Warnock 2014). It is of utmost importance that in this time where we face the evils of plutocrats and oligarchs at the highest level of government the Church bear witness to the message of Jesus.
At the center of our liturgies we must highlight Jesus the political revolutionary who not only called for change in individual hearts, but also demanded sweeping and comprehensive change in the political, social, and economic structures of his life setting (Hendricks 2006). There is an undeniable justice narrative that runs the entire course of the ministry of Jesus, from the time e reads from Isaiah the prophet, that culminates in the Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem that informs the gravitas of this Sunday’s celebration. Without recognizing that this moment in history speaks to our time and the interlocking systems of imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy that continue to marginalize the least of these any church has been derelict of its duties to bring the Gospel to gathered congregants.
This Palm Sunday is an opportunity to engage in prophetic critique. Prophetic Critique can be defined as principled public criticism of and opposition to systemic injustice (O. Hendricks 2011). Here is a week in the liturgical calendar where a liturgy of resistance is not optional, it is the work of acknowledgement. Christian communities must learn how to work vigorously for the change that is possible, to mourn over the persistent and seemingly ineradicable evils, and to celebrate the good where it happens and whoever its agents are (Volf 2011). My hope is that this Palm Sunday our congregations will come alive with the fire of implacable Justice. That the focus of our experience together will be the message of Jesus who spoke from the margins to the center of power in ways that caused the surrounding community to find the courage to be true to the truth.
I invite you to leave comments below and let’s start a conversation about the power of Palm Sunday!
Peace Is Possible,
Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor
SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY
Hendricks, Obery. 2011. The Universe Bends Toward Justice . Maryknoll: Orbis Books.
Hendricks, Obrey. 2006. The Politics of jesus. New York: Three Leaves Press.
Volf, Miroslav. 2011. A Public Faith. Grand Rapids: BrazosPress.
Warnock, Raphael G. 2014. The Divided Mind of the Black Church:Theology, Piety, and Public Witness. New York: New York University Press.