MARCH FOR OUR LIVES
12 The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord— the King of Israel!’ 14Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written: 15‘Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!’ 16His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him. (John 12:12-16, NRSV)
This was a weekend for marches in the streets of America and in the pages of the Bible. Yesterday, some of us joined with over 100,000 of our fellow New Yorkers at the March for Our Lives NYC, one of over 800 marches around the world and on every continent except Antarctica. These marches were inspired by the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, who survived the February 14 massacre that took the lives of 17 students and staff. Millions of people, perhaps as many as 500,000 in Washington, DC alone, took to the streets. Martin Luther King’s 9-year-old granddaughter, Yolanda, spoke in D.C. saying, “I have a dream that enough in enough!”
Those of us gathered on the Upper West Side heard speakers of every age who had been through various massacres—student survivors of the Parkland shooting, a grandmother who lost her granddaughter in the Parkland tragedy, a teacher who survived the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary who hid with a class of 9-year-olds as the shooter passed by in the hall, a concert goer who lost a friend standing next to him in the Las Vegas massacre, a mother from Harlem who lost both of her children to gun violence as a reminder of those who die at the hands of shooters every night on the streets of America.
A young woman spoke on behalf of the 3,000 children who lost a parent on 9/11. She said the day after the terrorist attack elected officials stood as one and pledged to do everything in their power to prevent another 9/11 from ever happening, and it hasn’t. So why, she asked, are our elected officials not doing everything within their power to stop the next school shooting? As I stood in silence, I thought to myself that she had a valid point. It was then I saw a clever sign with a drawing of Star Trek’s Mr. Spock with the words, “Make America Logical Again.” It was a fair point.
So what was the point of the March for Our Lives? The students hoped to promote several things including a ban on the sale of assault style weapons including AR-15s, the school shooters gun of choice, a ban on the sale of high-capacity magazines, some of which hold 100 bullets to allow for maximum killing in a minimum amount of time, and a law to require background checks for guns sold at gun shows and online. I participated in yesterday’s march with other church members to express my support for these common sense gun laws. Only time will tell if these goals are accomplished, but I am hopeful.
Today in churches around the world we celebrate a different kind of march. We celebrate Christ’s Palm Sunday procession into Jerusalem on the back of a humble donkey. This same Prince of Peace died a violent death which we will commemorate on Good Friday. Many assume that the Palm Sunday march was spontaneous, others disagree.
New Testament scholars, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, argue that Jesus’ “…triumphal entry [into Jerusalem] was not a spontaneous event. Jesus was not the passive recipient of impromptu adoration. Though worship might have happened, it was not the point. Rather, Jesus' parade-by-donkey was…staged. It was an act of political theater, an anti-imperial demonstration designed to mock the obscene pomp and circumstance of Rome…A deliberate lampoon of the conquering emperor entering a city on horseback.”
Jesus’ choice of a humble donkey was not a random decision. Instead it brought to mind a story from the Hebrew Bible where the prophet Zechariah prophesied that one day a king would enter Jerusalem riding a humble “colt, the foal of a donkey.” This king would be nonviolent and would “command peace to the nations.” Did the crowd get it? Did they pick up on Jesus’ anti-imperial, nonviolent message? We don’t know, but what we do know is that ultimately Jesus did not fulfill the crowd’s high hopes and unrealistic expectations. No matter what the crowd thought, Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem in the Gospel of Mark seems more like a scouting mission than a military conquest. According to some accounts, Jesus entered Jerusalem, took a look around the temple, and then left the city to stay with friends. In other times, when Jerusalem was retaken from pagan control, the Jewish leaders went immediately to cleanse the Temple of impurity. Jesus also went to cleanse the Temple. He confronted some unscrupulous moneychangers and ran them out of the building. It hardly amounted to a retaking of Jerusalem from the Romans, which was a let-down to many.
Another reason his supporters were disappointed is that Jesus didn’t live up to his reputation as a miracle worker. Rumor had it that Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead and healed people from all types of diseases. That he fed thousands. That he confounded the wisest people of his day. If anyone could feed and support an army while executing a brilliant military strategy, it was Jesus. Or so the people hoped.
Christ’s entrance into the capital city was heralded by language that hearkened back to the glory days of Israel. Cries about the “kingdom of David” and echoes of Psalms commemorating Israel’s greatest kings (“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”) brought to mind bygone days before the Roman invasion when Israel ruled itself. Palm branches brought to mind military victories. To top it all off, Jesus intentionally planned his peasants’ parade for the beginning of Passover, the week that celebrated God’s liberation of Israel from another foreign power, Egypt, where they had once been slaves centuries before.
To the eventual dismay of the crowd, Jesus did not embody political or military power. He showed the crowd that he was about something different. He had chosen a humble donkey rather than a mighty steed and a military parade. By Christ’s deliberate staging of events that day, we can only assume that things turned out as he intended. His humility revealed that his Kingdom would not be built upon violence or unbridled power, but on love and service to others. It’s a continuation of the message he’d preached all along.
The adoring crowd thinned with each passing day. When everything went bad for Jesus on Thursday night, Pontius Pilate was the only person in an official position who does not rush to judgment. While the religious hierarchy lobbied for crucifixion, Pilate put on the brakes.
According to one source, “In all four gospel accounts Pilate lobbies for Jesus to be spared his eventual fate of execution, and acquiesces only when the crowd refused to relent. He thus seeks to avoid personal responsibility for the death of Jesus. In the Gospel of Matthew, Pilate washes his hands to show that he was not responsible for the execution of Jesus and reluctantly sends him to his death. The Gospel of Mark, depicting Jesus as innocent of plotting against the Roman Empire, portrays Pilate as reluctant to execute Jesus. In the Gospel of Luke, Pilate not only agrees that Jesus did not conspire against Rome, but Herod Antipas, the Tetrarch of Galilee, also finds nothing treasonable in Jesus’ actions. In the Gospel of John, Pilate states ‘I find no guilt in him [Jesus],’ and he asks the crowd if Jesus should be released from custody.” Instead, they shout, “Crucify him!”
As Pilate disappeared into the palace, Jesus disappeared into the distance on his death march to Golgotha. So what eventually happened to Pontius Pilate? We can’t say for sure, but by most accounts he had a falling out with his superiors during the reign of Caligula and killed himself. Could it be that Pilate, like Judas, took his own life because he could not live with the fact that he might have saved Jesus, but instead literally washed his hands of the whole affair? Who’s to say? But if he in fact killed himself within 4-6 years of Christ’s death, it makes me wonder.
Regardless, this much we know, that on that fateful Palm Sunday of old, Christ’s parade exuded peace and the power of love. Back to yesterday’s March For Our Lives, I would never claim that I have God on my side. Bob Dylan drove that point home in his 1964 song, “With God On Our Side.” However, I do try to live as one who is on God’s side as revealed in the life and teachings, the death and resurrection of Jesus. His personal Palm Sunday parade of old was, if you will, a March For His Life, a parade in the hopes that his way of life, the way of love, might spread amongst the masses crammed into Jerusalem for Passover. Instead, Christ’s path of love put him on a collision course with the political establishment and the religious hierarchy. And they had their revenge, ruthless and bloodthirsty, swift and unmerciful. In their smug confidence they thought the cross was the end of Jesus. They had no earthly idea that in reality, the March For His Life would not end with his death. On the contrary, the cross was just one stop along the way. The March for His Life would explode in a cosmic miracle, as hushed as a cemetery at the break of day and as beautiful as the rising sun casting yellow shafts of light on the faithful women who approached Christ’s tomb with tears of sadness that would quickly change to tears of joy. AMEN.
Written by Rev. Jimmy Only
March 25, 2018
The Congregational Church of Manhasset, New York (UCC)
Loving God, we gather to prepare ourselves for this week we call holy. In our journey, we might be tempted to betray you, so hold us close. Sustained by the power of your Spirit we will try to follow Jesus, though we just might lose our way. Keep us on your path, we pray. On this Palm Sunday, we wave branches like the joyful children of old, while keeping nails ready in case we need them. Help us remember that your beloved Child came in humility to challenge death itself. And so we too shout our hosannas, blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord, even Jesus Christ our Brother and Friend.
Adapted from a prayer by Thom Shuman found at http://lectionary liturgies. blogspot.com/.