Inspired by Luke 19: 28-40
I need to start by confessing that I have missed so much about Palm Sunday; what relevance it had then and what possibilities it poses for us now. I’ve missed so much from my blindness that comes from reading this story through the eyes of the privileged.
In my version of the story, on Palm Sunday everyone gathered to wave palms and praise the son of God riding humbly on a donkey…just like we gather to reenact every year in our churches. In my version of the story, Palm Sunday exists as a rest stop before the heaviness of Holy Week. A moment of public celebration of Jesus’ true identity before a collaborative betrayal, and ultimately, crucifixion and resurrection.
I’ve never really thought about the fact that Jesus REALLY was not supposed to be doing this whole parade thing. Jesus was neither an anointed king nor a conquering general, both prerequisites for sitting as the focal point of any celebratory procession. These processions were more than holiday parades. They were political statements. These were public displays staged by the elite so that the submissive masses could demonstrate their obedience with an enthusiastic acknowledgment of authority.
It wasn’t until this week that it dawned on me that Jesus wasn’t crashing some Macy Day parade. Jesus was crashing a system through a strategic twist to make a political point. Jesus wasn’t engaged in an innocent mistake of forgetting to get his float paperwork in on time. Jesus was participating in a premeditated uprising.
And the story of this premeditated uprising begins with a crime.
When he got near Bethphage and Bethany at the mountain called Olives, he sent off two of the disciples with instructions: “Go to the village across from you. As soon as you enter, you’ll find a colt tethered, one that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it. If anyone says anything, asks, ‘What are you doing?’ say, ‘His Master needs him.’”
The two left and found it just as he said. As they were untying the colt, its owners said, “What are you doing untying the colt?” They said, “His Master needs him.”
This is how the story begins; Jesus and the disciples getting into what John Lewis would refer to as some “good and necessary trouble.”
Which is a wonderfully accurate description of the purpose of this staged parade; a communal effort to offer witness to the real and present possibility of liberation from an oppressive system. And, admittedly, this is another aspect of the story that I have been blinded to by my privilege.
The purpose of this parade was not to draw attention to Jesus but to draw attention to a liberation movement that had gained enough momentum to challenge the power structures of that day publicly and effectively. Jesus is so much cleverer and more calculated than the washed-down version of our story has described him to be.
There are two things at play when Jesus initiates this parade.
First, he is deflating the power of a system by reclaiming a ritual that was set apart only for the elite. Jesus is essentially enacting a political satire by re-casting the classless in the parts scripted for solely the ruliest of the ruling class. He is demonstrating that power in the form of organizing and influencing is not limited to a particular bloodline or class designation.
Second, Jesus was making the power of the movement visible. He was amplifying the message of liberation so that even after his death, the movement would have a chance to live on. This was an uprising that would be difficult to forget making the power of the movement easily remembered.
This is a public demonstration that challenges the authority of the power systems by using the same rituals that hold the system in place as the exact modes to tear the systems down. This is remarkable, not simply because it is a genius plan, but because it worked. Jesus drew astonishing attention to the possibilities of a liberation movement when there is solidarity in action. And he amplified this message so much so that we are here talking about it in the year 2022.
And, while we do tend to repeat the mistake of hyper-focusing on Jesus as the magical savior who will come and fix all our problems and make our lives comfortable again, there are wild and impactful remnants of the belief that there is a better way, a more life-giving harmonious way, of living.
This leads me to my final revelation.
The most threatening, risk-taking invitation Jesus was making was the invitation for marginalized, classless, impoverished citizens to sit at the center of the system and take up space.
These people, including and perhaps especially Jesus, did not physically belong in that space, period. And that is exactly what Jesus inspires them to do and in so doing Jesus brands rebellion in its simplest form. As an unapologetic communal practice of holding space for the possibility of liberation from a system that is rapidly breaking people, ecosystems, and the planet.
When the systems are as invasive and violent as our systems are, it doesn’t take much to cause trouble.
I say this because The Land has been and continues to be positioned to stir up a lot of trouble. In a system built with institutional boxes on manufactured landscapes, we are not doing what we had said we would be doing. When they put us on a lot located on what is soon to be a very busy and visible intersection, they believed we would build a church. We are not building a church building. Therefore, we are not a church.
We have never been nor will we probably ever be definable in the system of power that currently exists.
We have been and likely will always be…undefinable. But we continue to take up space.
By just being who we are and doing what we do, we take up space.
We take up space when we claim that we are a church. When we refuse to plow up the prairie or relocate the wildlife or remove native plants in exchange for green turf. When we defend the land. When we value the lives of all species in this place as much as we value our own. We are the radical weirdos dancing in the street a day before the Macy’s parade with the prairie dogs and the meadowlarks and the antelope all cheering us on.
We are a rebellion without having ever tried to rebel.
And just as the people marching with Jesus into Jerusalem did not consider themselves to be activists, we did not set out to be land defenders. But it is what we will become; a people who seek to create an ecosystem where all creatures can thrive and where all life is sacred. This work doesn’t serve corporate profit or generate wealth under capitalism. In the capitalistic sense, it doesn’t create anything at all.
And this is how our story, our real story, begins. An interspecies community holding space for the witness that a connection to the Earth is the most powerful thing that you could have, the most valuable resource in which we could invest. The truth is we don’t want to change anything here because everything here is that which we love. And that which you love, you want to see grow.
I get why the activists with Jesus ended up going home. And I think it was more complicated than them simply abandoning Jesus. I think they went home for the same reasons we give up on our dreams and give in to the power systems of our day. The systems of power and violence are designed to make it incredibly difficult to go on. To make you think it’s crazy to go on. To believe that there’s no point in going on.
Activist Pat McCabe describes her practice of ‘going on’ when she confesses, “I don’t have to know how it’s gonna happen. I just have to be, I just have to not say no, that’s what spirits told me. As long as you don’t say no, we will see this through, it will happen. So, I’m doing all in my power to be able to at least not say no. And working very, very deeply on being able to say yes.”
The story of the Palm Sunday ends with the community becoming discouraged and defeatedly walking home but that story does not have to be our own.
I wonder what would have happened if the resistance had lasted.
If the people who came with a dream stayed and kept holding space.
If all they ever did was try not to say no
and work very, very deeply on being able to keep saying yes.