Why do we celebrate a demonstration every year on Palm Sunday? In totalitarian countries, demonstrating can land you in jail or worse. In democratic countries, we can leave safe, well-planned demonstrations feeling self-satisfied that we’ve done our duty for a cause, but wonder if our signs and shouts have made a difference at all. Even in “safe” countries, a car can drive into a crowd, fire hoses can turn on children, and clubs can crack bones. Wise people should think twice before joining a demonstration.
Why, then, did Jesus and his disciples lead a demonstration in the streets of Jerusalem? What did they expect to accomplish coming into town for Passover with Jesus riding on a donkey surrounded by palm-waving followers? Was the risk worth the contrast they hoped to make between themselves and the Roman governor? He too was coming into town but on a military horse followed by soldiers carrying symbols of Rome’s might. Furthermore, what did Jesus and his disciples think they would accomplish shouting “Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” rather than “Hail Caesar!”?
On the face of it, we could say they didn’t accomplish much at all. Like many demonstrators, Jesus was dead in days. Still, this Palm Sunday demonstration breaks into our imaginations and prods us to ask: When and where should we have the courage to stand boldly with others, giving thanks that we are not alone? When and where should we catch visions of God’s coming kingdom and share our idealistic dreams, dreams that give us determination to work for long-lasting social change? Most importantly, when and where, if not always, do we shout and express our trust, not in the false Caesars of this world but in God, “Hosanna, God, help us, save us now!”?
Lynnette Delbridge, Moravian pastor
serving as interim pastor, St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church