When I first wrote this article on Maundy Thursday, 2018, I believed its message was vitally important to us as a nation and to all of people of the world. Today, in March of 2023 just 3 days before Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week and just days after the murder of six people at Covenant Christian school in Nashville, Tennessee, I believe Jesus’ message to us is still vitally important. For this reason, I share it with you again. My prayer is that as we Journey with Jesus from Palm Sunday through Maundy Thursday and Good Friday to Easter, that we will be strengthened and blessed to live with the courage and power of Jesus.
Join me now on a journey to Jerusalem at Passover in the Year of Our Lord 33. We see Jesus’ Triumphant Entry and how people praised him as the king who came in the name of the Lord and spread their cloaks and leafy branches along the road for him. All well and good, but I want to suggest that as important as this was, it was not “the Triumphant Entry” that actually took place on that day. I suggest that the “Triumphant Entry” actually took place from the West and starred Pontius Pilate rather than Jesus. Passover was an exciting, crowded and potentially volatile and dangerous time in Jerusalem. Jews from all over the Mediterranean and Middle East gathered to make their annual sacrifices, renew their faith and enjoy time with friends, old and new.
The Emperor of Rome made sure that Jerusalem was secured by legions of soldiers on foot and horseback. These soldiers along with Pilate, most likely on a strong white stallion, made up the “Triumphant Entry” into Jerusalem from the coast. Jesus and his motley crew, on the other hand came in from the East, with Jesus, not on a mighty steed, but on a donkey. Yes, on a donkey. I believe Jesus’ entry was, in fact, an act of protest, an act of resistance against the worldly and religious forces which were exploiting and oppressing the people of God. As the people proclaimed “Hosanna, blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord,” they were proclaiming that Jesus is Lord. And, if Jesus is Lord, Caesar is not. Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of God, and if God is King, Caesar is not. The very next day, according to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus enters the temple and drives out the Money Changers, the sheep the goats and the doves, and those who sell them.
This is exactly the kind of disturbance the empire did not want, and therefore the kind of disturbance the Chief Priests wanted to avoid. This attracted too much attention and could bring about persecution for all Jews. A plot was developed to have Jesus betrayed and executed.
As I reflect on Jesus’ act of resistance and his courage in his time, I reflect on resistance by some of his followers in our day. Martin Luther King Jr.’s resistance by his work with the Memphis Sanitation Workers in April 1968, and Archbishop Oscar Romero’s work for the poor of El Salvador in 1980. And just the day before Palm Sunday 2018, a major act of resistance took place to bring changes to gun laws and save lives of Americans was participated in by millions of, mostly young, people and lead by students from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Jesus warned his disciples that he would be tortured and crucified by the powers of this world. Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaimed that as desirable as longevity was that there were more important things, and proclaimed, “I have been to the mountain top and have seen the Promised Land; mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” Archbishop Romero worked tirelessly against poverty, social injustice, assassinations and torture. All three were executed or assassinated.
So far the March for Our Lives organizers have not been killed but they have been the subject of vicious lies, made up stories and photo shopped posts on social media. Yet they have not backed down.
Jesus was persecuted and executed because he proclaimed by word and example that the kingdom of God was for all people. He turned over tables and spoke truth to power. His church has been and will continue to be persecuted when we do the same. And yet, do the same, we must!
Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord! Blessed are we who follow him! Amen!
Ben Alford is the former rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Albertville.
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