Palm Sunday Is The Most Political Sunday

 

As a children’s and family minister, I love Palm Sunday. At our stained-glass and organ church we do it up big. We get lots and lots of palm branches for folks to wave during the singing of the hymns and we have the kids process down the aisle and march around the sides of the pews. It is quite a visual.

That is the modern version of Palm Sunday. It is kids choirs and photo-ops and lots of fun.

The original Palm Sunday was little bit different. It was not so cutesy and hallmark holiday. It was aggressive and it was deeply political.

The politics of Palm Sunday:

The Jewish people were under occupation. Roman occupation was especially repressive and brutal.IMG_0332.JPG (2)

The last time that the Jewish people had been free and self-governed also meant that they had their own currency. On their big coin, a palm branch was prominently displayed.

Laying down palm branches ahead of a man riding a colt/donkey was an act of defiance and an aggressive political statement.

We want to be free. This guy is going to change things and restore what was lost.

 

Having children wave palm branches in the equivalent to teaching a child to stick up her middle finger in anger… only more political. kid_soccer_fan

 

I am troubled by the lack of context regarding the palms of Palm Sunday. It reeks of both willful ignorance and religious disconnect.

In so many ways we have sanitized, sterilized and compartmentalized the teaching of scriptures. We proudly and loudly defend the Bible – all the while neglecting the actual reality talked about in that Bible.

We complain that Christmas and Easter have been commercialized and secularized all the while partaking of the consumerism and cultural complacency that those two celebrations are meant to challenge!

Palm Sunday might be the most flagrant example of this ignorance and misappropriation. Palm Sunday is call for revolution against the powers of oppression, the systems and institutions that occupy foreign lands and repress its citizens with unjust practices and economic policies.

 

Palm Sunday is the most political Sunday of the year – but in our more therapeutic approach that assumes empire and concedes political realities in favor of spiritual ones, the meaning is lost.

This is not just symbolic but emblematic of our watered-down, imperial, and impotent brand of christianity.

We do this with everything. Cornell West and Tavis Smiley are talking about how we will do it with the Dr. King celebrations this coming year. They are calling it the Santa-Clause-ification of MLK. He will be a man with dream but little else … and his politics will be lost in the focus on children not being judged by the color of their skin but on the content of their character.

 

Just think about this: what would it take for us next year, to teach our children to drop the palm-branches and lift their middle fingers? What would we have to believe about oppression and empire to reclaim the original intent of the palms on Palm Sunday?

I’m not saying that we should do that – I am trying to utilize it to get at how much we have assumed, conceded and ignored about the political realties that we find ourselves caught up in.

What conversations would we have to have with our kids about:

  • foreign occupation
  • injustice
  • politics of empire
  • economic policies

in order to explain why they were laying down palm branches or raising their middle fingers to the powers the be?

 

This post was inspired by a sermon given by Rev. Chris Spearman at the Loft LA yesterday. 

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14 comments
castaway5555
castaway5555

Thanks for this - if anything reveals how hard the Constantinian church worked to de-politicize the gospels, it's Palm Sunday. A Hallmark photo opp, for sure. And not the gospel.

MattBarlow
MattBarlow like.author.displayName 1 Like

"We proudly and loudly defend the Bible – all the while neglecting the actual reality talked about in that Bible." - Such a money quote. So true.

Bindert de Jong
Bindert de Jong

Nice to see a picture of my favourite dutch soccerteam Feyenoord at the Homebrewed site

gklimovitz
gklimovitz like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

Heard a great sermon yesterday that contrasted Daniel story of defiance and fiery furnace with Luke's telling of palm Sunday. Essence was to lay palms and cloaks down wherever we see struggle for power. Great post, Bo!

Matthew McCracken
Matthew McCracken

I'm reminded here of a quote of Judith Butler's, cited in Simon Critchley's The Faith of the Faithless:

'Non-violence is not a peaceful state, but a social and political struggle to make rage articulate and effective - the carefully crafted “fuck you."'

Both your post and that quote resonate with me, especially at the moment, as I'm reading Transforming Atonement by Ted Jennings. What he has to say re. Jesus' political policy and it provokes the powers - particularly in regards Palm Sunday onwards - is simultaneously fascinating and utterly bracing. i.e. The march on Jerusalem was organised by Jesus as the most extreme sort of non-violent theologico-political street theatre - in which, Jesus is identifying as King, representing the have-nots, crazies, and the sick. Jennings' is then suggesting the point is to provoke the powers to (delegitimising) violence by courting the appearance of a violent revolutionary group, all the while being decisively and quite clearly different - or, to go with Butler, sounding off an atypical "fuck you."

'However different the Jesus movement is from an armed uprising, it certainly courts the impression that it is like one.' Jennings

I love where you're post takes us - as I think the thoughts I commented as well. In what sense was Palm Sunday a "fuck you" to empire/domination systems? How do Christian groups organise themselves in their own kinds of Palm-Sunday street-theatre/flash-mobs, if they live in that radical provocative non-violent-yet-courting-violence tradition?

Matthew McCracken
Matthew McCracken like.author.displayName 1 Like

Dang! Sorry my comment has taken up so much space. (I wanted to include the links to the books incase your site got money if anyone followed them through to Amazon [on an off chance].) Didn't mean for there to be pictures and everything - I don't know how to disable that.

Additionally, I didn't say above - thank you for your post, I both enjoyed it and found it galvanised some of y own reflections. I hope the "fuck yous" in my comment aren't offensive or in some way lower the tone of the comment thread - if so, apologies.

RobElliott
RobElliott like.author.displayName 1 Like

"...Hey JC, JC, won't you fight for me..."

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

@RobElliott believe or not Rob - we actually sang that song in the Loft yesterday while the kids paraded!   -Bo 

PhillipBaker2
PhillipBaker2

While I agree with the sentiment, I think that the palm-laying was more about expectation on the part of the people then about the will of Jesus. He rode the donkey, didn't call anyone to arms, and instead died on a cross in order to demonstrate the futility of using force (by sword or provocative gesture) to overcome evil. Perhaps instead of inciting our kids to anger and retaliation, we should instead teach them the message of the mount, or plain. 

castaway5555
castaway5555

@PhillipBaker2 - I would doubt very much if Jesus entered Jerusalem on Zechariah's donkey coming from the Mt. of Olives and be naively ignorant of what it symbolized. That he had made arrangements for the donkey in the first place reveals how carefully planned was the time ... and if anything, what he did and said incited the rage and fear of both Rome and the Temple authorities, neither of whom liked one another, but had an arrangement - the religious officials would keep the folks quiet, and Rome would insure their privilege. Jesus threatened the party.

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator like.author.displayName 1 Like

@PhillipBaker2 I would agree with you with the one clarification that the teaching on the mount contains resistance to evil (turning the other cheek) IN A WAY the exposes the violence of the oppressor. 

A second strike escalates the initial level of violence that assaulter intended and by doing so demands a level of engagement that exceeds the normalcy of violence in place. 

If we taught the Mount in it's political-occypier (carry the Roman soldier's bad a 2nd mile) context , I would agree with you.  If we want to sanitize, spiritualize and sterilize it - as so often has been the case - then I would not.   -Bo

thanks for the thoughts!  glad you took the time to write in