Reflection on Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord
In today’s Gospel reading Jesus sends two of his disciples off to get a colt in the nearby village. He and his disciples were heading to Jerusalem. Many people were going to Jerusalem. It was Passover time. The two disciples bring the young donkey back to Jesus, throw their cloaks over its back and help Jesus to mount. The crowds are praising God aloud with joy and calling Jesus king. Some of the Pharisees are displeased.
In 2008, the first year that we began celebrating Palm Sunday liturgy as the joyful entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, Susan Classen told us in her homily that Jesus was riding into Jerusalem from the east, coming on a donkey. At the same time, fearing a riot at Passover time, the Roman cavalry was riding in from the west, complete with soldiers, horses and armor. Such a juxtaposition of different kinds of power! We know about the military kind of power, the ways of force and of violence to gain or to retain power over others. And then Jesus comes into town riding on a donkey! What kind of power is that?!
In these days my mind goes from Roman cavalry to Russian tanks. From a people that was occupied by another place, another people — the Roman authorities — to the Ukrainians refusing to be occupied or taken over by another people — President Putin and Russian oligarchs.
There is another similarity between Jesus and the Ukrainians. Amid the shouts of praise for him, Jesus must have had a sense that he perhaps would not have long to live. There were those who wanted him dead. Liturgically, that happens this week — Jesus being praised to Jesus being hanged. Palm Sunday to Good Friday.
Surely the Ukrainians are realizing that these unspeakable horrors and murders are taking place during Holy Week. In other years, they would gather in their churches on Good Friday to remember Jesus’ agony and death. This year there sometimes is no church in which to gather. They are experiencing the agony and death of Jesus in their own lives and those of family and friends. Tragedy abounds.
Back to Jesus, riding on the donkey as his disciples and those who follow him are calling him “king.” Edward Schillebeeckx suggests that, in a non-monarchical society like ours, “Christ the King” becomes a symbol of unrest in an established order, the symbol of justice and peace for those who experience injustice and have no peace.
These days we each try to do our part to bring change and renewal to our world and to our church. It’s small things we do, mostly — kindness to someone, a letter to Congress — and these days praying for the people of Ukraine, and the people of Russia. We gather now in Eucharist, in thanksgiving to God for Jesus as king, a symbol of unrest, a symbol of peace, a symbol of justice.