Power to the People | Palm Sunday, April 10, 2022 by Dr. Dorsey Blake
“And, they that went before, and they that followed, cried, saying Hosanna; Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord.” Mark 11:9
What did it mean, this journey to Jerusalem? It was not planned or orchestrated. It was something that Jesus was driven, compelled to do. Something had gotten hold of him that would not let him go. That something was the vision of and commitment to what he called the kingdom (kin-dom) of God, or the kingdom (kin-dom) of Heaven: that time and place in the world that would author a new creation and creation story based on love and relationships of respect and empowerment, a time when we would not fear one another, or deceive others and ourselves, where we would say yea or nay, no longer masquerading who we were and what we thought. Hatred would be cast out and peace would rule the planet. This would be the dawning of a new age.
Jesus had avoided the greater hostilities of Rome by focusing much of his ministry in small towns and the countryside. Yet, Jerusalem was the seat of power and authority, both political and religious. Policies made in Jerusalem/Washington affected those living in Appalachia, Galilee, Bethlehem, rural America, and metropolitan areas. There was some security in preaching to the masses in small places and spaces, giving lift to the spirit of those he encountered. He knew that salvation is not merely a personal thing, it is communal, and societal.
Clarence Jordan helps clarify what was as stake as he writes about the kin-dom of God/Heaven as the coming revolution. Jesus was talking about subverting the present order (“The first shall be last.”), of dismantling the power and control over others by governing entities who deny the royal personhood of the locked out, the maimed, the bruised. Why is it that such prophets cause fear among rulers? Is it because they cause the disinherited to wrestle with their submission to and complicity with oppression? Is it the fear that the masses will rise up and inaugurate something new, a new system based on securing the general welfare and just economy so that none need be without resources supporting the grandeur of their lives? Jesus had declared a revolution of values.
Who were the people who lined the path, who cut branches from trees blanketing the road of the one who had inspired their living? They were the ones who had experienced metanoia, a new conscious, a new birth, a new concept of their relationship to themselves and the laws and order of society. They had heard the challenge and indictment, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.” Or do not give to Caesar what belongs to God. What does not belong to Caesar, your soul, your life, your being, the altar within, the treasure of your heart.
Jesus had called them to change their whole way of thinking, so that they would change their way of being and acting. For the new order demanded it. The new order was not a militaristic one. It was not one based on might and subjection, weaponry and control. It was not one where the poor were scorned and robbed of their dignity. Rather it was one of good news for the poor, of sight for those who did not see, liberation of the oppressed, pardoning and releasing of the imprisoned, expunging their records and setting them on uncharted paths of self-realization and reconciliation. It was one of being present for those who were sick, of affirmative action for those denied a seat at the welcome table whose fulfillment had been thwarted through no fault of their own, but because of greed, moral degeneracy, unethical actions and manipulations of those who had ascended to systemic power positions and instead of blessing the lives of masses, cursed them.
Jesus put this God Movement on the agenda of the common people as both old business and new business with no adjournment possible. It was already within their midst and demanded new ways of being, he taught. Jordan says: “the revolution begins with a call to be a certain kind of person.” Probably, she was not in the crowd; but, the crowd knew of her. The woman labelled adulterous, yet Jesus had (in the words of Dr. Howard Thurman) placed a crown above her head that she would continually aspire to grow tall enough to wear. And there was a crown above the head of the prodigal son, the lepers, the woman at the well and so many more. These testimonies had gladdened the hearts and kindled joy within the crowd. Grateful, risen lives poured into the path of Jesus with the news of his approaching spread palm branches.
Among those who did not see this entry as a triumph was Jesus himself. As he entered, he brooded over the lost opportunities, of the failure of the government to provide the leadership necessary for the kin-dom to come on earth.
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you. How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings and, you would not!”
Can we not understand Jesus’ lamentation? Surely, we too must lament over loss opportunities today to bring justice and healing to our broken and wounded society and world.
Understand the lamentation in terms of disappointment over our own cities and nations. What grand possibilities they all have; and, yet how they in the words of Christopher Fry choose to curse rather than bless. How can we not lament over the militarization of policing forces in our cities, the defunding of our school systems, the new Jim Crow of the Prison Industrial Complex, the ingrained patriarchy demonizing women, LGBTQ+ kin, People of Color, those with different abilities, and the assault on our ecosystem. These are realities that ought to cause us to lament, to tremble.
We rob our educational and healthcare systems of needed funds that would provide much greater security than military hardware and personnel to overthrow other governments. Our violence toward others has increased our paranoia not our security. Even now, remaining vets of World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan carry physical and emotional wounds. Should not their plight at least share some time with daily reports of the horrors being heaped upon the people of Ukraine? Should we not take time to lament our own war crimes –our bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki intentionally targeting civilian children, women and men, grandfathers and grandmothers, those at school, those at train and bus stations, those driving their cars, those attending community and business events, religious ceremonies, those just walking in the park?
Has the work of The Fellowship of Reconciliation, Eleanor Roosevelt, Dag Hammarskjold been in vain? Has the warning of G. Lowes Dickson, Harry Emerson Fosdick, John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. that “if we do not put an end to warfare, warfare will put an end to us” fallen on ears that refuse to hear.
I want to return to this day of celebration called Palm Sunday. For we need celebration amid trials and sadness. Jesus’ procession into Jerusalem was a triumph for the people who recognized in him the power to transform their lives and to write a new narrative. It was a day of gladness, hope, and resurrection. Often abused by the society and its enforcers, they for one brief and beautiful moment could exhale and then breathe again freshness of life. This was a celebration of his entry into their souls bringing a radiance they had not experienced. They were ennobled by the presence, the teachings and life of this young man from Nazareth, who through sheer authenticity of living, through total trust in the justice and kindness of the universe, through linking his own life with theirs lifted them out of their incarceration and enslavement and set their feet on higher ground and their soul into mystic union not only with him but also with the source, the Goal of living, God.
And those, many of us, who are disciples, students of his spirit and life are called to do the same. Let us not on this Peoples’ Day, relinquish our calling and duty to do the same, to unleash abundant living in the times and places we are called to live, breathe, and have our being. For indeed our hearts will be restless until we come into alliance and allegiance with the one who ushered us into this life.
"I don’t know Who – or what – put the question. I don’t know when it was put. I don’t even remember answering. But at some moment I did answer Yes to Someone – or Something – and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender, had a goal. From that moment I have known what it means “not to look back,” and “to take no thought for the morrow.”
— Dag Hammarskjold