Scripture: Mark 11:1-11, Philippians 2:1-13
I saw this picture on the Internet — a familiar painting of Jesus with a cloak over his head, only this time it had the caption, “Jesus wore a hoodie.”
Last week our sister congregation St Johns UCC, led by Rev. Starsky Wilson, wore hoodies to church in solidarity with Trayvon Martin, the youth who was gunned down for walking through a neighborhood with the audacity and posture of someone who had a right to be there — which he did. But he was black and young and it was a gated neighborhood of mostly white people, mostly older, and it was in Florida, which has a law, called “stand your ground” that would appear to let Trayvon’s murderer off the hook because he felt “threatened” by this unarmed teenager wearing a hoodie and talking on a cell phone.
When a TV commentator suggested that the shooter was justified because a black youth in a hoodie could be interpreted as threatening enough to justify being killed, people all over the country began wearing hoodies — to church, on the street, in legislative sessions and in their profile photos on Facebook.
Jesus wore a hoodie. It reminds me of a button I used to wear before it fell off my coat in the grocery store: Jesus was a low wage worker.
Compare these modern-day descriptions — Jesus wore a hoodie, Jesus was a low wage worker — to what the people shouted as they waved palms or other leafy branches and spread their coats on the ground in our scripture lesson from Mark this morning: “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!”
This triumphant entry by Jesus into Jerusalem where he knows they’re out to kill him can be interpreted in so many ways. Today, I’d like to expand on what we know of this familiar parade, and see it as a peace march. Waving palms and wearing hoodies in a non-violent effort to counter evil and bring about peace.
Jesus showed us– and in the tradition of “God is still speaking,” Jesus is still showing us — how to seek peace through non-violence, to counter evil with good, to be steadfast in our love in the face of hatred.
Lets look first at the Mark passage that John read. Jesus planned this parade. Its whole purpose was to call attention to himself and make a few symbolic points. Because — did you notice this? — at the end of the passage, when Jesus and his disciples got to the temple, they looked around and went back to Bethany.
Yes. After all that hoopla of borrowing an animal to ride, people shouting and waving branches and coats, they retraced their steps and went back to the suburbs where the parade began that morning. Jesus’s point had been made and he would come back the next day to make some more points. We’ll be reading about his last days in Jerusalem all this week. This was Jesus’s first dramatic non-violent act of his last week of life.
This parade was planned for a particular purpose, to call attention to Jesus on the very day that historians now tell us, Pontius Pilate was coming into Jerusalem at a different gate, with a much different parade. Pilate rode a horse, or maybe was driven in a chariot. He had Roman legionnaires to accompany him. If there was any cheering, it was forced, because the people of Jerusalem had no love for the Romans. Most likely the watchers were silent, and you could hear much jangling of harnesses and rumbling of chariots and wagons carrying the retinue of a Roman governor, coming into Jerusalem to keep the “Roman peace” among people celebrating Passover, a festival of deliverance from an oppressor that reminded them of the sovereignty of God over Caesar.
Jesus’s parade of God’s peace was a contrast to Pilate’s entry. Jesus chose a donkey colt, a very common farm animal, not useful in war.
Jesus sent his advance men out to get the colt. They didn’t ask for it, they didn’t offer to rent it. They took it, and when they were stopped — lucky for them the people who stopped them weren’t armed with pistols, ready to shoot first and ask questions later — the disciples simply said, “The Lord has need of it.” A potential confrontation was diffused. I think we can assume they brought it back. Maybe that’s why they went back to Bethany that night, to return the colt.
The procession itself seems to have been a very spontaneous parade. Jesus evidently had no inside knowledge about anyone preparing banners to welcome him. Instead, they spread their clothing on the road in front of him. This was a very big gesture among people who owned only the clothes on their backs.
Nevertheless, when they saw Jesus coming, people waved their sweaters or cloaks or hoodies in the air. They ran out into the fields or shimmied up palm trees and cut branches and waved them.
They didn’t cry, “Hail Caesar!” They cried “Hosanna!” which means, “Please save us!”
And they shouted, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”
That was brave of them. Their scripture, what we call the Old Testament, is full of people who came in the name of the Lord. Most of them were prophets, and the people — especially the people in power — weren’t always comfortable with what these spokespeople of the Lord said. They often said things like, “Let justice roll down like streams of water,” and “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God.”
If you shout, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord,” you must have a pretty good idea that the Lord is not going to side with your oppressor. See it from the point of view of a poor person who owned only one hoodie, someone who really needed saving from the empire and its systems of oppression, someone who was familiar with the healing Jesus, the Jesus who said ‘blessed are the poor and the meek,’ the one who told parables that made the powerful guys want to kill him.
And here he is, riding in on a little donkey, holding a parade, a sort of anti-empire parade. So you shout, “Hosanna, blessed is he and blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!”
Modern English translators stumble over the word “kingdom,” with its connotation of hierarchy and royalty. I’ve heard it translated as “realm,” or “reign of God” instead. But most recently, I’ve heard it translated, “commonwealth of God.”
That’s in the book we’ve been reading for Lent, Practicing Peace, which is about the Quaker tradition of non-violence. Commonwealth of God. Yeah, that says, to me, that we all have a stake — an equal stake — in common, in the wealth or the welfare of the realm. Not a community led by royalty or dominated by the elite, but a coming together of people for the common good. I like that, the Commonwealth of God.
This book has a lot of wise, important points to make about practicing peace in our everyday lives. Knowing that several of you have been reading and discussing it while I was away visiting my mother for two weeks, I decided to let it inform this sermon. Seeing Palm Sunday through the eyes of non-violent practice has been very helpful. Especially as I caught up on news I had avoided while I was away.
How do we respond to the hard-to-ignore evidence that the Commonwealth of God seems as far away as ever? When Trayvon Martin’s killer can claim the right to shoot, based on his “feeling threatened” and there is an apparently serious debate about who is at fault in this teenager’s death?
Or when we read stories like the one in the Post-Dispatch last Sunday about a young woman who died less than an hour after being arrested for disturbing the peace, because the hospital emergency room personnel missed the blood clot in her leg and assumed she was faking her pain to get drugs? She died when the blood clot reached her lungs. She died because she was poor, black and loud. How do we respond?
How do we respond when our elected officials and our judicial system seem hell-bent on destroying our democracy for their own power and greed? When they introduce, and sometimes pass, bill after bill aimed at attacking workers, teachers, voters, pregnant women, young women, all women… Don’t get me started.
As I read my emails and let the outrageous, unjust behaviors wash over me, I felt so powerless. But I kept reading Catherine Whitemire’s collection of sayings in Practicing Peace. They reminded me that seeking peace, or practicing peace, as she calls it, brings about good, even if the victories are tiny and the struggle seems endless.
She quotes Kenneth Boulding, who wrote in 1945,
But though hate rises in enfolding flame At each renewed oppression, soon it dies: It sinks as quickly as we saw it rise, While love’s small constant light burns still the same. Know this: though love is weak and hate is strong, Yet hate is short, and love is very long.
Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa knew that love trumps hate. When the apartheid, segregationist powers gave way to Mandela and Tutu’s freedom movement, the new victors did not seek to punish their former oppressors. They started a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to allow people to confess and forgive openly, without retaliation. The commission has been criticized for letting perpetrators off without sufficient punishment. But the leaders knew that forgiveness is a better healer and a better instructor than vengeance.
Bishop Tutu said of the process, “Forgiveness does not mean condoning what has been done. Forgiving means abandoning your right to pay back the perpetrator in his own coin, but it is a loss that liberates the victim.”
The same kind of forgiveness occurred in Mozambique, the homeland of an Eden classmate of mine. He told me his cousin was kidnapped by rebels who killed her father, and she eventually became the rebel leader’s “woman,” mother of his children. After more than a decade of civil war, church leaders in Mozambique and neighboring countries brokered a peace agreement that allowed the rebels to return to their homes in exchange for their laying down their arms.
This woman’s family welcomed her back, with her children and her husband. Her husband who had killed her father. “What else could they do?” my classmate asked. She was their daughter, their sister, their cousin, and her children were family. So, too, was the children’s father their family. Hate is short and love is very long.
When we see injustice and hate, we don’t have to stand back feeling helpless. In fact, many of the people quoted in the book say, we must not stand back feeling helpless. In large ways or small, we need to take sides — on the side of non-violence. If we had been there in Jesus’s time, we might have been the one to tie a colt outside our door for Jesus to ride in his parade.
Today, maybe we take a photo of ourself in a hoodie and post it on Facebook. Maybe we sign a petition calling for an end to payday loan sharks — Lois has one she’ll be happy for you sign. Maybe we support candidates for public office, like Jeanette, who seek to pass laws for the common good. Maybe we just make an effort to smile and look someone in the face that we would ordinarily ignore in passing at the grocery store or bus stop.
Maybe we write a letter in support of health care for all, so that a young woman with leg pain can see a doctor outside the emergency room, well before her condition becomes life threatening. Maybe we pray for politicians we do not agree with, recognizing that they, too, are God’s children and that there is a difference between causing evil and being evil.
Maybe we even pray for forgiveness for George Zimmerman for shooting Trayvon. Or if that’s unrealistic, maybe we ask God to forgive us for not being able to forgive Zimmerman. Then we may realize that forgiveness is a gift that God bestows and that even our confession of imperfect forgiveness is a non-violent response that Jesus would have understood.
We are here today, commemorating the parade, the little drama that Jesus and his disciples cooked up. We needed historians to rediscover that other parade of Pilate going into Jerusalem, but all Christians remember Palm Sunday. This week we will be reading and discussing, singing about and feeling in our hearts the story of Jesus’s last week.
It is a story of meekness winning out against might; of non-violence quietly resisting violence, even unto death; of love outliving hate.
In the words of Paul to the Philippians, “Be of the same mind, having the same love, (as Christ) being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”
And when we are acting in the name of Jesus, seeking to follow him in non-violence and peacemaking, we can take to heart what Paul said: “for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you, both to will and to work for God’s good pleasure.”
So lets have our own peace parade. Lets hold up these palms as peace banners; lets wave our hoodies in the air; and lets march in the light of God, knowing that while hate is strong, it is also short; and love … love is very long. To the Commonwealth of God. Praise God, Amen.