Palms and Political Power
By: Rachel Lyons
A friend of mine chooses a word for each year of his life. He started doing this as a way to focus his attention and intention on a certain attitude or framework that reflects the evolution of his life. I asked him at the beginning of 2016, “What is your word for this year?” He told me, “Execution. I have been learning a lot, but right now, I am in a place where I am ready to implement what I know, take action, and execute.” I have seen my friend do exactly this, as he strives to live authentically to his values and his faith against the hardships of our current society. And this is the same mindset Jesus displays in the procession into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Jesus does not hesitate nor back down – he is clear and confident. His personal clarity to execute God’s will draws others to him and mobilizes his followers. He shows political power through a procession into the city flanked by everyday people, “the multitude of his disciples,” who are praising God and rejoicing over this movement instead of the politicians and kings of the day. This was not a return of soldiers who had ravaged the people of another land and conquered them through violence and coercion. Quite the opposite. Jesus enters Jerusalem steeped in God’s will for a community of justice and active peace rather than the Roman occupation that was oppressive and brutal. And Jesus is not alone. He did not minister alone, eat alone, survive alone. Throughout his ministry, he surrounded himself with people pushed out by the dominant culture and made poor because the rich stole from them – and people who felt an ache for something more, whose hearts still held out hope. Palm Sunday is no different. People show up, word spreads, and palm branches and cloaks are laid before Jesus as he rides a donkey. Because of the relationships Jesus made with everyday people, he is able to bring together a multitude for this celebration and political action, recovering space for those so often forced to the margins. He rides in as if to say, “Here is where you belong. Here is where we belong. We will wait no longer. We are taking space now. We are celebrating with joy now!” Though people rejoiced in God with Jesus in this procession, there were also people who doubted, who thought Jesus was nuts, and who would abandon Jesus later on. The counter-cultural work of building a holy city is not easy. It takes time. It has failures. It can be fragile. Jesus knew about these ups and downs riding into Jerusalem. We see how this collective act of marching brings about strong emotions in Jesus, our brother. He weeps over the city as he approaches, and he ultimately arrives in the Temple with righteous anger at all the corruption happening. This authentic Jesus is again so clear and so open to God’s will that he allows the tears to flow, he allows the sadness and anger to get to him, and he takes action to disrupt the space of those in power in order to create a new configuration of the house of prayer, of God’s house, where people pushed out can once again belong. Where people do not have to wait any longer for justice. Where Jesus can now teach with people hanging on his words while the chief priests and scribes conspire to put him to death. His choice to execute, to be brave, to act in concert with a community of followers is what I hope for our church. We as people of Old St. Patrick’s have power together in the public actions we take to elect and follow leaders who have a preferential option for the poor, who commit to being accountable, who serve us as neighbors and constituents. We have power as people of faith in Chicago, working in coalition with the Kinship Initiative and Community Renewal Society, building relationships with everyday people as Jesus did in order to live into the Body of Christ and truly put some skin on it. We have power in a God who we can trust to give each of us “a well-trained tongue, that I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them.” Let the Spirit’s rousing word be heard this Palm Sunday and echo throughout Holy Week in our acts of mercy, in our righteous anger, and in our collective power to execute God’s vision of a holy city.