No matter what we call this coming Sunday, it is a strange day for Christians. We’ve read a year’s worth of the bible that culminates in one human being catapulted from lauded king to executed criminal. Palm Sunday, Passion Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week – the time where we boomerang between parades, donkeys, children, palm branches and a sham trial, a corrupt state, and death via barbaric means.
I understand this kind of whiplash. As a resident of Tennessee, my family, friends, and neighbors have been thrown back and forth as pawns in more ways than we can count. Since 2015, Tennessee has enacted almost 20 anti-LGBTQ+ laws, more than any other state in the country. We have passed some of the most draconian abortion restrictions in the U.S. And our state has watched this week as a gunman opened fire in a private school, killing three adults and three nine-year-olds before being killed themself. We are literally having to prioritize public action, and are having to shift focus on a dime because it remains almost impossible to identify the “most egregious” thing happening on any given day. Physically standing in solidarity with those who are being harmed in my state is a full-time gig.
It is not lost on me that our state lawmakers and their voice boxes are blind to what the Gospel has actually taught them. A Gospel that is highly political. A Gospel featuring a man named Jesus who himself is political. A Gospel that calls for Heaven – a place not somewhere off in the distance, accessible only through death. But a Heaven that is a way to live, right now, here on earth, in real-time. And his entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday was a political action that certainly garnered attention.
I’ve always been curious about the contrast between the politics of Rome and the politics of Jesus. Rome was highly calculated in how it spread its “good news.” The brilliant Fr. John Dear reminds us:
We’re so used to that word “Gospel,” that it’s lost its original meaning. But in those days, when the Roman empire went off and conquered another land in the name of their god Caesar, and killed all the men, raped all the women, and destroyed all the homes, the soldiers would come back parading through the land announcing “the Gospel according to Caesar,” the Good News of the latest victory of Caesar, that another land has been conquered for their god Caesar, and that Caesar’s enemies have been killed.
How different that is from the politics of Jesus.
Adam Erickson says, “Jesus was a different kind of king and that the Kingdom of Heaven is a different kind of politics. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, he was revealing that the reign of God is in stark contrast to the reign of Rome and every other political system that seeks triumphant victory by influencing people through violence and coercion. The Gospel of Jesus is different. This Gospel is the politics of humility, service, forgiveness, and a nonviolent love that embraces all people, but especially those we call our enemies.”
A politics of “humility, service, forgiveness, and nonviolent love” is as radical as it gets. And it’s the kind of politics that create public whiplash for those who claim they are following the teachings of the Crucified but are acting as though they are working in the halls of Roman rule.
This week is a mixed bag of celebration and tragedy. This series of 7 days will feel unsettling and chaotic. How will you illustrate your personal and congregational contrast to the reign of modern-day Rome? Where are you finding your humility? Your service? Your forgiveness? More importantly, how is nonviolent love guiding your work?