The Radical Politics of Palm Sunday



Today is Palm Sunday.  It is the Sunday for Christians that honors Jesus’ “triumphal entry”  into Jerusalem.   It beginning of Holy Week.  

Palm Sunday has always been a favorite for me.  Most churches lack drama and participation and the waving of palms on this Sunday atleast allows people some agency in the worship service.   Fro the most part though,  the day has lost its radical meaning though.

I  would bet that if you went to 100 churches today on Palm Sunday not one would talk about the deep political (and real?) meaning of Palm Sunday. 

The Last Week

 I would highly reccomend Marcus Borg’s and John Dominic Crossan’s The Last Week to read this week.  The theologians give a day by day theological account of Jesus’ last week as told by the gospel of Mark.   It is a slim book but deeply layered and provides all sorts of historical and scriptural context for this holiest of weeks.  

For most churches, the “triumphal entry” of Jesus is really just a celebrated death march.  Jesus has already won the game and  now he just has to die so that we can get this show on the road.   As with most of the gospels (and the word “gospel” itself), the “triumphal entry” of Jesus is an act of political drama and confrontation.  

“Triumphal entry” is a Roman concept and describes the ceremonial procession of the emporeror/governor/general into a conqoured city.  It is a mighty  and overwhelming show of force; a first century version of shock and awe.  Here is  how Borg and Crossan imagine Pontious Pilate’s triumpant entry:

Imagine the imperial procession’s arrival in the city.  A visual panoply of imperial power; cavalry on horses, foot soldiers, leather armor, helmets, weapons, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, sun glinting on metal and gold.  Sounds:  the marching of feet, the creaking of leather, the clinking of bridles, the beating of drums.  The swirling of dust.  The eyes of the silent onlookers, some curious, some awed, some resentful.

On the day we know as Palm Sunday, Pilate’s Roman garrison had marched from its base on the coast to bunker down in Jerusalem for the Passover feast.  Jerusalem was already hostile to its Roman occupiers and during Passover, the population of Jerusalem swelled from 40,000 to maybe as many 150,000.  

From the west, the empire entered the city. Jesus’ peasant procession entered from the East.  

What procession do we walk in?


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