Text: Mark 11:1-11
Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan remind us in their book, The Last Week that two processions entered Jerusalem on a spring day in the year 30. It was the beginning of the week of Passover, the most sacred week of the Jewish year. In the centuries since, Christians have celebrated this day as Palm Sunday, the first day of Holy Week.
Borg and Crossan write:
“From the east, Jesus rode a donkey down the Mount of Olives, cheered by his followers. Jesus was from the peasant village of Nazareth, his message was about the kingdom of God, and his followers came from the peasant class…On the opposite side of the city, from the west, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor…entered Jerusalem at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers. Jesus’s procession proclaimed the kingdom of God; Pilate’s proclaimed the power of empire.” Borg and Crosssan conclude, “[These] two processions embody the central conflict of the week that led to Jesus’s crucifixion.”
In the drama unfolding on this day, Jesus enters Jerusalem. After days, weeks, months, and some would say years of traveling about in Galilee, Jesus enters the walled city. Jerusalem—the sacred city—is the center of temple religion and a bastion of Roman rule. It is this Jerusalem that Jesus has been preparing for or avoiding or skirting or circling. And it is this Jerusalem that Jesus enters riding on a donkey. “This king, riding on a donkey, will banish war from the land—no more chariots, war-horses, or bows. Commanding peace to the nations, he will be a king of peace.” (Borg/Crossan)
Last year, on Palm Sunday, I asked the question: “Which procession are you in? Which procession do you want to be in?” This year I ask another question: “What is your Jerusalem?”
For Jesus and for us, Jerusalem represents that place in our lives where we must ultimately go if we are to find life. It is that place where we must face the powers that dominate and oppress us—our fears, our insecurities, our egos. It is that place where we feel rejected—where we feel we are not good enough. Jerusalem is that place that says I need more—more money, more status, and more power. It is that place that says the world is right and you are wrong—and if your God doesn’t match up to the God of the institution, then your God isn’t real. Jerusalem may be a job or career, an ancient fear, or a life-long addiction or obsession. It may be a deep well of grief or guilt or simply hopelessness. Jerusalem is different for each of us. But ultimately, like Jesus, we must decide whether or not we will ride into our own Jerusalems and risk dying in order to find life.
This story of Jesus’ entry into the Holy City is about Jesus, but it is also about each of us. Palm Sunday asks what Jerusalem is for you and for me. What in your life and mine is the walled city where we must ultimately go if we are to find life? What is the Jerusalem that awaits our arrival, where we will confront the heart of the matter and die in doing so, for the sake of life?
The image of Jesus entering his Jerusalem riding on a donkey leaves me with one last thought on this Palm Sunday. As we face our Jerusalems, maybe it matters how we get there. It seems to matter that, as Jesus finally turns to enter the center of the storm, Jerusalem, to set in motion the drama that will, in its unfolding, fulfill the prophesy of his life, he does not do so in grand or intimidating style. Rather, he chooses a donkey, the very symbol of humility, as if to acknowledge that for this challenge it is his willingness to let go of his status, his power, his promise, in order to realize it.
Palm Sunday asks each of us: What is the Jerusalem that awaits your arrival? And how will you get there?