MEDITATION Written by Geoff Stevenson, Uniting Church minister, Western Sydney. Reproduced with thanks. This Sunday is called Palm Sunday. It is a religious festival that celebrates Jesus ‘triumphal’ entry into the Holy City of Jerusalem. It came just days before his crucifixion. Jesus had organised a donkey to be available and the peasant crowds gathered outside the city walls. As he rode they placed clothing on the ground before him, some waved branches and they hailed him as Messiah – one sent by God to deliver the people (it usually had militaristic connotations). They cried ‘Hosanna’, which means ‘save us’. It was a call from ordinary oppressed people who struggled in their lives for salvation and liberation – in God. Whilst the Bible’s four Gospels (‘good news’ stories of Jesus) each include a version of this story, none indicate the probability of another ‘triumphal’ entry into the Holy City around the same time. It was most likely that Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor of the whole region rode down from his coastal residence into Jerusalem. The Jewish Passover Festival celebrates the liberation of the people from slavery and oppression in Egypt under Moses’ leadership. They celebrated how God liberated their ancestors and brought them into freedom. It was a high time in the city. It unleashed the deep yearnings of the people’s lives, their hopes for peace and freedom under God, not Rome. Messianic expectations were high and in the swelling crowds there was often unrest, rebellion and trouble. Pilate’s presence was militaristic and violent, to ensure people bowed to the power of Rome, maintained peace and his forces squashed uprisings. Pilate’s entry would have been large, noisy, filled with pomp, ceremony and all the entrapments of wealth and power. Foot soldiers, mounted soldiers, Pilate on a war horse, a large stallion as a show of power and might. Trumpets and heralds, the clomping of hooves, boots hitting the ground in time, metal on leather. This was a show of force and might; the message loud and clear – ‘Don’t mess with Rome!’ This way of power, force, and might is common through history. The US strike on Iraq was ‘Shock and Awe,’ a massive show of power and force designed to bring the opposition to their knees very quickly. Tiananmen Square was another demonstration of power. Vladimir Putin is equally adroit at the use of power and might to generate fear and warning, whether in his more subtle imprisonments and executions of those who oppose him to his use of Russian naval vessels sailing off the coast of Australia when we hosted the G20 meeting in Brisbane. In the ‘Age of Discovery’ European nations sent their ships out to conquer the unknown, undiscovered world. In forces of power the military campaigns seized lands and threatened indigenous people with overwhelming might and subdued them. The stories are horrific and evil, leaving lasting scars and deep wounding of the collective psyche of many of the world’s indigenous peoples. This is the way of Empire and power. It was the way of Rome in the 1st century. So, two parades, two entries in the city from opposing directions and opposing theologies. Rome had its Roman Imperial Theology that worshipped Caesar as the all-powerful Deity and it’s theological/philosophical agenda upheld the power of violence and the abuse of ordinary people for the sake of the powerful and the empire. It sustained the notion that Caesar was Divine and had all wisdom, might and must be served and worshipped by all people. On the other hand, Jesus proclaimed another reign that he called the Reign of God. In this Reign, God was over all, in all and through all. It was/is a Reign of love where God, like a Divine parent, nurtures and cares for all creation – the creation that finds its very life and being in the being of God. It is a Reign where justice and love balance each other and work together so that all have enough and all are equal, held in the beautiful diversity that is everywhere around us. Jesus proclaimed a way that was not predicated on the use of violence or a show of force but of humility and he became vulnerable in order to reveal to true power of love and the weakness of abusive power found in empire. As he paraded into Jerusalem, in his counter-cultural entry on a donkey, Jesus was hailed as the Messiah but with the cry, ‘Save us!’ (Hosanna). It was a heart-felt cry from people who were desperate and yearning for another way in the world, a way that treated them and others with respect and gave everyone a fair go, enough food and all else they needed to live. They cried out to one who was so different from the leadership of both Rome and the Jerusalem Temple. They cried out to one who incarnated in his own being, humility, wisdom, love, grace, mercy, compassion, community, inclusion, welcome, peace, justice, hope and kindness. Jesus stood so much taller than the leaders the people had experienced and his vision captured their imaginations and his life and words captured their hearts and being.