Today marks the first day of Holy Week, the most significant week in the Christian calendar. On this Sabbath, Christians across the world celebrate Palm Sunday in memory of Jesus’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem.
At our church, children carry palm branches and wave them during the processional. The congregation sings the hymn “Hosanna, Loud Hosanna” and the children’s choirs sing songs like “He Comes” and “Sing Hosanna!” In this way, we re-enact the the Holy Scripture.
“12 On the next day the large crowd who had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, 13 took the branches of the palm trees and went out to meet Him, and began to shout, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel.” – John 12:12-13
Interestingly, other processions were taking place that same Sunday some 2000 years ago. The Romans led a major military procession into Jerusalem, an enormous display of force meant to instill awe and respect in the occupied citizens of the city.
These two visions of Kingdom stand in stark contrast to each other. In one, Jesus humbly enters the city astride a donkey, cheered by the poor and marginalized, followed by those longing for salvation. In the other we see the theology of empire, the notion that salvation comes from power and might.
This message seems particularly potent this year, when we see rumblings of war in the Korean Peninsula, chemical attacks and airstrikes in Syria, bombings in Egypt’s Coptic Churches, the continued massacre of the Rohingya people in Myanmar, and more.
We are being given a choice, a choice that Moses presented to the Children of Israel before his death:
“15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.” Deuteronomy 30:15
Both suicide bombings and tomahawk missiles represent the way of Caesar. Christians are called to the Way of the Cross. As the soldier Martin of Tours said after converting to Christianity, “I have served you as a soldier; now let me serve Christ. Give the bounty to those who are going to fight. But I am a soldier of Christ and it is not lawful for me to fight.”
The concept of “me first”, and “my country first” represents the way of Caesar. The way of Christ calls us to look to God first and then to the interest of our neighbor.
“37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ -Matthew 22:37-39
The state of Arkansas is currently planning on carrying out seven executions in a single week. This is the way of Caesar. The way of the crucified savior calls us to forgiveness and mercy. We are called to remember Jesus’s words when facing his own death:
“”Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” – Matthew 26:52
“”Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34
The Way of the Cross does not resemble conventional wisdom. In fact, to most it will resemble the height of folly. It reeks of naivety and idealism. After all, the way of Jesus leads us to the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Tears. It leads us to death on the Cross, the ultimate sign of Caesar’s power.
However, the way of Caesar ends in the tomb, in death and darkness. The Way of Christ eventually leads us to Easter, to resurrection, to rebirth.
This Holy Week we have set before us life and death. What will we choose?