Saturday, March 27, 2010

Palm Sunday

I have been going through my Vicar School stuff in the hunt for a book my beloved gave me last year before the Easter residential. This led to a huge paper-chase and a mini spring-clean as I sorted through essays and lecture notes and countless photocopies of book chapters we had been given for pre-reading.

I came across my end of year reports and the letter of acceptance on to the Yorkshire Ministry Course (as it became) together with the welcome card I found in my bedroom on my first ever residential. I looked through all the things I'd kept from the two Easter Schools and from the Commendation weekend where I graduated in a service in Wakefield Cathedral. These had been wonderful and moving occasions.

Sitting there surrounded by paper, books, essays, photos and music I had very mixed feelings: nostalgic, proud, a bit emotional and sad and happy in turns. Still the sort out was achieved and the book found.

The Last Week by Marcus Borg and Dominic Crossan

Psalm Sunday

Two processions entered Jerusalem on a spring day in the year 30. It was the beginning of the week of Passover. One was a peasant procession, the other an imperial procession. From the east Jesus rode a donkey down the Mount of Olives. 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. Pilate's procession proclaimed the power of empire. The two processions embody the central conflict of the week that led to Jesus' Crucifixion.

Pilate's military procession was a demonstration of both Roman imperial power and Roman imperial theology. It was standard practice for Roman governors to be present in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival: not out of religious sensitivity but to be in the city in case there was trouble. There often was at Passover, a festival that celebrated the Jewish people's liberation from an earlier empire.

According to Roman imperial theology the Emperor was not simply ruler of Rome, but the Son of God. For Rome's Jewish subjects, Pilate's procession embodied not only a rival social order, but also a rival theology.

Jesus' procession deliberately countered what was happening on the other side of the city. Pilate's procession embodied the power, glory and violence of the empire that ruled the world. Jesus's procession embodied an alternative vision, the Kingdom of God. The confrontation between these two kingdoms continues through the last week of Jesus life.

Mark makes it starkly clear that the ruling Jewish elite worked via the tacit approval of the Roman authorities, the domination system, and were therefore collaborators. The local people were oppressed not just by the Romans and their taxes but by the puppet authorities - which included the Temple Authorities whose primary obligation to Rome was loyalty - and their taxes. Caiaphas must have been particularly skillful as he lasted in office for nearly twenty years.

This was the Jerusalem Jesus entered on Palm Sunday. His message was deeply critical of the temple and the role it had come to play in the domination system of empire and Jesus pronounces forgiveness apart from temple sacrifice. Jesus' message and activity put him in conflict with the temple authorities from the moment he arrived in Jerusalem.

As we consider Palm Sunday we need to be clear that the conflict which led to Jesus' crucifixion was not Jesus against Judaism. Jesus was part of Judaism not apart from it. His protest is about a domination system legitimated by God. Jesus' is a Jewish voice arguing about what loyalty to the God of Judaism meant.

Two processions entered Jerusalem that day. Which procession are we in? Which do we yearn to be in? This is the question of Palm Sunday and of the week that is about to unfold.