This morning is Palm Sunday and we are sharing a mosaic sermon. I’m going to start with a little bit of Biblical context about our scripture reading and about Palm Sunday in general and then Lyn Pegg and Mary Vanderford are going to share about their experiences with protest and ethical spectacle as sacred practice. And then Rev. Ashley is going to close us with some connections to the Lenten journey we’ve been on this year. Will you pray with me?
“I am not afraid, I am not afraid, I will fight for liberation cause I know why I was made.” Holy One of prayer and protest, of ethical spectacle and silent retreat. Bless us this Palm Sunday that we might celebrate and build, resist and rest in all the ways Jesus led. Amen.
In this morning’s scripture, it’s the start of Passover week and everyone is arriving into Jerusalem—the faithful pilgrims but also the insurrectionists and rabble rousers. And Rome is nervous… this could be a threat to their power. It hadn’t been that long ago since they had put down a bloody uprising. The prospect of large gatherings of people scares them. And so, they do what Imperial powers do, they stage a parade, a show of force. In through Jerusalem’s Western gate march legions of Roman soldiers and their leader, Pontius Pilate. It would have been quite a display of “imperial power: cavalry on horses, foot soldiers, leather armor, helmets, weapons, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, sun glinting on metal and gold… 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.”
Pilate’s procession was meant to communicate very clearly. And its message would have been both about the power of the Empire but also its theology. “The emperor was not simply the ruler of Rome, but the Son of God.”
On the exact opposite side of the city, through the Eastern gate comes a very different image. In place of war horses, there is a humble donkey. Absent armor and gold, leather and boots, comes Jesus and his palm-waving followers. Every bit of it is planned, staged and comes off beautifully.
Where Pilate seeks to communicate the power and violence of the Roman Empire, Jesus’ is a procession of peasants seeking to proclaim the kin-dom of God. And unlike the sounds of Empire—clanking metal, creaking leather—the sounds of Jesus’ procession of those marginalized by Empire are those of swishing palm branches (a symbol of their rural, poor roots) and the crying of Hosanna, Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God! Blessed is the coming kin-dom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!
It is important to know that the word “hosanna” literally means, “O, save” or “save, I pray.” “Hosanna” is a cry of pain, a cry of hope and a cry of power. Hosanna means enough!
Gandhi once referred to Jesus as “the most active resister known to history—this is nonviolence par excellence.” And his procession into Jerusalem is a beautiful example of Jesus’ brilliance and wisdom because he knows what he is communicating and to whom.
“From start to finish, Jesus uses symbolism from the prophet Zechariah. According to Zechariah, a king would be coming to Jerusalem (Zion) ‘humble, and riding on a colt, the foal of a donkey’ (9:9). The rest of the Zechariah passage details what kind of king he will be: ‘He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war-horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations’ (9:10). This king, riding on a donkey, will banish war from the land—no more chariots, war-horses, or bows. He will be a king of peace.
“Jesus’s 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 [kin-dom] of God. This contrast—between the [kin-dom] of God and the kingdom of Caesar—is central not only to the gospel… but to the story of Jesus and early Christianity.”
This morning, we’ve asked Lyn and Mary to share a bit about their spiritual practice of protest that are modern-day examples of following Jesus’ way.
Lyn Clark Pegg:
When Rebecca invited me to tell a story of protest that entailed an “ethical spectacle,” this image came to mind … “It’s Hard to See Racism When You’re White.” Such a simple message, yet so profound in its ability to cut to the core of why our US society has been unable to uproot its original sin of racism and move towards equity and racial justice.
This billboard appeared on a street in downtown Duluth on the morning of January 24th, 2012. On that same day there was a press conference at the City Mayor’s Reception Room announcing the launching of the Un-Fair Campaign, and its commitment to raise awareness about white privilege, provide resources for understanding and action, and facilitate dialogue and partnerships that would move our community toward racial justice. Also on that day these posters appeared on store-front windows and on university and church bulletin boards, underscoring the billboard’s message, and literally spelling out the unfairness of white privilege.
We can imagine that the billboard and the posters were riding into downtown Duluth on a humble donkey announcing that the power structure was now on notice and the status quo was being challenged.
This spectacle was not merely an act of impulsivity – – the planning had begun two years earlier when a small group of women, members and staff of the YWCA, met with Swim Creative, a local marketing and public relations company that donated its services, to discuss how we could address white privilege within a community where 90% of the population is white. The people of color in Duluth are both invisible and targeted, and their voices are too often not listened to and not heard.
Our “spectacle” got plenty of attention locally, nationally and globally! We received thousands of emails, some offering support; however the majority were vitriolic comments and threats from white supremacists. The local Black, indigenous and people of color felt the backlash and they bore the brunt of white people waking up and blaming them for their discomfort. Our 17 partner organizations hung in through the uproar, promoting events, facilitating conversations and engaging in organizational transformation.
Following the launch and over the next 15 months, we created and offered a wide range of gatherings and educational events – community forums, workshops, movies, lectures, a Readers Theater, an exhibit by the Science Museum, and a performance by the Pillsbury House Theater. We realized that racism will not go away without continual protest; our goal was to keep our community engaged and responsive to the needs of those who are marginalized.
Rebecca asked me how this “spectacle” protest might have been a spiritual calling for me and how it embodied my Christian faith. I reflected on my growing up years in a white privileged, patriarchal family. I also recalled that as a student I was drawn to historical acts of resistance, such as the Montgomery bus boycott and the Mandella’s efforts to dismantle apartheid. I didn’t realize that such revolutionary acts could apply to me. But when I came of age in the 60s, I saw new realities and the possibility of change through the movements for racial justice and gender equality. Intuitively, those actions felt like “God’s work” – we were undoing the systems of privilege, supremacy and oppression. We were working for systems of equity, justice and peace.
The “spectacle” protest of the Un-Fair Campaign was an initial step of radical truth-telling – by disrupting and exposing the system of white supremacy and redirecting awareness towards fairness. The next steps towards justice involve relationship building and the fulfillment of God’s professed love for ALL – especially the oppressed, as well as for me, the “others,” and even our opponents. Only then can healing and repairing of our troubled world become a living reality.
To think of my protest work as sacred is not exactly how I frame it.
I actually feel compelled to protest. It’s almost a visceral thing. I can’t stay home and not be in the streets.
You might say I feel called to protest.
I am called by my community.
At first that was my college community … Earlham, a Quaker College … Here I was called to protest the Vietnam War.
Then when Michael and I came to Mpls., I was drawn to a community of women fighting against military madness. This community was WAMM, still a very active community calling out the military industrial complex in our country.
At this same time we found Lyndale UCC and later became engaged in the process of becoming Open and Affirming, and in so doing calling out for just policies for our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. Later – working for the Freedom to Marry Amendment.
More recently the Activistas have challenged me and invited me to stand with unions representing postal workers, nurses, teachers. It has been through personal connections in these unions that I came to understand the social justice issues they were working on.
THIS CONCEPT OF COMMUNITY IS AT THE HEART OF MY COMMITMENT TO PROTEST. As I learn through stories of the experiences of oppression, I become more engaged. Sometimes this leads me to question, to do research, and to attend seminars. Always seeking to more fully understand the issues that impact the lives of people in my community. My brothers and sisters.
Over the past 4 years my organizing work and protest work within the MIRAC community’s fight for immigrant rights has broadened my understanding of
- The hardships faced everyday by immigrant families in the T.C., especially if one adult is undocumented.
- It has taught me how our city and county government policies are complicit with the oppression of these undocumented immigrant families. One example is not allowing driver licenses for all Minnesotans regardless of immigration status. The repercussions of this are many.
- And it has taught me how our government’s actions and policies for many decades have contributed to the terror, the disappearance of hundreds of rural folks, and the extortion and killings that have caused families to leave their homes and to seek asylum elsewhere.
Several years ago Nancy and Rom joined us for a fundraiser for a family whose son had been arrested by ICE and faced deportation. I remember Rom leaning over and saying “These are your people.” I remember thinking, that Yes these are my people. Even though I don’t speak Spanish, I am white and privileged, and older that most, they have become my people. I feel so blessed to be a part of this community and I will protest with them in the streets as long as I am able.
So –in summary. Why do I protest. It is part of my sacred calling to be in community with my brothers and sisters. I do it for my people. Yo hago por mi gente. Minnesota presente. Yo hago por mi gente.
Rev. Ashley Harness:
Most of you know I’m an introvert. I can function like an extrovert professionally, but my heart and body and mind need time alone to recalibrate and rest and recover. So you might find it strange to know that it’s when I’m at a protest that I often find myself in a state of deep prayer. For me, it turns out, protests are like singing in church. I can be in prayer in a way I call “alone together.” Or what you might call “parallel prayer,” like toddlers “parallel play.” But the function is additive. When we sing together, we amplify our prayers in harmony. When we march together in protest, we do the same. As Rabbi Joshua Abraham Heschel responded to somebody who asked him if he prayed when visited Selma to march with Rev. Dr. King, “Yes, I prayed with my feet.” That march in Selma was 61 years ago, almost to the day today.
Palm Sunday is a story of our ancestors praying with their feet in protest too. As Rev. Rebecca explained, one way to understand Palm Sunday is as a protest of Caesar’s realm and a dramatization of the contrast between the two – Jesus’ proclamation of the Kin-dom of God and Caesar’s proclamation of his Kingdom, his empire. I have studied this biblical interpretation, but it becomes embodied for me and alive in protest.
It was Martin Luther King day of 2015, five days after Marcus Golden was killed by police in St. Paul. Jamar Clark had been killed by police in November of the year before here in Minneapolis. Michael Brown was killed by police in Ferguson a few months before that. The movement for black lives across the country and in the Twin Cities was ripening with holy rage and grief as black death overwhelmed the headlines.
A group of us from Lyndale gathered on that gray, February day with hundreds of other people to mourn and demand justice together. The mood was heavy with grief, and joyful with resistance all at the same time. We chanted in unison, “no justice, no peace. Prosecute the police.” “Hands up, don’t shoot.” “Black lives, they matter here.” These were our hymns. We marched in silence, hundreds of bodies strong with fists in the air and hands on our hearts. This was our prayer. We lay down across the streets, body next to body, in a “die-in” – filling the streets with a visual reminder of all those killed by white supremacy. This was our ritual. We danced the electric slide. This was our joyful praise. Finally, we processed down to the capitol building as “Glory,” the theme song from the recently released movie “Selma” about Martin Luther King Jr., blared from the back of a pick-up truck leading our way. This was our alter call. And I felt in my bones and my spirit God calling me to say “yes.” I give my life to this, God. I give my life to your realm alive here and now.
This is my embodied experience of Palm Sunday. No donkey here. But a pick-up truck with black, queer, young organizers riding it with fists in the air and the rest of us following suit, silently raising our fists too. We didn’t have palms, but in each breath and each chant was a cry of Hosanna, a cry to be saved from the grip of white supremacy killing black and brown and indigenous bodies and causing soul damage to white bodies.
Each time we protest, each time we pray with our feet, we are living out Palm Sunday and we are living out the story of Jesus. We are practicing the story of Jesus. We are becoming embodiments of the story of Jesus. We are living in glimpses of the realm of God. We are, as the song goes, glorifying God here and now.
This Lenten season, we have been on a journey into the depths of the Jesus story and into the depths of seeking repair – with God incarnate in ourselves, in each other, in our histories and in our futures. We have been on a journey of remembering our unconditional belonging to God and to each other and to creation. As we listen and watch this next song, let yourself pray on the question: what gets in the way of you remembering you belong unconditionally to God, to each other? And what might be your next fumbling and grace-filled step towards repair?
 John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg, The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach about Jesus’ Final Days in Jerusalem, (Harper Collins: New York) p. 2-5
 Ibid, p. 3
 Ibid, p.4