When I think about Palm Sunday and Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, I cannot help but think about the other procession, that of Augustus Caesar. It was customary for Roman emperors to ride into a conquered town or region in full military regalia, mounted on an elaborate chariot pulled by war-horses. Caesar’s procession was a political ritual, a show of strength, a symbolic reminder that those who oppose the empire would be tread underfoot.
I have come to believe that in this historical context, Jesus’ procession into Jerusalem wasn’t only the fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy. Rather, this procession was a subversive act. Instead of a war-horse, Jesus chose a donkey. Instead of being heralded by the religious authorities, it’s the people at the margins of the empire who call him the Anointed One. Jesus entered the halls of power in Jerusalem to institute a kingdom unlike the kingdoms and regimes of our world.
It’s the kind of reign that doesn’t come from beating the powerless into more submission. Instead, the powerless are given dignity and worth in Jesus’ kingdom. This kind of reign isn’t about having bigger and better weapons, but about laying down our armor and our fear for the sake of the common good.
So, what is the invitation for followers of Jesus today? Which procession are we marching in? Are we waving our palms to herald the reign of King Jesus or the reign of Caesar? And if we say, King Jesus, then how are we using our power to defend the powerless?
Jesus, you came not for a crown of gold, but a crown of thorns. Help us to walk with you this Holy Week towards the cross. Help us to lay down our crowns of gold, our war-horses and chariots, our idols, our Caesars, for you our humble, yet subversive King. Amen.
Chantilly Mers, M.Div., is a United Methodist Women seminar designer.