Written by Liz Johnson Blythe
“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!”
When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?” just say this, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.”’ They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’ They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
‘Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
There were two processions into Jerusalem that day – one expected, one unexpected – both acts of street theatre. Pilate entered Jerusalem from the west with full military phalanx, as was the custom for roman governors at the beginning of Passover. He might have taken the opportunity to show his Jewish subjects empathy and reverence for their religious devotion, but he didn’t. Pilate wanted to be in Jerusalem in case there was trouble, which there often was during this time of celebrating the Jewish people’s liberation from an earlier empire. As he rode astride a mature stallion to mandated shouts of ‘Lord’ and ‘saviour’ this procession was meant to remind the subjects of Jerusalem that the ruler of Rome was also the son of God – a roman god, but God, nonetheless. It was a theology that put the Roman ruler at the centre, backed by his army, and supported by the domination system of power, all with the complicity of the Temple.
A domination system is the ‘political and economic domination of the many by a few and the use of religious claims to justify it (The Last Week by Borg and Crossan).’ Domination systems are supported by such familiar phrases as, “that’s the way it’s always been” and “it isn’t great, but there’s no other solution.” For the people of Jerusalem, it seemed there was nothing else to do, but to live the best life that they could within the existing system.
And yet, from the east there was a completely different, and unexpected procession entering Jerusalem. There was no organised military presence…in fact, there was no military at all. It was a man in humble robes, riding a young donkey. We know what happens because we’ve been told, but the people of Jerusalem knew what was going on because it was so directly a commentary on what was happening on the other side of town. This street theatre was a critique not only on the emperor, but also to the entire system that guaranteed his wealth and power on the backs of the poor and what they could reap from the land.
Mark, alone, includes in his gospel the line, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David” (v10). What is happening, then, is not just about the man on the donkey, or even about what he is going to do for everyone. It is about an entirely different way of organising society. In the time of David people had their own land (justice), they were not tenants or sharecroppers (prosperity), and they did not have to live in constant fear (security) because the kingdom of David was respected among its neighbours. It was a time of shalom – wellbeing, peace, fairness, and balance unique to David’s rule.
Perhaps it was a spectacle to start with. Perhaps people shouted with laughter to their neighbours to come and see. Perhaps at the start they thought it was funny to throw their cloaks and break off branches to pad this donkey man’s path, but it wouldn’t have continued all the way into town, wouldn’t have been told and retold and written down if it had been merely a spectacle. It was proclaiming, in the face of what was, that a new way was possible…a new way was happening before their eyes.
The climate change movement has come a long way. We have overcome a lot of the that’s-the-way-it’s-always-beens and the there’s-not-another-solutions, but we are still in the midst of a dramatic change which requires all of us to examine the luxuries we have enjoyed from the existing systems and turn away from the way things have been towards a new way that offers genuine shalom to the people, animals, and ecosystems of the world.
Your item – a cross
The week that began with street theatre ended with an attempt to completely silence the artist. It was an attempt to silence Jesus’ denial of Roman authority and criticism of the Temple’s complicity with the Roman domination system. The cross, therefore, is a complicated symbol. It was the sign of the ultimacy of Roman authority, but, since Jesus’ resurrection, it has become a sign of liberation from death, of transgressing norms, of God doing a new thing in our midst.
Make a cross from whatever you have around you. Do not buy anything. Feel free to borrow or barter or accept materials free from family, neighbours, and friends. It can be beautiful or plain. It can be drawn on a piece of paper, cross stitched, crafted, or cobbled together from chopsticks and twine. As you make your way through Holy Week, focus on the cross you have made to help you to contemplate your role in our current systems and the ways you can co-opt and change them to create ‘the coming kingdom of David.”
God of all Creation, you have made our world with immense drama. There are waterfalls and glaciers, mountains scraping the sky and canyons carving deep into the earth. You created dandelions and roses, garden daisies and birds of paradise. You have created creatures that are smooth and slimy, prickly and soft, cuddly and fierce, strange and incredible. Help us to see the drama of the natural world around us. Help us not to be afraid to dramatically disrupt the systems we are used to in order to save the environment and humanity. Amen.
Questions for further reflection
- Which procession are you in?
- Which procession do you want to be in?
- What can you do as a member of society to get/stay there?
For previous parts of our Journey through Lent go to: https://wellingtonchurch.co.uk/category/lent/Lent2021/