Spring was church visits time for my family. From February through May we hardly ever attended our home church, instead we would visit different congregations where my dad would give the Camp Report, mom the Sermon, and together they would often do the Children’s Story. But pastors didn’t want Camp Sunday to fall over a holiday, so Easter often found us at the Marion CoB here in Ohio. It was a good time to see grandma and grandpa before summer camp started. Palm Sunday was hit or miss, sometimes we were actually at Stone CoB, sometimes we were visiting a different congregation, either way we would more than likely find ourselves holding palm fronds. Now as a young male, it was always more exciting to get the long single frond, it would eventually be used as a sword with my brothers. Even as a young child, the cross felt inappropriate to swing like a sword, even if it is a sword in shape. Palm Sunday was special and fun, though not all that big of a deal. We got a leaf, not chocolate or gifts. But as I got older, Palm Sunday became much more problematic.
“Problematic?” you may be saying, “Why?” We actually discussed this in Sunday School recently, but in case you missed that class, here is why. The palm frond would have been fairly ubiquitous in Judea, not only as a native plant, but as a symbol of Jewishness. It was commonly used as a symbol for two things: The Festival of Booths (the celebration of the Exodus), and the Hasmonean Dynasty (the last independent rulers of Judea before being overthrown by the Romans and Herod the Great (the Herod of the Nativity)).
So here are a group of people waving the symbols of an independent Judea and of God leading them out of captivity while shouting, “Please save us!” (Hosanna is probably best translating as, ‘We beseech you to deliver us!) All of this happening while Jesus is fulfilling the Zechariah 9:9,
“Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
It is all very political. Is it any wonder the leaders of Jerusalem feared him? They had already experienced what happens when the Romans believe that someone is thinking about rebelling. And here comes Jesus acting like a messiah and the people calling out to him to save them as they invoke their history of salvation and independence.
Jesus, as you all know, rejects this. Yes he is building a kingdom, but it is not a temporal one. There will be no earthly king setting out rules and enforcing them. Jesus’s kingdom is one that exists presently and historically as a spiritual kingdom as people come together voluntarily to live in community and a kingdom that will exist on every level when God brings it to culmination.
In recent years we have seen the rise of the Christian Nationalism movement here in the U.S. It isn’t a new thing, it has existed since Constantine openly supported Christianity in 312. In short, it is the idea that our nation is and should be Christian. This doesn’t sound bad on the face of it, after all, who wouldn’t want to live in Christ-centered nation? Our ancestors did, that is why they rebelled and went into the baptism waters. Christianity at the point of a sword, or in modern day parlance, at the threat of arrest and imprisonment, is fundamentally anti-Christ. Jesus rejected the sword and instead choose the wash-basin, turned in the golden crown for thorns, gave up the throne to be raised on a cross, and to die as convict instead of ruling as king.
I will still be waving the palm leaves with my children this week, it’s a fun tradition! In the back of mind though, I will be thinking about the fact that these palm leaves will wither just as the people of Jerusalem’s hopes in a Jewish Nationalist state did when Jesus was executed. I will wave my palm thinking about how we haven’t been able to accept, even after two millennia, that Jesus doesn’t want us to put him on an earthly throne. I will set my leaf on the ground and leave it, letting Jesus lead me his way and not expecting him to bend to my expectations. May God’s will be done, not mine… not mine.