A u c k l a n d A o t e a r o a N e w Z e a l a n d
a n g l i c a n c h u r c h
Palm Sunday: Creative Protest
April 13, 2003
"The entrance into Jerusalem [on Palm Sunday] has all the elements of the theatre of the absurd: the poor king; truth comes riding on a donkey; symbolic actions -- even parading without a permit! Also, when Jesus "set his face to go to Jerusalem," what was involved was direct action, an open confrontation and public demonstration of the incompatibility of evil with the Kingdom of God." (David Kirk)
When my father was a bush priest in Western Australia, we had a Bishop who was like no other Bishop I have come across. His name was Howell Witt. Wit by name, wit by nature. He was an old styled worldly man with an edge, slightly eccentric. He played rugby, smoked like a chimney and swore like a trooper. When he came to our place for dinner, which he did often during my childhood years, he would be asked to say grace. We five children would close our eyes and wait with excitement for what he would say. He never disappointed; "Dear God, before we start to eat, I thank you for this lovely meat," and other such pithy prayers.
Bishop Witt became a national icon, once being interviewed alongside Australian Dennis Lillee on the Parkinson television show. There was one memorable occasion when Bishop Witt was asked to take part in a debate. It was in a church with two pulpits, so he took his place in one pulpit and each took their turns while the other spoke. At a certain point it became clear that the other speaker was winning crowd support, so Bishop Witt began humming into his microphone. With this song under his breath he then proceeded to undress; first his robes, then his trousers and his shirt. He stood in the pulpit with just his underwear on, then looked up innocently as if surprised that the other speaker had stopped speaking. The congregation was hooting with laughter, his colleague never regained his train of thought and Bishop Witt won the day.
When I say Bishop Witt was slightly eccentric, I mean he was a Bishop who took to heart the Jesus of Palm Sunday; riding into the capital with no permit, on a lowly donkey. He could at best have been mocked, at worst executed. His point was well taken. The crowds felt the victory of his protest. He won the day with his creative dissent.
Palm Sunday, in the shadows of the roller coaster death to life Easter story, reminds us that we need to take risks. Risks will inevitably lead to loss but have the lure of resurrection always in mind.
Palm Sunday is a day to celebrate all those courageous people who have stood up to tyrants and oppressors through the centuries.
Palm Sunday is a reminder that standing up for a cause is often best done in a counter cultural way. The soft overcomes the hard, the gentle overcomes the rigid. Palm Sunday says 'be as wise as a serpent and as gentle as a dove'.
We've seen from the US the opposite logic and time will tell what damage is done. The Bush and Blair alliance claims to be using weapons of destruction to stamp out weapons of destruction; war to defeat war.
They ignore the United Nations in order to make clear to Saddam Hussein that the United Nations cannot be ignored. Peace is too important not to take up arms to defend. If the only way to bring democracy to Iraq is to invalidate the democracy of the Security Council, then they feel honor-bound to do that too, because democracy, as they define it, is too important to be stopped by a little thing like democracy as the UN defines it. They cannot leave in power a dictator who ignores his own people. And if their people, and people elsewhere in the world, fail to understand that, then they have no choice but to ignore them.
This is the logic of the first century leaders who killed Jesus on suspicion. They had a system to protect after all. They would execute an innocent man to uphold a system which claimed to protect innocent people. They would break the natural order of fair trial and justice in order to maintain their brand of order and justice.
Jesus in turn offered another way, a way which confounds the logic of power and self righteousness; the way of persistent, courageous non violence. He chose his timing, his mode and his message. Resurrection was his victory, the ultimate act of civil disobedience.
Oh that Bush and Blair might realise this. Oh that we might be inspired to live by these values this Palm Sunday.