This Sunday as part of our Palm Sunday celebration we will remember and proclaim Jesus’ entry into the city of Jerusalem, from the East. He came riding upon a donkey and was greeted by ordinary people of the city who shouted “Hosanna” – “save us” to the wandering prophet from Galilee, the one of whom was whispered that he might be the promised anointed one.
Each year at Passover, Pontius Pilate, Governor and representative of the Roman emperor, came to Jerusalem from his coastal residence in the west. Passover was often the scene of political disturbance and protest of the Roman rule and occupation of the Holy Land. The mission of the imperial soldiers with Pilate was to reinforce the Roman garrison permanently stationed in the Fortress Antonia, overlooking the Jewish Temple and its courts. It was best that the Governor and his cohort was on hand to tamper down the flames of insurrection. Who knows what the people shouted, if anything? No doubt the elite of the city were there to greet the representative of the Emperor. There were no whispers or uncertainty about Pilate.
Imagine two processions entering Jerusalem on the same spring day. One was a peasant procession, the other an imperial procession. From the east, Jesus rode a donkey down the Mount of Olives, cheered by his followers. On the opposite side of the city, from the west, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Idumea, Judea and Samaria, entered Jerusalem at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers.
Two processions: Jesus’s procession proclaimed the kingdom of God; Pilate’s proclaimed the power of empire.
Jesus’s procession stood in contrast to what unfolded on the other side of the city. Pilate’s procession embodied the power, glory and violence of the empire that ruled the world. Jesus’ procession embodied an alternative vision, the Kingdom of God. The king, riding on a donkey, the one to banish war from the land—no more chariots, warhorses or bows. Commanding peace to the nations, a king of peace. Pilate’s military procession was a demonstration of both Roman imperial power and Roman imperial theology, worshiping the emperor as god.
Two processions. Two kingdoms. Two symbolic journeys into Jerusalem. Stallion or donkey? Parade or protest? Which will each one of us choose? It is easier to just wave a palm branch, sing a few rounds of “Hosanna,” and go home. The actual praise and worship Jesus invites me to enact on this last Sunday in Lent is far riskier; his donkey ride cost him everything. I dare not join Palm Sunday’s parade too casually.