Palm Sunday: Lent 2015 B. “They brought the donkey to Jesus and they threw their clothes on it and he sat on it. And many spread their clothes on the road and cut down branches of palm and spread them on the road. And those who went before him and those who followed cried out, ‘Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest’.” Mark 11:7-9
Mr. Packard’s old car sputtered and steamed as we travelled in the Dorchester Day Parade. It was one of my not so bright ideas to have a car in the parade that advertised the Dorchester Tenants Action Council. It was 1970 and Mr. Packard lived in a decrepit old mansion that had been subdivided and he had a car. I didn’t have a car and he offered. And like most of us in the Tenants Council, our homes and our cars, if we had one, were held together with wire and Duct tape.
The sign with the name DTAC was printed on a white poster and taped to the door of the car. Mr. Packard drove the car and I alone walked beside the old wreck of a car and the man who drove it. The car overheated within the first mile of the parade. I went to the side and asked for water for the radiator and kept the car going for another few miles. By the third mile we dropped out of the parade.
It was an early education into the art of humiliation which has a root, I suspect, in the word humility. But we were, the old man, the young one and the wreck of the car a kind of March into Jerusalem. We were on the way to confront the demons of poverty, racism, class and greed. Armed with nothing but the tenants who would join us in the months and years to follow, we would see some progress. We would bring together the races around a common effort, we would pass a rent control ordinance in the city of Boston and we would confront the abuses of certain absentee landlords. The maxim that the poor have the greatest weapon against injustice, their numbers, was a truth we lived with and experienced.
Thirty years later, we were in Jerusalem. A group of us clergy from the states, were on a tour of the region. Our group stood on a hill of Olive trees that overlooked the Golden Dome that stood on the site of the Second Temple. We were all familiar with the story of Jesus riding on the back of a donkey into the city. As we began our descent toward the old city I noticed a donkey tied to a tree. Later as we made our way down the hill I turned as I heard the clop of hooved feet. Atop and astride the donkey we had seen, a portly young man bounced and jostled and shook as he straddled the poor animal as it sped down the hill. The creature seemed eager to be relieved of his burden. It had crossed my mind to ride the burro down the hill. Mercifully, I had the experience to see in another’s embarrassment what could have been mine.
The road up to the Golden Gates of Jerusalem’s old city wall have been sealed. On that day many years ago it was the Eastern door into the city. Through those doors a man rode a donkey into the site of the Temple Mount while a few shouted Hosannas and waved branches of palm. And ever since that day we remember a man not on a warrior’s horse but astride a donkey as a sacrament of power in the raiment of powerlessness. The Golden gates have been sealed and the gold’s been stolen away. What has not been sealed or silenced are the voices of the poor. Indeed their cries now are daily televised. Even the powerful voices of greed can’t shut them up.
And yes we turn our faces away and shut off the tube or the internet feed. Their cries are hard to bear because even in our illusions of security we know that “there but for fortune go you or I.” That walk on the day of the Palms is a perfect sacrament of all those who before and since have lifted their hearts and voices and have sung Hosannas and “We shall overcome.” Those gates will not open of themselves. The powerful and well situated will sit behind walls of security and shut them out. And yet on that day, “even the stones will cry out.” And the God of merciful justice will come and dwell among us.
We will dwell together in a kind of relative peace, the kind of peace that the lamb might experience in the presence of the lion. It seems to me to be a peace much as that Palm Sunday long ago, that lives on as we remember and tell the story to those who have come to listen.