Today millions of Christians around the world have gathered to commemorate Palm Sunday, Christ’s entry into Jerusalem days before his crucifixion. Holy Week begins here, and in Egypt it has begun with violence; at the time of writing, 42 people have been killed in explosions at Coptic churches in Alexandria and Tanta. Islamic State have claimed responsibility, but the news is still fresh, details are still emerging.
These atrocities are all too common, but that this happens on Palm Sunday brings the situation into stark relief. Because Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, riding a juvenile donkey rather than a mighty war horses, is a renunciation of violence, it’s a mockery of systems of power that seek only to dominate and destroy and diminish. Holy Week is a series of events that announce and inaugerate God’s Kingdom in a way that makes it clear that we’re not meant to be seeking another Empire, or to add another tract of land to our territory, but to follow Jesus on a path of grace and mercy, justice and compassion. And yes, the Church has too often failed in this, but it’s the reason Christ rode a donkey rather than a chariot.
The carnage in Egypt speaks of one way to change the world – with swords and suicide vests, fear and oppression, bomb-blasts and beheadings. And these tactics often work – they affect how we travel, how we structure our economies, they affect how we look at refugees and the music we play as we march to war. Terror twists the world and churches celebrating Palm Sunday are reduced to ruins.
We could respond to this in kind. We could call for indiscriminate airstrikes, we could defend God’s Kingdom with bullets and bombs. But Christ’s arrival in Jerusalem preempts this response; the Triumphal Entry culminates in a Cross, this much is true, but it goes beyond that; more, it only goes beyond that because it rejects the sword and builds on sacrifice and forgiveness instead. We don’t build the Kingdom by becoming an IS copycat; we build the Kingdom by following the King on the donkey.
I write that and it feels almost facile after bombs have torn apart brothers and sisters in faith. Too often it’s easier to be terrified, to believe that the bombs and guns and cars driving through crowds are the final word and the epitome of power and yes, the authorities have to respond to that appropriately.
But we have to respond too, as congregations, as people of faith, as those without power but citizens of the Kingdom. And that’s a challenge in the middle of the shock and the mourning and the loss, it’s difficult when all the voices in the world are discordant and screaming a different gospel. But in those times we’re called to hold on to the stories of our faith, to cling to what we learned in the light to guide us through the dark, to preserve the Image of God and not devolve into monsters.
Thoughts and prayers are with Egypt, and I know that doesn’t sound a lot in some ways, but let it be a way of strengthening the bonds within the family of faith, to hold us together as one when all the other voices seek to tear us apart, a call to repentance when we treat each other as curiosities on the news when we should have been brothers and sisters all along.
And may we ride the donkey into Holy Week, whispering “Hosanna” amid the tears.