Spirited Reflection: The Palm Sunday protest march
It wasn’t a Sunday walk in the park, you know, this Palm Sunday procession. Not a stroll, or a gentle donkey ride, with friends. It was not a military parade, full of pomp and circumstance signifying very little. Rather, it was a carefully orchestrated protest laden with symbols that turned on its head the expected solution to oppression–a military Messiah. It was a demonstration of the alternative way, a way of peace, of compassion, of justice.
When we read about the “triumphant entry into Jerusalem” this Sunday, let’s recognize it as an inversion of empire and not a confirmation of it. In our world today, there are many who enact this kind of symbolic walk, inviting, more through action than words, deep reflection on oppression and injustice and proposing another way. I think about Josephine Mandamin and the Mother Earth Water Walkers who seek to “raise the collective consciousness of people about the water,” particularly the water of the Great Lakes. Mandamin says: “I will go to any lengths to and direction to carry the water to the people. As women, we are carriers of the water. We carry life for the people. So when we carry that water, we are telling people that we will go any lengths for the water.” See how you might be able to support Josephine this year.
I think also of Michelle Campos and Lumad People who made a caravan from Mindanao to Manila in 2015—700 Lumad people travelling hundreds of kilometres to alert the world to the harm to their beautiful lands, and the displacement and violence experienced by their peoples as a result of extractive projects, plantations, and militarization. The journey here to Canada of five Philippine leaders—Our Land, Our Rights, Our Peace—is a further step in this pilgrimage, seeking justice and accountability for the actions of Canadian mining companies in their ancestral lands. “The continuous struggle of the Lumad in Mindanao to defend their ancestral domain is a struggle for life, as land for them is life,” said Fr Rex Reyes Jr, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines. See more about their message to us.
And while it is a stationary protest of sorts, KAIROS and Assembly of Seven Generations anticipate this a compelling and symbolic representation of the truth of colonization when we gather on June 2 on Parliament Hill in Ottawa for the Kitchi Blanket Exercise.
When we walk, wheel, kneel, or stand in public space, when we let the symbols speak, when we proclaim truth and offer an alternative way—a demonstration of freedom, or justice, or compassion, or reconciliation—we get closer to the meaning of the action of Jesus in that Palm Sunday procession. I will close with words from our friend, biblical activist, Ched Myers: “We need to undomesticate Palm Sunday in our churches. Jesus was staging a kind of counter-demonstration. While Pilate rode into the city on a military stallion, Jesus entered on a borrowed donkey, symbolized sovereignty—but also Zechariah’s promise that Yahweh would one day banish the war horse forever! The procurator claimed the Pax Romana, the Nazarene a “Pax Christi.” Pretty subversive stuff…to really represent this gospel story in our world, we need to re-contextualize its symbols into our political moment, and re-place our witness back into public space.” May it be so!
Jennifer Henry has served as Executive Director of KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives since 2012. She has worked in ecumenical social justice for over 25 years, beginning in 1993 when she joined the Ecumenical Coalition for Economic Justice (ECEJ) as a popular education coordinator.