Procession of Protest

On February 18th, 1943, Sophie Scholl, along with her brother Hans, hurriedly dropped stacks of anti-Nazi leaflets in the corridors of Munich University. Attempting to escape without notice before classes let out, they realized that some copies remained in the suitcase and made a decision to circulate each and every one. They returned to the Munich atrium and climbed the staircase to the top floor, where Sophie flung the last remaining leaflets into the air.

Sophie and Hans were members of the White Rose, a civilian movement committed to resisting the atrocious policies and rhetoric of Nazi Germany. The White Rose was a small, committed group of protestors, most under the age of 24. They distributed pamphlets that read, “We will not be silent. We are your bad conscience. The White Rose will not leave you in peace!”

Sophie’s audacious action of showering leaflets into the atrium caused she and her brother to be arrested by the Gestapo. Just four days later, Sophie, Hans and their professor, Christoph Probst, were tried by a Nazi institution, the People’s Court. They were convicted of treason and sentenced to death. Later that same day, just 96 hours after spreading their good news, they would be executed by guillotine.

As Sophie processed toward her gruesome death, she carried herself with courage. She protested, “How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to offer themselves up individually for a righteous cause?”

And then, her last utterance, “Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go.”

Sophie Scholl and the other members of The White Rose stood up for the silent peoples of Germany and asked them all to find their own voices while protesting their oppressive authoritarian government. Sophie’s small and subversive parade of prophetic pamphlets and passive political protest stood in stark opposition to the many parades that processed near by.

Those other parades flaunted flags and guns and drums and thousands of uniformed officers saluting oppression, hatred, greed and empire.

This is a tale of two parades: One, a procession of protest, the other, a procession of persecution.

This tale from Nazi Germany, 43 years ago, is nearly identical to our scriptural tale this Palm Sunday.

Luke 19

28 After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.

29 When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30 saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” 32 So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 They said, “The Lord needs it.” 35 Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36 As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37 As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38 saying,

“Blessed is the king
    who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
    and glory in the highest heaven!”

39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” 40 He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

One thousand nine hundred eighty six years ago, in the year 30, it was the beginning of passover in the city of Jerusalem. During Passover each year, Jews flooded toward their holy center to commemorate their liberation from Egypt centuries before.

As was custom for Roman governors, Pontius Pilate paraded into the city, coming from his home toward the west. His procession was one of military prowess. During the celebration of Passover, the Roman government feared unrest and possible Jewish uprising, so Pontius Pilate rode into Jerusalem flanked by an intimidating military formation.

Scholars Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan paint this picture for us…

“Imagine the imperial procession’s arrival in the city. A visual panoply of imperial power: cavalry on horses, foot soldiers, leather armor, helmets, weapons, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, sun glinting on metal and gold. Sounds: the marching of feet, the creaking of leather, the clinking of bridles, the beating of drums. The swirling of dust. The eyes of the silent onlookers, some curious, some awed, some resentful.”

It was a militaristic pageant of pomp and pride.

Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the city,  a very different procession rolled in from the east. Jesus, accompanied by a rag-tag group of disciples, rides down the Mount of Olives on a donkey. As he enters the city, his party of peasants lay down their cloaks and broken off branches, shouting for joy and shouting for change.

Hosanna! Jesus is the real king! Peace will abound here!

The religious elite, those Pharisees, stand against them and order Jesus to silence the crowd. “Oh no,” Jesus says, “We cannot be silenced.”

This is a tale of two parades: One, a procession of protest, the other, a procession of persecution.

Now you might be thinking to yourself, self, how does Jesus riding a donkey through the streets equate to a protest? I mean really, he’s just on his way to do the whole Easter resurrection thing! Prepare the way of the Lord! This is a religious celebration!

I am not the first person to describe Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem as a protest. New Testament scholar George Caird claimed it as a planned political demonstration. Political Demonstration! Borg and Crossan called Jesus’s entrance into Jerusalem a prearranged counter-procession.

Jesus knew exactly what he was doing. He quite possibly had attended a workshop on non-violent direct action.

But for real, Jesus utilized words from the prophet Zechariah to stage a counterclaim to the power and superiority of Caesar, Pilate and Rome.

Zechariah says:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!

Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!

Lo, your king comes to you;

triumphant and victorious is he,

humble and riding on a donkey,

on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim

and the war-horse from Jerusalem;

and the battle bow shall be cut off,

and he shall command peace to the nations;

his dominion shall be from sea to sea,

and from the River to the ends of the earth.

Zechariah says that the real king will come riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. He will be humble, but he will bring peace by cutting off the power of the Roman government.

So Jesus obtains a donkey and rides it on in, claiming an entirely different type of kingship. In this ultimate act of subversion, Jesus deliberately counters and challenges the procession of power that is happening concurrently on the other side of the city.

Jesus didn’t hop on that donkey because his Jesus sandals were falling apart! He acted out a parable, in which God’s dream breaks in and disturbs, disrupts, demolishes and deconstructs what those in power have constructed as ultimate truth.

Jesus is holding up protest signs that say…

No more war, we want peace!

Take from the rich and give to the poor!

Weakness is greater than strength!

Down with the status quo!

Long live the outcasts!

Set the captives free!

Losers are the real winners!

Your laws are not just!

I am the way, love is the way!

Can you imagine Pontius Pilate’s disgust and anger when he caught wind of Jesus’s unruly, provocative act of resistance?

I’m sure he was so fearful of insurgency that he rallied the troops, and spewed the venom, and spread the lies and struck fear in the heart of every Roman citizen and even every committed Jew.

Even those who protested alongside Jesus became weary and afraid in the face of a ruthless, dominant, political system.

It’s not Good Friday yet, but we know where Jesus found himself after this incendiary act of dissent.

It was a place not dissimilar to where Sophie Scholl found herself after defying the brutality of Hitler’s regime.

And now, I’m going to suggest that we must protest just like Sophie, just like Jesus.

And I understand that I just demanded that we follow in the footsteps of those who were mercilessly executed. Which sounds completely absurd and twisted and unrealistic.

It was Malcolm X who said that if you want something, you had better make some noise.

I learned early that crying out in protest could accomplish things. My
older brothers and sister had started to school when, sometimes, they would
come in and ask for a buttered biscuit or something and my mother,
impatiently, would tell them no. But I would cry out and make a fuss until
I got what I wanted. I remember well how my mother asked me why I couldn’t
be a nice boy like Wilfred; but I would think to myself that Wilfred, for
being so nice and quiet, often stayed hungry. So early in life, I had
learned that if you want something, you had better make some noise. – Malcolm X

And I can’t speak for you, dear friends, but what I want is nothing less than God’s dream realized. No more hungry mouths. No more bodies laying in the streets. No more rich getting richer. No more school to prison pipelines. No more squandering the good green earth. No more building walls or burning bridges.

Protesting oppressive power certainly has its dangers. But that is exactly why it must be done. It’s dangerous because those in power never give up power willingly.

Subversive acts by courageous people have bent the arch of history toward justice. Where would we be without the Sophie Scholls and the Malcolm Xs or without Jesus’s radical revolution of love?

Where would we be without the civil rights movement or the women’s suffragist movement or the marriage equality movement? Where would I be? Certainly not standing right here. Where would you be?

Protest has its adversaries. Many people, me included, sometimes wish for justice to look a bit cleaner. Those protected by white privilege or straight privilege or ability privilege or male privilege or cis privilege or American privilege or Christian privilege (yes that’s a thing), tend to ask protestors to quiet down or be a bit more appropriate.

Why are those protestors so angry and rude? They’re just trying to stir up trouble, perpetuate violence. Protestors these days are so unruly and offensive!

Jesus and Sophie and Malcolm were far from appropriate. The movements they ushered were condemned as offensive and problematic, and against our upstanding and righteous society. They stood against our good religious values.

I wonder, if the greatest social movements in history were always despised in their arrival and counteracted by the well-meaning privileged majority… then what movements of justice do you think we are impeding today?

As Sophie pleaded, “How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to offer themselves up individually for a righteous cause?”

This justice stuff, it’s difficult. Protesting with our voices, with our actions and with our lives can be a scary ordeal.

But as we will be wholeheartedly reminded next Sunday, we are not ever alone. And as we’ve witnesses today, the God of justice protests right along with us. That is certainly good news.

So let us shout and protest together! Let us protest whatever stands in the way of God’s dream of justice rolling down like water. We will not be silenced!

Hosanna!

Shut it down!

Hosanna!

Give peace a chance!

Hosanna!

Equality Now!

Hosanna!

No Justice No Peace!

Hosanna!

Hate is easy, love takes courage!

Hosanna!

Power to the people!

Hosanna!

Now is the time to make justice a reality for all God’s children.

Hosanna!

Let it be so. Amen.

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