For those of us in churches that follow a liturgical calendar, the celebration of Holy Week is here. It began with Palm Sunday, the day Christians remember Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem at Passover.
In the story, he arrives riding a donkey accompanied by the cheers of ordinary folks who put palm branches on the road before him. King Herod is entering the town from the opposite direction. Riding a war horse, he is accompanied by armed soldiers. Palm Sunday is a study in power: power exercised by force and power of a different kind – the power that is Love.
Whether this story is historically accurate or not does not diminish the truth it carries. The Herods of this world still accompany their legions as they roam the towns and cities of the world. They ride roughshod over innocents everywhere, all for their own gain. Their motivations are many, but the source of those motivations is almost always fear: fear of insufficiency, fear of loss, fear of humiliation.
And per Christian teachings it is Love that can cast out fear (1 John 4:18) So, the God whom we Christians define as Love engages in this world with fear and those whom fear motivates. And, because we say that we are the hands and feet and lips of Christ in our time, perhaps even the loving heart of Christ, it matters how we engage with others.
While it may be tempting to Christians to think this work of Love is ours alone, it is not. It is the work of all humans. Each religion speaks to this in one form or another. Even most of our humanist and atheist brothers and sisters can agree that it is best when we work and will for the well-being of all others – which is what Love is.
In the face of the tyranny, oppression, and out and out violence that diminish, subjugate, or harm any of God’s creation, human or otherwise, it is Love (willing and working for the well-being of all others) that can shift the arc of history. It is only Love that will transform our world – save it if you will. Returning violence for violence will only entrench and lead to more violence.
There are those who say nonviolence is a fool’s response to the Herods of the world. They truly believe that power exercised as force is the only reasonable way to react to aggression, cruelty, and oppression. History would argue against that point, but it is true that nonviolent resistance has its costs.
Beginning on Palm Sunday, Holy Week will move inexorably toward Good Friday. For us who are Christian (I cannot speak for other religions), the way Jesus engaged with those who exercised power forcefully says to us that the cost of living Herod’s way is far greater than the cost of death. And the Christian story is that this truth is validated by resurrection. When we live in fear of Herod, we get stuck on Good Friday and succumb to the pattern in which violence begets violence. We forfeit our power to Love.
Learning Love does not come easily to most of us. We have Love too much tied up with our feelings rather than our will and our actions. That allows us to find all kinds of reasons to not love our neighbors as ourselves. We are particularly ready to justify not loving our enemies. But the teaching of Jesus is clear that we are instead to “love (our) neighbor as (ourself)” and “love (our) enemies and do good to those who hate (us.) Luke 6;27
To the extent that we are able to let go of fear and live in Love, we are free from all that keeps us from peace, both as individuals and as a species. In an environment whose hallmark is Love, the Herods of the world will not have the last say.
Leigh Waggoner is priest at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church. She can be reached at 565-7865, or firstname.lastname@example.org.