I am starting to think that this is going to become the “Year of the Protest March.” It seems like every other week there is another march, either trying to make a point, or complain, or---well, you get the idea. A protest march, above anything else, is designed to bring visibility and action to issues that are seen to be unjust or detrimental to society. Sometimes a protest march will change minds, but that is only a hope. The protest march is really to rally people, helping them to find the strength and courage to keep fighting for what they see to be right.
However, over time, as society changes, protest marches also change. Sometimes, because society has changed, the march becomes more of a parade focused on entertainment than a place of strength and courage. Even though some of these marches can be a rally point, they lose their connection to history and community, and often, their purpose.
That is true of this little-known protest march turned parade we celebrate every year called Palm Sunday. I bet you never thought of it as a protest march, but this march was very important for the early church. Well-established by the 4th century, it was a march against the devil and the power of evil in this world.
People would bring their greenery---often palms, but not always---to be blessed as a protection from the devil. The community procession, which by the Middle Ages would move from church to church, was a visible sign to the community that the devil had no hold on the faithful. This protest of evil served as a reminder that Christ has conquered the devil, giving all who participate the strength and courage to continue their fight.
However, we had lost sight of that until this year, when our Sunday morning worship team came up with the idea of “Branches Sunday.” I had not considered the specific history of Palm Sunday, aside from the biblical text. So I just perpetuated the parade and celebration of the Palm Sunday, without embodying the serious protest of evil that underlies it.
About 15 or 20 years ago, the Presbyterian Church gave churches the option to follow a Palm Sunday script, or to hold Passion Sunday and try to observe the entirety of Holy Week on that Sunday. This is an admirable attempt to cover all Holy Week, when many churches don’t do anything, but this approach misses one very important part of Palm Sunday: the encouragement to keep going amid our struggles against evil in this world.
So, in reality, Palm Sunday is not the same celebration as Easter; never was, and should not be. This is a Sunday when we become visible to the world, recognizing that the struggle against evil is something that we cannot defeat by ourselves. We need the community, and we need Christ to find the strength to overcome it.
In fact, some might say that this is the most important protest march of the year! The theme of protesting evil and its power in the world kind of encapsulates them all! So join us this Sunday, as we find strength and courage from each other for the fight of our lives, and bring your greenery to be blessed!
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen