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A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery

Marching in Protest
March 22, 2018

This coming weekend, protest marches against gun violence are being organized across the nation, including here in Pittsburgh. Still reeling from the carnage of last month’s mass high school shooting in Parkland FL, young people across the country are rallying together in a demonstration they are calling the “March for Our Lives,” inviting all concerned adults to join them in demanding stricter gun controls. As I write, more than eight hundred separate events are planned across the country and beyond. Whatever one’s position on gun control may be, nobody can deny the persuasive power of a massive marching force.

In a few weeks, some of us will be attending the Washington D.C. rally A.C.T. Now to End Racism , commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. Much of Dr. King’s influence was galvanized in marches for racial justice, notably the Selma to Montgomery marches of 1965. To this day, people who participated in those marches with Dr. King enjoy thereby a respect they could never otherwise achieve.

The Bible is replete with stories of powerful mass marches, from Israel’s march through the Red Sea to its march around the walls of Jericho, from David’s massive procession of the ark into Jerusalem to annual parades of pilgrims ascending the holy mount to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem. It is in this annual Passover pilgrimage to Jerusalem that Jesus first begins to discover his Messianic identity, according to Luke 2.

Palm Sunday’s parade is a protest march, make no mistake. It is a declaration of dissent from supporters of the Roman oppressors’ tyranny, a cry for freedom that looks for a new leader to bring justice and peace into a society ruled by oppression and riven by strife.

Each of the Gospels, save Luke, records the crowd milling around Jesus shouting, “Hosanna!” – a Hebrew word inserted into the Greek text that means “Save us now!” It is a word of petition rather than praise, of demand rather than devotion. It is a protest against the status quo. It is far more than the sweet praise-fest that many Palm Sunday pageants seem to assume.

Palm Sunday people have had enough of things as they are. For them, justice delayed is justice denied. The time has come to turn the world upside down. Enough of the current order’s repression and injustice!

The Gospel accounts of Palm Sunday all disclose that the instigator of this rally is none other than Jesus himself. He is not being seized upon by others trying to make him King against his will. Rather, things unfold as they do at his own behest. It is Jesus who sends out disciples to locate and requisition the colt on which he sits. He knows full well that, in riding a colt instead of a muscled stallion, he is offering himself as the sort of alternative “king” imagined by prophets, one whose rule rests in humility and divine appointment rather than human force.

Make no mistake; the Palm Sunday parade is an act of defiance against unjust rule that defies the One who alone is to be worshiped and served. It is an act of resistance to human authorities that flout God’s decrees. Palm Sunday people have had enough of corrupt leadership, enough of those who claim to be promoting the welfare of their community while they harbor ultimate allegiance to their own interests. Palm Sunday people are more than ready for leaders who let God be God, for leaders who care nothing for their personal gain and everything for the welfare of the Shepherd’s flock.

Palm Sunday asks us who’s in charge for us. It demands an answer. On this day we are forced to take sides, to declare (in the words of the Brief Statement of Faith) “whom alone we worship and serve.” (Book of Confessions 11.1)

The next day we witness Jesus’ ultimate protest demonstration against the corruption of the day’s leaders: overturning the tables of temple money-changers. Talk about “draining the swamp!” Jesus knew full well that Sunday’s procession and Monday’s uproar would only accelerate his execution. Yet he pressed forward, knowing that only with his death could the new resurrection life of God’s reign burst forth for the healing of a broken world. He offered up his life because he considered our well-being more important than his own, and that pleasing his Father mattered more than saving his skin. Truly, he offered himself up, giving his life away rather than having it simply seized from him. “What wondrous love is this, O my soul!”

Yours in the King’s service,

The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, General Minister

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