Tag Archives: Easter

Trump, the Pax Romana, and Palm Sunday

This Sunday, many churches around the world, including our own, will take time to remember and honour Palm Sunday: the moment when Jesus enters into Jerusalem and begins the events prior to his arrest and crucifixion.

Two particular things happen on Palm Sunday: Jesus rides a donkey colt, and a number of people wave palm branches and shout, “Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

The symbol of riding on a donkey colt was meant to conjure up the image of a King riding into Jerusalem.  Solomon rides on a mule when he is anointed as King over all of Israel.  Zechariah also prophesies that when the long-awaited Messiah, the great King of Zion, will enter Jerusalem “riding on a donkey’s colt” (Zech. 9:9).

The addition of palm branches is interesting.  Palm branches were already a common symbol of royalty in Jewish culture at the time; but palm branches were particularly connected to when the King entered the Temple and performed a sacrifice upon the altar.

Palm Sunday is a celebration of Jesus’ triumphal entry as a King into Jerusalem and we see two things quickly emerge in this image of Jesus: 1) the donkey colt was also a symbol of humility and 2) Jesus is going to be a King performing a sacrifice.  But instead of sacrificing an animal on the altar, he sacrifices himself upon the cross to heal the world of its sins.

Now try lining up this image of King with that we see quickly emerging in our beloved Donald J. Trump.  As a leader or ruler, Trump says things like:

“We will have so much winning if I get elected that you may get bored with winning. Believe me.”

[Speaking of a protester] “I want to punch him in the face.”

“If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of ’em, would you? Seriously. Okay?”

“See, in the good old days this didn’t use to happen [people protesting], because they used to treat them very rough. We’ve become very weak.”

When asked about the recent assault of a protester who was subsequently manhandled by three police officers (not the man who actually assaulted him), Trump says, “He deserved it. The next time we see him, we might have to kill him. We don’t know who he is. He might be with a terrorist organization.”

Trump represents what we could call the Pax Romana or “Peace of Rome.”  Just before the birth of Christ until about 180 A.D., Rome enjoyed about a relative peace for about 200 years.  Their claim was that the civilization and military expansion of the Roman Empire had engineered this peace.

However, the Pax Romana was anything but peaceful.  The Empire engaged in widespread torture and executions in order to maintain power over oppressed cultures, and it still engaged in warfare.  It just didn’t have any major civil wars during this time or any major opponents who threatened the stability of the Empire.

But the basic concept of the Pax Romana was that physical force and violence against your enemies creates security and peace.

This is what Donald Trump believes will happen when he uses physical and verbal force against protesters.  This is also what also lead Trump to say things like: “The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families.”

This was the logic of the Pax Romana.  Use whatever physical force is necessary in order to ensure peace.

Two different leaders.  Two different concepts of “King.”  One leader advocates that because he is so rich and powerful, he will make America great again.  The other leader rides on a donkey colt to announce his arrival.

One leader says you have to sacrifice people on the altar of peace and security in order to be safe.  The other leader sacrifices himself to save the world.

This Palm Sunday let’s ask ourselves “What is truly the peace that we want for the world? And which kind of King will we ultimately follow?”

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Death? Yes. Resurrection? YES!

In the 1997 blockbuster film Titanic, Jack and Rose enjoy a fairy-tale romance aboard the giant ocean liner.  Disaster strikes when the unsinkable ship hits an iceberg and sinks and Jack drowns.  But in the film’s last scene, we see Jack and Rose, back to life, reunited on the ship’s grand staircase, as if the tragedy were but a bad dream.

Unless it’s the bad guys, it seems that Hollywood does not much like death.  It’s happier to just live on and on, immortal.

Which is what Jesus did not do.   He really died.  He did not just appear to die.  He did not just live on in the hearts and minds of his friends.  Nor did he have some “immortal soul” or  “divine spark” that endured after his body expired.  Jesus was really, truly, completely dead.

And then God turned the tables on death.  All four gospels, along with the Apostle Paul, affirm that Jesus was raised from the dead.  It’s the resurrection that stands at the heart of Christian faith, not some “immortality” of a soul that just goes on and on.

The truth of Jesus’s resurrection, though, takes a while to dawn on Jesus’s friends.  In our text for this Easter Sunday (John 20:1-18), Peter, the chief disciple, races to the open tomb, enters it, and sees grave clothes lying about.  But does not come out crying, “Jesus is alive!”  He just goes away.

The other disciple with Peter (possibly John) also sees the empty tomb.  Unlike Peter, he “believes,” but it is not clear what he believes.

And Mary Magdalene, perhaps Jesus’s closest friend, is so distraught with grief that the two angels in the empty tomb are only annoyances to her.  Even when she meets Jesus clothed as a gardener, she does not recognize him, and only pleads for her dear friend’s dead body to be returned.

If it’s hard for Hollywood to accept that death is really death, it was also hard for the dead Jesus’s followers to believe that he had been made alive.

But they finally do become convinced.  And then there’s no stopping them.  They go into the world with the audacious claim that, while death is—yes—real, Jesus’s resurrection is–YES!– also real.  More real, even, than death.

If we’re honest, we’ll admit that Hollywood has got it wrong.  Our experience tells us that life can be tragic, and that death is real.

And then, our faith assures us that we need not fear that unpleasant truth, because death is not the last word.  The last word belongs to God, and that word is resurrection.

He is risen!  Happy Easter.

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