By Joanna Lawrence Shenk
As we begin this holy week, reality feels anything but holy. We are walking through the valley of the shadow of death. What good news is there for us in the Palm Sunday story? How can we wave palm branches and shout hosanna when our hearts are heavy with grief? It feels as though we are already in the thick of the passion story, as we sit with the violence of these recent weeks.
We grieve the senseless violence in Boulder, snuffing out 10 lives. And we grieve a society that breeds paranoia and isolation while allowing guns to be so easily accessible. We grieve the deep shadows of Christianity that repress sexual expression while fetishizing women of color. We grieve the tragic loss of life in Atlanta and the ongoing violence targeting our Asian American and Pacific Islander siblings.
We grieve and we rage, but we are not surprised. This is the collective shadow of our society, steeped in white supremacy, repression and violence.
Yeshua and his followers also lived in a time with much repression, violence and the supremacy of Rome. I will use the name Yeshua to remind us of Jesus’ identity as a Jewish man who was living among Jewish people occupied by the Roman Empire. As Yeshua and his followers journeyed toward Jerusalem, they were journeying toward a confrontation with collective shadow.
This is the shadow they had been encountering throughout the countryside, in people possessed with the spiritual sickness of their society. Yeshua healed them and empowered his disciples to do the same. The shadow showed up with Yeshua in the wilderness, as he was offered power and authority over all the kingdoms of the world. The shadow showed up in the disciples as they vied to be “the greatest.”
In each of these encounters with shadow, Yeshua chose the path of transformation. In healing those possessed with spiritual sickness, he invited them back into relationship with their families and communities. This was an invitation to all to seek healing, rather than scapegoating the most sensitive souls.
In the wilderness Yeshua chose to be sustained by the Divine rather than turning the stones into bread. He chose to worship the Creator and not the power of kings and kingdoms. And he chose to walk the path of transformation with his disciples rather than garner a huge following by performing amazing feats.
When his disciples wanted to create a hierarchy among themselves, he reminded them that they were called to subvert hierarchies and honor those who are seen as “the least.”
This practice of confronting shadow in himself and his community was preparing Yeshua to confront the collective shadow of violence, repression and supremacy. He entered Jerusalem with a clarity about from where he derived his authority. It wasn’t from the religious establishment or the state. It was an authority rooted in Divine connection and flowing from the prophetic tradition of release for the captives, liberation for the oppressed, healing, and economic justice.
The triumphal entry then, was not a party for people who were living secure lives and looking for a reason to celebrate. No, it was an expression of defiance in the midst of a death-dealing reality that was crushing people. It was a triumph because they were not giving death and Roman supremacy the last word. They were celebrating the hope for liberation from a violent status quo. They were also gathering to celebrate Passover, remembering how God delivered their ancestors from bondage.
This is what we seek as we remember the triumphal entry today. We do not sing Hosanna because everything is okay. The word hosanna is related to the Aramaic word for help, rescue or save. We sing Hosanna as a call for the Divine to meet us here, to help us, save all those who are vulnerable and targeted.
We are also called to confront the collective shadow among us, that we have been wrestling with throughout Lent. I believe that our ability to see and confront the collective shadow is tied to our ability to see and confront the shadow within ourselves.
This Lenten journey with shadow could not have been more timely for me personally. It has been excruciating and vulnerable at times to look at what comes up for me as I have been invited to sit with my shadow. My shadow is a cruel supremacist, harshly criticizing all my missteps and threatening punishment for every failure. My shadow is rooted in the reality of Christian hegemony.
This is the imperial Christian order obsessed with purity that inspired the Crusades and persecuted and killed our Anabaptist forebearers, as well as women, Jewish people, queer people and anyone else considered “other.” It is an order that pervades western societies whether people identify as Christian or not.
It demands perfection. It values the mind and represses the body. It constantly seeks to control, and is endlessly defensive when called to account. It is the root of the collective shadows we have illuminated during this series.
While this is heavy to name, the point I am actually getting to is liberation, healing and wholeness. Because now I can more clearly see the supremacist that is my shadow. I can say “no, you do not speak the truth about me or the truth about our world. You are a distortion and a lie and I will no longer subject myself to your cruelty.”
I will shout HOSANNA knowing that the Spirit of Life is my help. I will shout HOSANNA knowing that the God of our scriptures is a deliverer and a champion of the oppressed. I will shout HOSANNA as I break the cycle of supremacy within myself and learn to love myself whole.
And I will join the procession with all of you, as we raise our voices, a beautiful noise, shouting HOSANNA, even through our tears. The Divine is our help and our deliverer. In confronting the collective shadow today, may we live with authority rooted in Divine connection and flowing from the prophetic tradition of release for the captives, liberation for the oppressed, healing, and economic justice. This is the good news, my friends.
Hosanna in the highest! Blessed are the *ones* who come deeply rooted in Divine connection! Amen.