I enjoyed a relaxing lunch with Omar, his mother and Bo Forsberg, one of the organizers of last week’s Swedish Diakonia/Sabeel conference. We also met up with Sarah Thompson from Elkhart, IN, who I have known through Jesus Radicals. She is working this year from Sabeel, but had just returned late the night before from a Christian Peacemaker Team board meeting in Colombia. We all then found a perch on the road heading up from Gethsemene toward the Old City, from which we could watch the Palm Sunday pilgrims coming down from the Mt. of Olives.
There are many ironies to this procession. For one, it takes place under the watchful eye of security forces looking out for nationalist protests, not unlike the first Palm Sunday. For another, Jerusalem is still in some ways an “occupied” city, especially if you are Palestinian; indeed, many Christians cannot even come here though they live close by, because they cannot get a permit. And for me, the mayhem of Friday’s Land Day demonstration up the road at Damascus Gate seemed much more akin to the energy of the original “triumphal entry into Jerusalem” by the Galilean dissident Jesus than did the pious processions today.
[Above: Palm Sunday 2011; photo by Ryan Beiler. For more, read on. Note: You can hear Ched reflect on Jesus' lament over Jerusalem, Palm Sunday and the 20th anniversary of the Los Angeles uprising in the next BCM monthly webinar on April 24th; register here.]
Still, there was something deeply moving about the waves of Christians of all types and ages and countries, joyously parading up and into the Old City. The various costumes (religious, national and otherwise), the banners, the singing and instrument-playing, and of course the waving of every sort of leafy branch, were infectious. Sarah and I fell in behind a Palestinian group that was chanting particularly loudly, to walk the last stretch. All along the way we saw friends—from Sabeel, CPT, and other churches and organizations. Jerusalem is in some respects a very small town.
As we approached the Lion’s Gate the road grew narrower and the crowd louder and more festive, chanting and singing hosannas in a dozen different languages. Each Palestinian parish from the hinter land represented with a banner, and each one indicat how many kilometers away from Jerusalem it was. I asked a friend about this, and about why there wasn’t more overt political demonstration on Palm Sunday by these Palestinians. The fact that they are Christian and they are here is demonstration enough, I was told. Christians, the “living stones” of the Holy Land, are an endangered species, outmigrating disproportionately because of the oppression. On this one day, Palestinian Christians can march proudly en masse and say: “We are not going away. This is our city and our country too.”
The procession ended by turning into a church plaza at the first station on the Via Dolorosa, and once inside, we watched as groups of dancing, smiling pilgrims came in one after another. The place was packed—not a 5’s favorite scenario, but in this case, intimate and joyful. Then Sarah and I elbowed our way back out and walked through the quieter streets of the Old City, talking about her experience during her year here. After we parted, I headed back home.
I was amazed when I got to the east side of the Old City: the procession was still going on, two hours later. Now it was scores of young Palestinian Christian scout groups marching in formation, complete with uniforms, drum corps and, to my amazement, bagpipes! Inherited from the British colonial era, Palestinians have thoroughly adopted the instrument (and even some Scottish tunes), and proudly play them in parades.
As the sun was setting, I slowly trudged back up the Mt. of Olives, heading toward the Dominus Flevit Chapel, which commemorates Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. It felt only right to end my Palm Sunday--and my brief sojourn in this sorrowful land—at the place where Jesus began his final march by lamenting for all who are victimized by violence and injustice. His ultimatum is directed to each of us in every age: “If only you, even you, had recognized on this day the things that make for peace!” (Lk 19: 42)
So ends my little journal: "A Week in Palestine."