St. Mary Magdalene Anglican Church

Vancouver, B.C.

Phone: 604-877-1788


The Anglican Parish of St. Mary Magdalene

2950 Laurel Street at West 14th Avenue

Vancouver, BC, V5Z  3T3

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Diocese of New Westminster Anglican Church of Canada

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April 5th  Palm Sunday  2020         John Marsh

Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29; Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew 21:1-11

Before Palm Sunday became liturgy, it was – perhaps –  a historic event, admittedly an event deeply buried under layers of tradition. Before arguments about whether to process, to use palm fronds or crosses, it was a historical occurrence requiring decisions and actions.

Consequently, we are always faced with a question: what are we to make of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem?

With the eventual success of Christianity, we cannot help but read or hear the text from a perspective of triumph, shaped memory removing all grit, sweat and labour, the totalizing effect of later dominance flattening the possibility of loss. Truth to tell, life’s choices, decisions are seldom straightforward, risk and loss are always lurking…

However, if we use our imagination, we may perhaps glimpse something at work within the entry into Jerusalem, getting beneath layers of later pious interpretations...

To get beneath later pieties, we may drill horizontally, exploring within the following story from the American civil rights movement, to hopefully sense something stirring, something similar to the gospel narrative, perhaps a spirit of faith, hope and love.¹

When a social evil has become the status quo, it is often not seen; it’s understood as just the way it is. Usually, it must be provoked into revealing its ‘demonic’ face ideally without further demonizing those doing the provoking.

Consequently, given that the status quo of the American south was framed by ‘separate but equal’, there was need to dramatize its racist underbelly, thereby gaining the attention of many whites who were more complacent than racist. In the early sixties, after a series of ‘failures’ in gaining the attention of the media, the movement set its sights on Birmingham, Alabama.

Numerous attempts at mobilizing blacks to march had largely failed as most blacks were justifiably fearful of being fired by their white employers. The breakthrough came on Palm Sunday, April 7th, 1963. On that day, a march was planned in a black neighbourhood for 2:00pm. They had 22 demonstrators committed to march (a comparatively large number compared to most marches) but organizing being what it is, they weren’t ready to march until 4:00pm. By this time most blacks were home from work and, knowing of the planned march, about thousand or so lined the three-block route to watch as spectators.

The next day the paper got it wrong.  They reported that more than a thousand demonstrators marched. As one leader in the movement said, “They can only see through white eyes. They cannot distinguish between Negro demonstrators and Negro spectators – all they see is Negroes”. This reporting elicited a response from police commissioner Bull Connor and with later marches, the media saw, reported and photographed the violent face of segregation.

However, the eventual success of the civil rights movement may blind us to its origins, its size, the necessary resolve, cunning and courage of its members. It is now remembered as an irresistible force which we hear as ‘large and powerful’ but, while ultimately irresistible, it was, in its beginnings, a planned, small yet courageous and determined action which, perhaps paradoxically, found strength within weakness…

Perhaps an expression of “the same mind…that was in Christ Jesus”. (Philippians 2:5)

So perhaps, we can exclaim, ‘Blessed are those who come in the name of the Lord’ going so far as to proclaim as blessed, all who, before belief, beneath belief, beyond belief, in their actions come in the name of the Lord.

¹ Horizontal drilling utilizes a flexible pipe which, beginning vertically, can be angled to expose a larger portion of the reserves be they oil or natural gas.