Excerpted from the NC Council of Churches Lenten Guide, “Journey to Justice”
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eye wastes away from grief, my soul and body also. For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my misery, and my bones waste away. I am the scorn of all my adversaries, a horror to my neighbors, an object of dread to my acquaintances; those who see me in the street flee from me. I have passed out of mind like one who is dead; I have become like a broken vessel. For I hear the whispering of many—terror all around!—as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life. But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors. Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love.
Palm Sunday is a day full of tension. The gospel readings for today present two very different pictures of Jesus. On the one hand we have Jesus entering the holy city of Jerusalem as a crowd grows and people clamor to see him. They’re shouting out: “Hosanna! Blessed is he! Hosanna!” They have rolled out the red carpet, so to speak, by placing cloaks and palm branches along the road as Jesus arrives. Jesus is a celebrity on this day.
On the other hand, we know that those shouts of praise will soon shift to screams of anger and hatred. Many who were blessing him will persecute him and lead the calls for his execution. I imagine things didn’t shift as quickly as they seem to in the gospel reading. There were certainly underlying hostilities, fractions, and hatred just waiting for the right time to bubble up to the surface. There is a long, gradual build up to the acts of violence and persecution Jesus will soon experience.
Some believe Psalm 31 was originally composed by David when he was experiencing persecution under King Saul. Today, many of our own brothers, sisters, and friends find themselves in a similar position—on the receiving end of hostility and hatred. People of color continue to find themselves on the receiving end of hate crimes—which have greatly risen in number over the last couple of years—as well as brutality by law enforcement. Immigrants fleeing persecution and oppression in their native countries and seeking safety within our borders have been chased down and torn away from their communities to be deported. For the better part of the last decade elected officials in our own state have tried “every trick in the book” to keep gerrymandered maps in place to decrease the value of each vote in minority communities.
As a closing prayer, read Psalm 31 again. As you do so hear it from the voice of someone in this country on the receiving end of hostility and hatred in the many forms it takes. Hear it from the voice of a persecuted Messiah who will soon be delivered from the hands of his enemies.