Palm Sunday: Reflection from Fr. Andy Hamilton SJ

For many, perhaps, most Australians Palm Sunday is just a name, perhaps associated with the start of the football season. For some, too, it marks the annual march for refugees, a natural association for Christians for whom it is the beginning of a week dedicated to reflection on Jesus. It culminates in his death on Good Friday and his rising on Easter Sunday. Palm Sunday marks Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, the spiritual centre of the Jewish people. His entry was apparently mocking and frivolous, involving a donkey, a few followers and a raggle-taggle crowd singing and waving palms.  As it took place before a feast that celebrated the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt into the Promised land, a time when hopes and fears of revolt were high, this apparently ridiculous gesture of a king entering the city offered his enemies his self-signed death warrant. There was no way that the Romans and Jewish leaders would understand his claim that God’s promises to Israel would be fulfilled through him was apolitical. 

Seen through the Christian belief that we are saved through his death and rising, Ash Wednesday stands at the intersection of God’s world – the world of justice and goodness – and the brutal political realities of human societies. It mocks the pretentions of power that considers only the expediency of actions and not the human reality of the people affected by them. 

At that intersection today, refugees lie in the centre. The defenceless entry of Jesus into Jerusalem associates Christians with the equally defenceless movement of so many people around the world, forced to flee their own lands and to come into foreign lands. Many of them, too, experience the same murderous abuse of power that later in the week Jesus experienced at the hands of the civil and religious powers. For that reason, many of us will gather to march with and for refugees. 

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, he enjoyed the hospitality of the little and powerless people and was duly crushed by the powerful rulers.  On Palm Sunday we join Jesus’ entry into the city, the centre of power, and pray for and demand that the refugees, the little ones to whom Jesus came, receive hospitality from our nation. They ask for freedom from imprisonment, attention and justice in the hearing of their cases, and our cooperation with other governments to stop the making of refugees by war and exclusion, and to offer refugees freedom families to live in the community and raise their families. 

Christians also believe, of course, that Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and dehumanising death were not the story of defeat and failure that they appear to be. On East Sunday he rose from the dead to turn defeat into victory and a resigned despair into hope.  

Andrew Hamilton SJ is consulting editor of Eureka Street, and writer at Jesuit Social Services