Six years ago, April of 2003, I remember seeing the image of hundreds of Iraqis massed around a statue of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in Firdos Square, Baghdad as it was being pulled off its pedestal – a sign of people celebrating the end of a violent and oppressive regime. American and allied forces had invaded Iraq three weeks earlier, and our politicians were telling us it would be a war easily won. The hearts and minds of the people were said to be behind the liberating forces. Six years later, one-hundred thousand American casualties later, one million – three hundred thousand Iraqi deaths later, we are still embroiled in a war whose end we cannot yet understand with an exit plan that does not begin to imagine what reconciliation will look like.
Two thousand years ago the occupied people of Israel hailed Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem as a sign that the Roman occupation was coming to an end. However, as Jesus revealed God’s intention to reconcile us to each with love instead of violence the crowd turned against him. They cried out for one of the guerilla freedom fighters, Jesus Barabbas, to be granted pardon instead of Jesus of Nazareth. They placed their trust in violence as a means of overcoming oppression.
Some would say that such a profound faith in non-violence is a sign of naivety. Looking at the cost in human life of military solutions it’s difficult to make the case that violent solutions are more humane. What the passion narrative of Palm Sunday reminds us is this: we may dance in the streets for a conquering hero, but God comes in the form of a suffering servant. That is the way of the cross we are called in baptism to follow.