I think Palm Sunday is a like a Pride Parade. Stick with me for just a minute, especially if that doesn’t make sense to you.
The Pride Parade Part
Her name was Marsha P Johnson. When police raided the Stonewall Inn in June of 1968, she was one of the people who fought back. Police raids on gay bars were a normal occurrence in New York City and around the country. But what happened that night was far from normal. Instead of quietly accepting abuse and arrest, patrons at the Stonewall Inn and the crowd that gathered outside began to shout, to fight back, and to make a scene. Things got violent, visible, and a movement began.
Marsha was an unlikely leader, both in our society’s eyes and in the eyes of the gay rights movement of her time. She was a black, trans, homeless woman who often engaged in sex work to make money. Her name was Marsha “P” Johnson, and P stood for “pay it no mind” when you asked about her gender. She said that to a judge once who thought it was clever enough that he let her go.
Marsha became one of the people who organized the Christopher Street Liberation Day. One year after Stonewall, in June of 1970, people organized to march in the streets and commemorate that day. It was the beginning of the Pride Movement in the United states and pride parades. There were others scattered across the US, but this marked the beginning of the larger movement. On that day in 1970, LGBTQ folks marched in the streets proudly in defense of their own lives.
There is a kind of moral alchemy available to us all that can change our lives and the world. It happens when someone says, “you can hand me shame, and I will turn it into pride. You can hand me fear or risk to my body, and I will stand up and make you see me anyway. Hand me injustice, and I will turn it into justice. Hand me death, I will turn it into life.” Maybe you’ve witnessed that in your own life.
Spiritual teachers like Jesus have long held onto this wisdom when they affirm that you must give up the life you have in order to gain a new one.
The people who started the Pride movement risked their lives, reputations, and families. They took lives that others said were shameful and were hidden, and then they put them on full display to the world. It is through risking this that we will gain our lives and the lives of millions of others, they said.
That’s a holy and ancient story – an unlikely hero takes pain or suffering and transforms it into liberation.
The Palm Sunday Part
I think there’s almost nothing more Christian than a pride parade. The hero at the center of that story is an unlikely one, too. A baby, born to an unwed teen mom. A person of color in occupied territory, whose parents take the child across borders to flee a tyrant. The child grows up to be a homeless, likely illiterate, rabbi who feeds and heals without prejudice in a world with strict social discrimination and rules. He makes friends with prostitutes and people who are sick. He sits down regularly to eat with those who are unclean in the eyes of their community. He is considered a criminal and outcast by religion and state. Like others, this isn’t without risk. He ends up dying, beaten and bloodied, in an act meant to be as shameful as possible. His body is put on the line, vulnerable and broken as an enemy of the state.
One of his big public spectacles is to enter Jerusalem on the back of a donkey as a political act to say “perhaps this is what a king look likes.” A kind of parade. The outcast teacher, the one who leads fisherman and dines with sex workers and the sick, rides on the back of a donkey while the city’s poor lay their cloaks along the road and call him “King.” An unlikely hero, who uses what looks like weakness as power. Unlikely companions, who look like disposable people to their culture – they end up being the beginning of a movement. Palm Sunday is like a Pride parade.
The Unexpected Alchemy of Evolution: Dust to People – People to Dust
This is often how the Mystery works. Call it the God of the Jews and Christians or the God of physics and evolution. The power behind creation takes dust and turns them into people, and people and turns them into dust. Over and over like magic. That’s how creation works. We are here because billions of years ago some cell multiplied and started to become something more. Some ancestor unrecognizable to you and me crawled out of the sea, and after a long time it became us. Like magic, like alchemy.
In that economy, in which dust in turned into people and people turned into dust, every fiber of the universe is used to create something else. There is no throwaway moment, no throwaway person, no part of our lives that cannot be used to bring healing and wholeness into our lives and the world.
When you see moments of freedom happening, moments when people use what looks like weakness and put it on display as their greatest tool, remember that same alchemy is in you, too. When you see the hero riding into town on the back of a donkey, or people who will not accept shame any longer parading with pride in the streets, remember that the creation of a new possible world often comes in the least expected places.
The magic of a new world and a new life is often hiding in the places where you feel most vulnerable and broken. Your invitation is to join the chorus of alchemists – those who march and sing, who refuse to be hidden or disposable, who know that there is no part of your life or who you are that cannot be used to bring healing and goodness into the world.