Is Palm Sunday for Christians Only? And April 4? ----

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, 2/9/2005

Multireligious Palm Sunday, March 20 & April 4 @ Riverside Church
Dear friends,

There has been a wonderful simmering of ideas and groups seeking to develop a prophetic witness about the war, as well as broader issues of American society.

I want to share some thoughts about two of these:

1) Palm Sunday/ March 20 (the weekend of the second anniversary of the invasion of Iraq). One year ago, in Philadelphia we observed Palm Sunday as a multireligious event. Information below on how we did this.

2) April 4, the anniversary of Martin Luther King's death and also of the great antiwar speech he gave at Riverside Church on 4/4/67, not only urging resistance to the Vietnam War but naming militarism, racism, & materialism as the three great dangers to America.

As you may recall, The Shalom Center suggested bringing together a major gathering of antiwar clergy & laity on April 4 at Riverside (and/or at other places and times [e.g. Sunday afternoon, April 3] for those who cannot get there, to renew his teaching in action.

It now looks as if the Clergy & Laity network (CLN) and several other groups, including the Shalom Center, are working out with Riverside Church how to do this.

1) One important question is whether (a) we would like to, and (b) is it possible to, make Palm Sunday an authentically multireligious event rather than a specifically and solely Christian one.

To help you consider the possibilities, I want to share with you what the Philadelphia Area Interfaith Peace Network did with Palm Sunday a year ago, when it fell on April 4 and was also the day before the first night of Passover.

The Metropolitan Christian Council of Philadelphia joined with The Shalom Center, the [Episcopalian] Church of the Advocate (which was the central church of the Philadelphia civil-rights movement and also the church where the first Episcopalian women priests were ordained), and a number of other religious leaders and congregations, including some Muslims, to create an extraordinary Palm Sunday observance. It was probably the first in history (since the very first one!) to involve Jews.

What made multireligious participation possible was that Palm Sunday was reconfigured as a memorial of a Jewish Resistance Movement protest against the Roman Empire, timed deliberately for the Passover season when the overthrow of Pharaoh was celebrated in Jerusalem.

This Palm-waving demonstration was led by Jesus of Nazareth, a Jew and indeed one of the rabbis — albeit a remarkable one. The waving of palms was done by Jews at the harvest festival of Sukkot, long understood as the most messianic oif the festivals. Thus the palms may have been a way of asserting the beginning of Messianic times in resistance to Rome.

The procession of the Palms on 4/04/04 was carried out inside the Church of the Advocate by moving from one to another of the remarkable murals on the church walls, each of which connects a stage in the African-American freedom struggle with a biblical passage.

For the text of the recitations in the Palm procession, see —

The procession was followed by a Passover Seder and meal. The Haggadah (written liturgy) for this NEW FREEDOM SEDER was reshaped to include important passages from Dr. King's April 4 rtiverside speech.

For its text, and for the leaflet that explained its meaning, see —

The interwoven celebration brought together about 300 people across all conventional lines of religion, race, and age to protest the Iraq war, gun violence in the cities, and the starving of schools, health care, and other ways of meeting human needs.

2) We put forward the possibility of having a major gathering of antiwar clergy of all faiths — ideally on April 4, 2005, in Riverside Church in NYC, where CALCAV (Clergy & Laity Concerned About Vietnam) was meeting in 1967 on that day with A. J. Heschedl present alongside Martin Luther King, and where King gave his best, deepest speech, exactly one year before he was killed.

At this gathering we proposed there would be addresses by people from the Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, and perhaps Buddhist communities,

This panel would be followed by 15 minutes of conversation in pairs of participants (simply turning to the person next to them). (In my experience, this process not only releases the frustration of silence by allowing EVERYONE to express his/her ideas, but also actually gets the ideas deeper into each participant's mind.)

And then would come discussions in working groups to plan program around the three categories of dangers to America — racism, militarism, and materialism — that MLK named in his April 4 speech.

And then the group would proceed to some US military center (like maybe the Army recruiting center — i think it's in Times Square) and there hold a vigil, urging those considering enlistment to consult spiritual guidance about this war, and offering spiritual support to those soldiers who are considering conscientious objection.

Some people — e.g. from the Midwest and Far West — probably cannot get to NYC. They should gather, in other places and times, perhaps the afternoon of Sunday, April 3 — and possibily with radio and TV hookups to Riverside on April 4.

Just as Dr. King's 4/4/67 speech in the context of opposing the Vietnam war named racism, militarism, and materialism as the dangerous triplets, so we can connect this war to the other two elements and thereby to our concerns over the shredding of the social compact, worsening of the rich-poor gaminutes, with refinements and work on action planning to be done later by Email.

Then — back home after this whole event — planning committees look at action proposals in more detail, sharpens them, encourages Email & teleconference phoning to plan action programs..

Please consider planning for some piece of this work in your own congregation, neighborhood, or city. In Philadelphia, plans focus on the afternoon of April 3, beginning with a march across the bridge from Camden NJ to Philadelphia to focus on the gun violence that kills our children in both cities, and to connect it both with the Iraq war and with the murder of Dr. King.

Shalom, Arthur

Jewish and Interfaith Topics: