I always thought Palm Sunday was such a fun day as a child. Each year, the choir or children would enter into the sanctuary waving palm branches to a celebratory hymn of some sort. And each year, someone would awkwardly stand at the front of the sanctuary collecting said branches as people took their seats to begin worship.
Thinking of Palm Sunday as a celebratory event is so instinctual that it is often easy to miss how politically subversive this event was within the biblical narrative.
Imagine living under Roman occupation as a Jewish resident of Jerusalem. Think about the pomp and circumstance Roman authorities would force upon the residents as they entered the city. Remember that on a daily basis, citizens were reminded who was in charge simply by looking at their currency.
On Palm Sunday, we see Jesus riding a colt into the city — a triumphal entry. This is no Roman authority, but a man from Nazareth.
As the Lukan account explains, people were spreading their coats on the ground for Jesus to ride over. They were shouting, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” (Luke 19:38).
Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord.
The pomp and circumstance was not directed toward the Roman authorities. Instead, the people’s actions served as a subversion of the established order. They were in essence electing a new king — their king. What on the surface appears to be a simple and celebratory event was also a deeply political event.
I like to think that Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” embodies some of the complexity we see in Palm Sunday. This power anthem has become such an iconic and misunderstood song.
As a child, I thought this was a Fourth of July, America’s-great, U-S-A, and patriotic lovefest. I was not the only one who thought this either. When the song was released in 1984, Ronald Reagan’s campaign used the song, not examining some of the more critical meaning of Springsteen’s lyrics.
In the midst of the seemingly celebratory exclamations of being born in the USA, Springsteen sings of realities Vietnam War Veterans faced when returning home. The song portrays a man who was shipped off to Vietnam only to return disillusioned by the fact that many of his friends never returned. With lost employment at the local refinery and an unhelpful V.A. man, there seems to be “nowhere to run … nowhere to go.”
“Born in the USA” and the Triumphal Entry are politically subversive. What we see on the surface does not necessarily equate to the meaning underneath. They serve to counter narratives that suggest political powers are always in the “right” and unstoppable. They serve as a means of reorienting the larger picture away from political establishment toward a people seeking liberation from Roman occupation and American veterans returning home without proper care.
It is an election year and partisan politics is in full swing. I can hardly watch primary coverage without hearing an “ism.” Whether racism, classism or sexism (not to mention a whole slew of phobias), I can only look around and think we can and should do better.
Born in the USA.
I was born in the USA.