Egypt’s Palm Sunday Martyrs: Time and Resistance

“Palm Sunday” by Peter Koenig

Today, dozens of Coptic Christian churchgoers were killed in two simultaneous bombings in Tanta and Alexandria, Egypt. As the so-called, self-proclaimed caliphate of ISIL claims responsibility for the attack, Christians and people of good will the world over mourn the loss of these Palm Sunday martyrs, their martyrdom made all the more significant in light of this holy day.


Almost two millennia ago, Jesus, aware that a public struggle with the authorities awaited him, entered Jerusalem riding a donkey, greeted in triumph by the same citizens who days later will call for his execution. The public greeted him in a fashion typical of someone highly favored, waving palm fronds, a symbol of triumph, and laying them at his feet. Jesus of Nazareth, the prophet, rabbi, and healer, did not hide or shrink from the authorities he knew would challenge his public ministry. And people were glad for it. In those days, palms were also the symbol of Palestinian resistance to the Roman occupation of their homeland. The followers of Jesus wanted the new earth he preached as much as the new heaven.


Today the world still wants, still welcomes, still seeks out those voices that call for justice, for peace, for the rights of peoples to live without persecution. Where do we find them? Who is willing the pay the cost of speaking and living their truth boldly in public despite the threats to their life? Could any one of us reading these words know them as descriptive of oneself?


In our own time, when we consider all the horror and violence perpetrated even just this past week, from the physical horror of chemical weapons attack that killed mostly children in Syria and the U.S. response of a targeted missile strike on a Syrian government airfield amidst the deadliest civil war of the twenty-first century, to the continuing chronic violence of the destruction of bicameral democratic politics in the world’s most powerful nation, how can Christians best channel that strength, that resistance in the face of persecution, shown by Jesus on his entrance into Jerusalem two millennia ago? The American political climate under President Trump has rallied many citizens across the political spectrum to greater civic engagement, described by some as resistance. However we got here, I am deeply grateful to see what should be the everyday work of citizenship, this praxis of hope and resistance, being taken so seriously by so many. I hope now that this renewed strength, this willfulness, to speak out and work to secure the rights and responsibilities of all coalesces into a sustained reality of U.S. public life for many years to come. No matter how long one has been asleep, now is always the right time to practice goodness.


Time is an incredible tool. It allows us to learn. I’m inevitably surprised each year at the wisdom of the liturgical calendar. Even as I age, the lessons of the liturgical year never get old for me. I continue to learn from them and to be grateful for them. I know it’s very easy to say this considering my life of relative comfort and privilege. I’ve never had to go to mass at my parish afraid that it may be bombed. Yet new realities open up new lessons. Time gives us the space to appreciate unique lessons and these are never fully separate from one another. Every Passion is not guaranteed an Easter, but there cannot be resurrection without trial, without the work of resistance in the face of suffering. In Egypt as in Syria as in so many places around the globe, the passion and crucifixion have come too soon. Will their Easter ever come? How much longer do the religiously and politically persecuted around the world have to wait for their resurrection? True, only God can bring complete the work of the God’s Reign, but without the participation of the people of God in actively resisting violence and corruption and working for peace and justice, that coming of a new heaven and a new earth will have to wait because no one put it on their calendar.

Greenpeace hangs “RESIST” banner on a crane near the White House, January 25, 2017. [Photo: Saul Loeb – AFP, Getty Images]

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