Protests, processions, Palm Sunday

One of those interesting confluences this week as the March for Our Lives took place in Madison today, a day after Madison Episcopalians walked the Stations of the Cross in Madison, a day before Palm Sunday and our re-enactment of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Three consecutive days, and three very different scenes on the steps of Grace Church.

In my nine years at Grace, I have witnessed and participated in many marches and rallies. There were the Act 10 protests in 2011; the demonstrations after Tony Robinson’s death in 2015, the Women’s March in 2017. There were many others. Some passed unnoticed. Often, we open our doors and welcome protestors inside, even spontaneously, as we did on the Day without Latinos in 2016. Equally often, the protests pass barely unnoticed. It’s a rare day when the state legislature is in session when there aren’t a few people walking around the Capitol waving signs. Some days, the Solidarity Singers are loud; other times, they can barely be heard.

Walking the Stations of the Cross in this setting is always jarring to me. I encounter people whose faces I know. We pass by the food trucks where I often buy my lunch. But our route is also disorienting. There are blocks that we walk down that I rarely walk in my regular routine, and I have the opportunity to look around and contemplate the square from a different perspective than the one I have as I typically make my rounds.

Yesterday, we paused for one of the stations on N. Carroll St, just in front of Grace Church.  Across the street, on the Capitol sidewalk, the Solidarity Singers were in full voice. A few steps away from them, three police officers were talking with a homeless man. As we contemplated Jesus’ suffering and death, one of those little moments that occur regularly in downtown Madison was taking place. A man, likely intoxicated or high, possibly mentally ill, was dealing with police officers. As I watched, they called for additional assistance. EMT’s? I don’t know. We had to move on to the next station.

I wondered how many other incidents like that were taking place even as we were connecting the events of Jesus’ suffering and death with the violence, oppression, and inequality in our community and nation.

There were a handful of us yesterday–fifteen or so, who spent the hour tracing a path from Grace to the Dane County Jail, the City-County Building, and around Capitol Square. As we walked, bearing witness to injustice and oppression, remembering Jesus’ suffering and death, we passed by suffering that was occurring on the sidewalks beside us and the suffering  and oppression behind the walls of the jail, the courthouse. We walked past banks and law offices, and the museums that tell the official, sanitized version of Wisconsin history: The institutions that oppress, and in which we are enmeshed and implicated, the forces that oppress and marginalize vulnerable populations. All of these surround us and shape us. They are the air we breathe.

Today, there were thousands who marched from the Library Mall to the State Capitol to rally for gun control. As we do at Grace, we opened our doors on this cold day to offer  warmth and respite from the cold, rest for the weary. Before the march arrived at the Capitol, police officers with bomb-sniffing dogs made a round of the square and there was  a heavy visible presence of law enforcement.

Tomorrow, weather permitting, we will process through our courtyard to the very doors that were held open today. We will reenact Jesus’ protest march in the streets of Jerusalem, a march that proclaimed the coming of God’s reign, the overturning of the system of domination that crushed the poor, the outsider, the widow and orphan, the coming of a new way of being, a new world of justice and peace. I’m guessing that in terms of numbers, it looked more like the little group of us who walked the Stations of the Cross than the thousands that marched today. A small group of those men and women who had come with Jesus from Galilee, and perhaps a few locals who had heard about him.

On Good Friday, the whole weight of Rome’s imperial power fell on Jesus and his little band of followers. Many of us feel like an even more powerful weight of hatred and oppression looms over us and even now is crushing the most vulnerable in our society–people of color, LGBTQ persons, undocumented immigrants; the power of cynicism and the super-wealthy that have rigged the system in their favor.

But at the same time, the voices and energy of children have been raised to challenge one of the most powerful special interests in our land, and have mobilized millions across our country to cry out for justice and change.

Christians this Holy Week remember and re-enact the events of the last days of Jesus’ life; we remember the oppression and injustice that he fought with love. As Americans, we mark the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, his martyrdom for the cause of equality, justice, and freedom, and the hatred that opposed him and brought an end to his life. The forces arrayed against change are more powerful now than ever before.

Watching events unfold this week against a backdrop of oppression, injustice, and violence, fearful for those who speak out and remember the deaths of Jesus and MLK, despairing for the future of our nation and world, my faith is rekindled by the witness of school children who, having experienced the worst of humanity, are showing us the possibility of a new way, a new America.

We witness in many ways to the power of love and justice. In protests, in processions, as we walk the way of the cross. We witness in our words and in our actions, in worship and prayer. And we bear witness and offer support to the voices of those who cry out for justice and change. Through it all, my faith in God who is justice, peace, and love, sustains and strengthens me.

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