I am reading a fascinating book titled Savage Continent by Keith Lowe that focuses on the aftermath of World War II in Europe. It spends a long time outlining what life looked like for citizens and the masses of displaced peoples who had been imprisoned in work camps, concentration camps, and prison camps throughout Nazi controlled Europe. After the liberation of Europe from Nazi Germany, all these peoples were freed with nowhere to go and not knowing what to do with all the emotions they felt. This meant that all these displaced person were wondering through the land, some looking to return to homes that no longer existed and others looking for retribution for their suffering. In the wake of this, it became obvious that measures needed to take place to bring safety and peace to all persons and there was intense debate among the allied leaders about how to go about achieving this type of peace.
In the end, there were 2 major theories: the first being to institute military discipline, and the second was to recognize the emotional, psychological, and spiritual needs of these peoples and to use compassion and empathy and the reinstitution of things like religion and self policing, as well as providing the psychological resources to help rehabilitate and heal the masses in the wake of the atrocities these individuals suffered. The belief was that if humanity was brought back into these people’s lives then peace would come back into Europe as a whole. There was a very notable difference between a forced temporary peace and a peace that was based in love, respect, care, and compassion.
In our society and in our world, we too seek peace. Peace from constant wars, peace from divided families, peace from prejudice, peace from divided nations. We too long for peace but we need to consider what type of peace we want. And what that peace should look like. Christ sought out peace for his people and for all peoples, as well. The illustration of today’s scriptures really brings to life the type of peace he was offering and the type of peace many desired. The options mirrored those that sat before the allied leaders following World War II in a very visible way.
At one end of Jerusalem came in Pontius Pilate seated regally upon a horse wearing armor flanked by a vast military presence to “keep the peace” during the high holidays. On the other end, came a man dressed as a poor person surrounded by his ragtag group of followers riding on a donkey. Jesus too came to bring peace to a people in need. On one end there was someone bringing and maintaining peace by force and on the other end someone who sought to bring peace to a people by reminding them of their humanity, their value, and that God loved them.
In our world today, we see nations set against nations, people’s being hunted and killed, and prejudices that dehumanize whole segments of the population. When people are dehumanized it becomes easier to effect violence and those who have had their humanity taken feel the need to react violently to take back what has been robbed from them. This is no way to experience peace. It truly is not peace. It is just keeping the violence down to a simmer for the time being. It is not a fix. Mahatma Ghandi said this about peace and conflict, “The day the power of love overrules the love of power the world will know peace. … Whenever you are confronted with an opponent confront him with love”. Sounds very much like the message Christ sought to extend to the world. It is the message of the Palm Sunday morning and the Resurrection.
When Christ came into Jerusalem on that donkey, he timed it very purposefully to coincide with the very public coming of Pontius Pilate. He wanted the average every day people to see what was being offered for choices of when it came to a peaceful life. He wanted them to be forced to make a decision. Choose either God or the sword. Choose God or continued dehumanization and domination. Choosing rehabilitation of one’s spiritual freedom in Christ or the imposed peace that someone else has defined for them. Peace did not need to look like a Roman centurion or a Messiah wielding sword and leading an army into battle.
Today peace does not need to come through violence or imposed by some outside organization. I would argue peace can’t be complete if it is forced with threat of violence. It needs to be something we each commit to, a desire that we seek strength from God to work towards. We need to decide what peace looks like, what peace should feel like, and how we live into the promised peace of Christ. It is not some far off thing for the second coming or the life to come. It can be experienced today, tomorrow, and throughout the world if we only sit down and think about which option we want to choose. Do we want to choose the threatening way, the way of Pontius Pilate and the world? Or do we want something deeper, more lasting, and truly transformative, the peace promised with the birth of Christ, the peace Christ taught the skills needed to attain, the peace that Christ entered into Jerusalem to remind the masses of? Remember the words of joy from our Psalmist and let’s not focus on how to force people and the world to our will but rather let’s focus on how to share our joy in the Lord and just embrace the teachings of Christ as our way of inviting the peace of God into this world. For the Psalmist sings, “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it”. Take this rejoicing and use it to remember Christ’s entry into Jerusalem and the decision we are called to live. Choose spiritual freedom over the ways of violence and humanity and use compassion and love as your way to bring the peace of Christ alive all around you.
 Mahatma Ghandi, 20th century.
 Psalm 118:24, NRSV.
(Based on Psalm 118: 1-2, 19-29 and Luke 19: 28-40)