A March for Justice or Peace?
I’m not sure exactly when the Palm Sunday Peace March in my city began to be rebranded as a rally for justice. This year the theme is justice for refugees. Asylum seekers and refugees are in desperate need of a more just and compassionate response from our government, so I want to participate to show my support. But to me this is not the same as a peace march.
It is more than thirty years since my first Palm Sunday Peace March. No, my parents didn’t take me along as a baby. I was a teenager and went with Christian peace activists who I met at university. My parents were not amused.
I remember more skipping, dancing and singing than actual marching. Fist-waving, shouting and banners against the nuclear policy known as Mutually Assured Destruction featured too. But not so much among the faith-based groups.
You may say that my first Palm Sunday Peace March, and the many peace marches since, have changed… not very much at all. But they did change me. Slowly, and more deeply over time.
Learning About Peace
At first it was just exciting to be with many Christians of different kinds who also believed that the non-violent witness of Jesus continued to call us to act for peace in the world. I began to understand more deeply the need for faith to be active, public and communal, and not just personal and devotional. Over time I began to appreciate the complexity of the dynamic interrelationship between justice and peace within one’s own self, in relationships with others, and in relationships at different levels of social aggregation. I began to observe how anger against, and love for, are very different beasts. Anger tends to spread anger and love tends to spread love. I noticed that people – including me – aren’t always good at spotting the difference between righteous rage and self-righteousness in themselves! We are so much like the original Palm Sunday crowd who gave the simple, non-violent Jesus a hero’s welcome to Jerusalem – and a week later shouted ‘crucify him’.
Marching on Palm Sunday
Jesus did not win a political campaign for justice. The victory of the Prince of Peace was in being faithful to the end, refusing to give in to the temptation of violence, ending the reign of death and reconciling us with God. His was the victory of self-emptying love. When Christians march on Palm Sunday we know where the journey leads. The things that are worth dying – and living – for cannot be attained through killing or violence. Peace comes through right relationships among people, with God, and with the whole of creation. Justice for asylum seekers and refugees is one part of that. A peace march remembers the other parts too. The Kingdom of God that Jesus announced is one of justice, peace and joy in the Lord.
People of all faiths and none will be at the rally for justice for refugees, and that is good. But for me, as a Christian, the point of marching on Palm Sunday will always be about peace.