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STATEMENTS & REFLECTIONS

“Entering Holy Week in the shadow of #ChristianNationalism”

by Fr. Michael J. Nicosia, Associate Pastor of St. Paul Catholic Community of Faith in Denver, and Chair of the Board of Directors of the Colorado Council of Churches

 

March 22, 2024

 


On Palm Sunday, remembering Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, many churches will sing a familiar African-American spiritual:

Ride on, Jesus, ride! Ride on, Jesus, ride. Ride on, Jesus, Conquering King! Ride on Jesus, ride.

While waving our palm branches, my faith community will not.

 

Certainly I can understand how Black Church communities see the song as a hymn of faith and abiding hope—celebrating Christ as Liberator, who rode into a city that failed to hear his challenge, a challenge that would lead to the cross, a cross that would break the chains of death itself—most appropriate for a people still bound by the chains of oppression.  To quote a verse added by Marty Haugen, expressing the heart of Jesus’ intent:

Ride to set your people free, Ride on, Jesus, ride.

 

Planning for our congregation’s service, I won’t be using any “conquering king” metaphors, for we have heard it misused as a battle cry of Christian Nationalism and its “anointed” leaders, who have co-opted the image to further a political agenda. They seem to dismiss or haven’t given much credence to how this King insisted that his Kingdom is not of this world. They seem to have forgotten the surrounding narratives, of Jesus challenging the peoples’ assumptions of what form the promised Kingdom would take.

 

Jesus’ challenge still needs to be made, maybe especially today with the rise of Christian Nationalism. Do we presume that power-grabs are anointed by God, daring even to dismantle our democracy so as to hand the reins of power to a select few? When reflecting on the glories of the past, is it a supremacy at the expense of everyone else that we long to restore? In our passion (or desperation), do we gravitate toward the rhetoric of warfare and the sanctioning of violence for our cause? Do we narrowly qualify who is the neighbor we are commanded to love? Do we really envision a theocracy that would deny that people of all faiths and none have inalienable rights, people who also have insights and blessings to share in the pursuit of our common good as a nation?  

 

Such presumptions do not the promised Kingdom make. When we pray “Thy kingdom come,” it is God’s reign of justice and peace for all that we pray for, that we work toward. That was Jesus’ message. Let us ride with him.

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