While many of us will have processions this Sunday, none will compare with the pilgrims who walk the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem, the Holy City, Zion on the hill.
This year thousands of pilgrims will again walk Jesus’ path to Jerusalem. Pilgrims from all over the world, in brightly colored dress or black or white clerical garb, waving palm branches, accompanied by trumpets and drums and troops of Scouts, will walk the narrow, winding road from the top of the Mount of Olives, past churches commemorating the place where Jesus wept over Jerusalem (Dominus Flevit); Pater Noster (Our Father), the church of the Lord’s Prayer; the Russian Orthodox Church of Saint Mary Magdalene. At the very bottom of the hill is the Church of All Nations and the Garden of Gethsemane, with its 2000-year-old olive trees. Augusta Victoria Lutheran Hospital is at the very top of the Mount of Olives.
Today, Jesus could not even make this journey from Bethany to Jerusalem. The road is blocked by Israel’s separation wall. The wall carves out a space in East Jerusalem for the Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim, which is built on Palestinian land.
And, although pilgrims from all over the world—from Ghana, Russia, Greece, Brazil, Zimbabwe, Poland, the US—can process down the Mount of Olives, most local Christians cannot. They are Palestinian and they must get permits from the Israeli government to travel from the West Bank, even though the Mount of Olives and East Jerusalem are also in the West Bank.
Bethlehem, Beit Sahour, Beit Jala—these are the largest Christian towns in the West Bank and these Palestinian Christians must get permits to participate in the ritual processions.
Israeli authorities grant very few permits, so the people who are left behind march through Bethlehem, with a donkey and palms, to the checkpoint, where they will again be stopped by Israeli soldiers. And they pray that next year it will be different.
Gracious God, we long to follow in the footsteps of your son. On this Sunday of the Palms, help us remember those who are denied the freedom to walk. Amen.