Palm Sunday and the NY Poor People’s Campaign
Apr 11, 2023
Jesus, Romero, Martin Luther King Jr., Judas, and Me | A Palm Sunday Sermon and Invitation to March with the NY Poor People’s Campaign on May 1, 2023
By The Rev. Dr. Carol L. Kessler M.D., M.Div.
Distinguished Fellow of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Supply Pastor at Epiphany Lutheran Church in the Bronx
Por mi Tambien lo mataron
Y hoy lo matamos Tambien
En cada hermano que sufre sigue muriendo otra vez
En cada hermana que sufre sigue muriendo otra vez
For me too they killed him
And today we kill him too
With each brother who suffers Jesus dies again
With each sister who suffers Jesus dies again.
I sing words written in Canto Hermano, a book of songs printed in El Salvador during the 12-year war, wherein the United States paid $1,00,000 per day to fund the military governors who tortured, killed, and displaced millions. Of those who fled to the U.S., only 1% were granted asylum since the US was supporting a “democracy” wherein a few families held the wealth, whereas most lacked water, education, and health care. During that time, a follower of the crucified, risen Christ, Archbishop Oscar Romero, was chosen to lead the Roman Catholic Church because he was meek and sure not to make waves. Yet, as countless, including my goddaughter, arrived at the cathedral in San Salvador, fleeing massacres, and as his dear friend, Father Rutilio Grande, was slain, he heard cries of Hosanna/Save Us! He listened, loved, and opened the doors of churches in the city to the displaced. He became the voice of the voiceless and would preach over the radio of what he witnessed. He begged the Christian president Jimmy Carter, to stop sending dollars to buy bullets, to no avail. In his last sermon he cried, "en nombre de Dios y en nombre de este sufrido pueblo cuyos lamentos suben hasta el Cielo cada dia mas…Les suplico, les ruego, les ordeno, Cese la repression;” in the name of God and in the name of these suffering people whose laments rise to heaven, I beg of you, I order you, Stop the Repression! He made a particular appeal to those in the military—you are killing your brothers and sisters. Instead of obeying military superiors, obey the law of God. Do not kill!
Some days later, on March 24, 1980, Romero celebrated mass with nuns in a San Salvador Church. A bullet pierced his heart.
For me, too, they killed him.
He knew he would die and said that he would rise in the Salvadoran people. Thousands flocked to his funeral only to be shot down by military might.
For me, too, they killed him.
I arrived in El Salvador seven years after Romero’s death as a lay missionary in a rural conflict zone where I learned the songs of Canto Hermano and at a time when singing its words and having a photo of Romero could lead to death.
And this Palm Sunday, I remember the march on the streets of San Salvador of thousands crying; Romero lives on. I remember daring to march with the many despite my colleagues’ fear for my safety. I could not be silent even as I feared that just by marching; I might jeopardize myself and others.
I am no hero. In El Salvador, I participated in the tradition of dancing with Judas—a life-size doll of Judas—and I danced with the Judas in me. The one who gets angry when rich oils are used when the money could have been used for the poor. The one who forgets to, like Mary, sit with, praise, and pamper Jesus, me, or my brothers and sisters. The one who may have gotten frustrated that Jesus entered Jerusalem to be killed by Empire. How could Jesus enter peacefully into the belly of the beast? Forget that! Let’s take the money and find a better way… Let’s overthrow the Romans! What kind of king is this?
Today we gather holding our palms, having walked together, shouting to our king, Hosanna! Hosanna!
Hosanna, which means Save Now! A cry to God and to the angels in the highest heights of heaven for deliverance…for help in time of trouble.
Jesus entered Jerusalem, and those who’d heard his teachings of love, been fed by his bread, had heard of the living water from the woman at the well, had seen Lazarus rise…welcomed him by placing their valuable cloaks on the ground.
He entered on an ass, a king of peace and love who’d decided that at this time of Passover, of remembering Israel’s liberation from Pharoah, he would march to Jerusalem where he would surely be killed as the people of Israel now oppressed by Roman Empire cried out to him – Hosanna! Save us!
Today, our lives in the Bronx, in the United States, where poverty overwhelms in a country of plenty, echo the lives of those crying to Jesus, echo the lives of those loved by Romero. We cry, Hosanna, and I ask you, today, from what do you cry to be delivered, to be saved.
Jesus, God, and angels in heaven save us from poverty, depression, from addiction, hunger, shame, and isolation….
Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna!
Today, we remember Judas, Peter, and the rest of the twelve, and we confess that we, too, betray Jesus. I betray Jesus when I sleep instead of praying. When I think it’s my job to figure out how to save myself, my family, and my church, and forget to sit there and do nothing but open up my heart and soul to receive the peace beyond understanding that comes from the Prince of Peace.
The Prince of Peace who receives what each of us has to offer, who hears our cries, whose love is stronger than death.
Jesus’ love inspired Romero and, in this country, inspired Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., to march on in peace and love embracing the poor. Martin Luther King, Jr. In his later years created a Poor Peoples’ Campaign for in the United States, poverty causes death and is hidden by the false narrative that shames and blames the poor; in this land, if you work hard, you can have it all! No! This land, born of colonization and slavery, continues to exclude most from quality housing, healthcare, education, and dignified work. And Martin Luther King Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign lives on. Rev. William Barber has taken up the torch and invited the poor to cry out, for there is a moral crisis in this nation. The campaign calls for a moral revival; learn more HERE.
The campaign has documented the state of the poor in New York State and invites all to sign a petition not to Governor Pilate but to Governor Hochul, requesting that the cries of the poor be heard and that a just state budget be created. This petition mirrors the open letter from the leadership of the New York State Council of Churches to Lawmakers on the State Budget. Sign the petition HERE.
was surprised on Friday, when I gathered with friends who call themselves the Companions of Mary the Apostle, that they heard the cry Hosanna and immediately committed to join the march. Will you come too?
To a march inspired by the One who was killed for me and you; the One who hears the cries of those who suffer; the One who comes to us today and welcomes all so we may march on in the light of God.