Today is Palm Sunday, to be followed in coming days by Passover, Good Friday and Easter. As I witness Christians and Jews, loved ones, friends, strangers, celebrate days most holy to them I am moved by all that connects us on this fragile earth through faith, belief and an immutable love of that which is the source of life.
Jesus, a Jewish mystic whose resurrection will be celebrated by Christians on Easter Sunday, challenged the privilege of the ruling elites of his time, as did those prophets and activists who followed, like Prophet Muhammad, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela.
Prophets are the link between the Creator — the Uncreated — and humankind — all that the Creator has created. To Sufis, according to Andalusian scholar Ibn Arabi (d. 1240 CE), God would have remained unreachable and hidden were it not for prophets, the embodiment of universal man, Al-Insan-al-Kamil, providing a connection between humankind and the Divine.
Prophets are, as Christian theologian Marcus Borg writes, “Bearers of the dream of God: a world of justice and compassion,” advocates for an inclusive and egalitarian world in which humankind is charged to challenge and resist those who threaten violence, injustice, exploitation and pollution.
Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday illumes the straight path for all those committed to speaking truth and confronting injustice. For believers in all faith traditions, for all believers in the majesty and dignity of all creation, the path that Jesus marked out for humankind, secular or sectarian, is clearly marked to this day.
Jesus is the most revered prophet in Islam after the Prophet Muhammad and I always feel honored to witness how others celebrate the beauty of his life. While theologically the issue of Jesus’ divinity separates Muslims from Christians, there is much we believe and share, not just between Christians and Muslims but between all peoples committed to social justice, to issues of dignity, freedom and non-violence.
To paraphrase theologian Thomas Merton:
“I will be a better Muslim, not if I can refute every shade of other religions, but if I can affirm the truths in them and still go further. This does not mean … (embracing) … the vapid and careless friendliness that accepts everything by thinking of nothing. There is much that one cannot “affirm” and “accept,” but first one must say “yes” where one really can. If I affirm myself as a Muslim merely by denying all that is Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, etc., in the end I will find that there is not much left for me to affirm as a Muslim.”
In times like today, when headlines daily remind us of the fragility of life, salvific stories of Palm Sunday, Passover and Easter inspire us all and reaffirm the Unity that sustains us.
To each other we cannot remain strangers and aliens but must become “members of the household of God, built upon the foundations of apostles and prophets…”
From the apostles and prophets, from Samaritans, activists and pacifists we have learned that there are many ways to strive for truth and justice.
We have learned we are demanded to act.
In Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front, American poet Wendell Berry wrote:
“So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
…Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
When the 51st Psalm calls, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me,” the Qur’an (25:20) echoes, “Oh, my Sustainer, Open for me my heart to thy Light”
This column appeared originally in the Portsmouth Herald.