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Palm Sunday protests and the pursuit of peace

  • 27 March 2024
The most deeply rooted cultural celebrations always reach out from the past to the streets of the present. Think of Anzac Day when a growing number of people join the early morning marches. We might think, too, of Palm Sunday, where the natural popular association in the colder Southern states of palms is with Queensland beaches in holiday mode. Jan Hynes’ Townsville painting of a teenage Jesus entering Jerusalem on a bicycle with a palm tree in front of Castle Hill which looms ominously in the background catches the conjunction perfectly.

The association of the serious and the comic everyday also characterised Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem accompanied by a few followers and bystanders establishing his claim to be the Messiah.  It led to his execution by the Roman and local authorities a week later. They saw his religious claim as political and had him killed after a mockery of a trial.

In that context, Palm Sunday stands at the intersection of the world of justice and goodness and the brutal political realities in human societies. It mocks the pretensions of power that considers only the expediency of actions and not the human reality of the people affected by them.

At that intersection today, refugees lie in the centre. The defenceless entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is echoed in the equally defenceless movement of so many people around the world, forced to flee their own lands and to come into foreign lands. Many of them, too, experience the same murderous abuse of power that, later in the week, Jesus experienced at the hands of the civil and religious powers. That conjunction has led many Australians to associate Palm Sunday with a yearly march for refugees.

Those who march enter the city, the centre of power, to pray and demand that the refugees receive hospitality from our nation. They ask for freedom from imprisonment, for attention and justice in the hearing of their cases, for support in living decently, for cooperation with other governments to stop the making of refugees, and for freedom to live in the community and raise their families.

These hopes may also seem unrealisable in a world of wars turned in on itself. But Palm Sunday is followed by the unlikely joy of Easter. It encourages the wild hope that refugees will find a home among us. What other celebrations encourage a similarly unlikely hope against hope?




Andrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street, and writer at