Entry into the City was painted by Californian artist John August Swanson in 1990.
It’s one of those enormous pictures where the artist utilizes both vertical space and depth in order to fill the canvas with a host of people, many of them alluding to some hidden narrative.
We can only imagine their stories. As Jesus makes his triumphal entry into Jerusalem we see among the crowd women holding children, a man on crutches, a soldier with dogs, flag-bearers, palm-wavers and those who cover the street with cloaks. What brought each of them there, out onto the streets?
John August Swanson’s use of color, movement and light captures the dynamism and the energy of Jesus’ arrival in the capital.
He said of his picture,
“I wanted to convey my feelings from being in marches for peace and justice. This scene has been repeated countless times in the lives of heroic and selfless leaders who have fought for love, peace, and social justice. It is relived in the lives of Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Oscar Romero, and Cesar Chavez.”
I too have participated in my share of peace marches. They are full of energy and vitality. People are marching because they believe in something. There’s a tone of hope. The speakers rail against injustice or war or prejudice, and we feel bound together by a common desire for a better world.
I don’t want to rain on Jesus’ parade, but I also know what it’s like, after a protest rally, to get up the next day and carry on with life as it was.
I’ve marched against nuclear arms, apartheid, the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, cruel immigration policies and more. But nothing had changed the day after.
Sometimes I wonder whether what many people are doing at such rallies is expressing their feelings rather than joining a movement for meaningful social change.
That was definitely what was happening as Jesus rode his humble donkey into Jerusalem. The crowds cried out, “Hoshi’ah-nna” (Lord, save us). They’d heard had healed the sick, and fed the poor. They’d heard he had bested the corrupt Pharisees and defeated demons. So they greeted him like a king.
But within a few days they were all gone.
Every one of them.
Even his closest followers.
John August Swanson blankets his scene with thick ominous clouds. It gives the otherwise joyous image a dark sense of foreboding. It reminds us that soon these adoring protesters will be gone. Their hunger for a new, better world will be swamped by the busyness of life. They will have gotten their feelings off their chests by waving a flag or a palm frond and that will be that.
Changing the world will be left to one man. The humble servant-king mounted on the ridiculous donkey. The darkness will close in and all the joy and hope and excitement depicted in this painting will blow away like clouds.
It’s a bitter-sweet painting, revealing the false optimism of Jesus’ entry into the city. As we reenact our own Palm Sunday parades this weekend don’t forget to look up to see whether dark clouds are gathering, forcing us to question our own fickle commitments and half-hearted protests.