My son Liam, who’s in his first year of college in Washington, DC, told me recently that he has checked off one of the rites of passage of being a DC resident: he was inconvenienced by the Presidential motorcade. Now, we’ve all seen the motorcade on TV: the giant, custom-made Cadillac limousine with the flags flapping in the breeze off the front fenders that is literally known as “The Beast” for its size and strength; the motorcycle escort of police officers in a phalanx formation in the lead; attending cars and more police cars following it; and, of course, all traffic is cleared on its route and blocked from entering the route while it is in transit. But television doesn’t even begin to do it justice.

First of all, there is not just one limousine, but generally three, so the one actually containing the President is not obvious to a potential assassin. Second, those limousines resemble James Bond’s car or the Batmobile more than they do the limousines that get rented to prom kids and bachelorette parties: they have 8-inch armor on the body, 5-inch bulletproof glass on the windows, run-flat tires, their own hermetically sealed atmosphere, as well as defensive measures like smokescreens, oil slicks, and door handles that can be electrified; and that’s just the stuff we know about.

And that’s also just the limousine itself. But the Presidential motorcade is usually forty to fifty vehicles long! It includes that phalanx of police motorbikes and accompanying escort cars, but it includes a lot more than that. There are other transport cars carrying presidential aides and the press pool. There are vehicles carrying the Secret Service Counter Assault Team, which is essentially a platoon of highly-trained and heavily-armed soldiers who would deploy and resist any attack on the motorcade, in addition to the more familiar Secret Service agents in suits and sunglasses.

There is an intelligence vehicle to assess situations and threats in real time and advise the motorcade on changes. There are cars to provide uninterrupted satellite communications for the President, and other cars designed to defend the motorcade against electronic interference. There is an ambulance, of course, but there’s also a Hazardous Materials Response vehicle in case of chemical, biological, or nuclear attack. And so on, and so on.

When the President of the United States rolls into town, you know it. Which, aside from all the practical purposes of all those cars, is part of the point. The motorcade inherently projects a sense of massive power, power that you do not want to mess with in the moment, of course, but also power that you do not want to mess with at all. The motorcade may inspire pride, joy, awe, fear, or resentment, depending on what your relationship is to the United States, but never indifference or dismissal.

It literally forces everyone else to get out of its way and watch as it passes in unhindered power and majesty, even when it’s in other countries! It’s intentionally designed to do that, and not simply to protect the President but project the President, because the motorcade represents the President, the most powerful person on earth, and the President represents the United States, which continues to be the most powerful nation on earth in terms of military and economic might.

Every entry of the Presidential motorcade onto the scene is a triumphal entry, in other words, which is what the Bible in your pews calls this passage from the Gospel According to John. And there are some good reasons for that. Jesus, too, has stopped the traffic coming into Jerusalem. His entry is clearly inspiring plenty of pride, joy, and awe, as people take branches from palm trees and begin waving them at him. In the Greco-Roman world, waving palms was associated with celebrations of victory and triumph; it was like shooting off fireworks on the Fourth of July today.

Similarly, in the Jewish tradition, palms were associated with political liberation: the Jewish history of the Maccabean revolt against another occupying empire, the Greeks, includes a moment where the victorious Jewish rebels enter Jerusalem to loud celebrations and palm branches waving, re-establishing Israel (for a short time) as an independent kingdom before the Romans came. The shouts of “Hosanna!” which literally means, “save us!” are an affirmation that Jesus is a lord and king who can save them.

This stew of ethnic and religious zeal and political liberation embodied in the Palms, combined with the populace preparing to celebrate the festival of the Passover, which of course is about God using Moses to deliver his people from the clutches of the Egyptian Empire, is exactly what the Romans are afraid of, which is exactly why they held a triumphal entry of their own every year around this time. Each year, at the beginning of the Passover, the Roman regional governor would leave his luxurious palace on the coast at the town of Caesarea Maritima, and take up residence in the holy city of Jerusalem up in the Judean hills.

But he didn’t come alone, and he made sure everyone knew it. He arrived in the first-century equivalent of the Presidential motorcade: ranks of centurions with helmets, spears, and shields, cavalry soldiers astride war horses, and so on, hundreds of new troops entering the city, marching right through the front gates, symbolically conquering the city once again, reinforcing the standard garrison in case anybody started taking the Passover liberation narrative a bit too seriously, and sending the clear message that Pilate was in charge, and Rome would not be challenged.

The reason the crowd is going so crazy for Jesus, though, is they think he’s doing exactly that: arriving as a Lord and king and Messiah to challenge Rome for the lordship of Jerusalem in particular and Judea in general. But if that’s the case, something is off. Very off, actually. Where is Jesus’ motorcade? If he’s coming as the king, the Lord, the Messiah, where’s his Beast? It would have been an armored warhorse instead of an armored limousine back then, but he’s still missing the Beast he needs to project his power and strength. And he’s not just missing that; he’s riding on the foal of a donkey instead. This would be like the President arriving not in his massive, almost indestructible, custom-made limousine, but in my own twelve-year old Honda Civic, whose most notable features are its built-in CD player (!) and the fact that you still have to manually open the trunk with a key. Trust me: nobody, but nobody, feels anything like pride, joy, awe, fear, or resentment when you rock up in an old Honda Civic.

So here Jesus is, rolling with a Honda donkey colt instead of a Beast, and with nothing else in the motorcade at all: his aides, the disciples, are walking; there are no soldiers or chariots or cavalry or anything else that a conquering king would normally arrive with. That’s because Jesus is very intentionally sending a very different kind of message in his arrival at Jerusalem. In fact, there is a specific prophecy in the book of Zechariah in the Old Testament that he is fulfilling:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war-horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.

But notice what that prophecy actually says after the part about the donkey. He will cut off the chariot and the war-horse and the battle bow; he will destroy them, not gather ones of his own. He shall command peace to the nations, not simply expel the Romans. And he shall reign in peace to the ends of the earth, not simply to the ends of the traditional borders of ancient Israel.

But nobody seems to be listening to that: not the crowds, who are joyfully overlooking the donkey ride and still insisting to themselves and each other that Jesus has come to offer a military solution to their Roman problem; not the Romans, who view him as a significant political threat for that exact reason, especially given the crackling electricity of political tension surging through the city at the moment; not the Jewish religious authorities, who are jealous and terrified of what Jesus might do to threaten their own power. The profound irony of all this, of course, is that Jesus is being very clear that he is inaugurating a kingdom of peace, not one of domination; that’s the point of the donkey foal and the association with Zechariah. And literally nobody gets it, not even the disciples, who only get it in hindsight: “when Jesus was glorified,” John tells us, “then they remembered that these things had been written of him and done to him.”

Jesus rides into Jerusalem to glory, but it is not the glory that anybody but him expects or understands as it’s happening. Even now, with 2000 years of hindsight to use in understanding this story, one of the fastest growing, albeit malignant, expressions of Christianity in the United States right now is white Christian Nationalism, which seeks to make the United States a country that is ruled by and for white Christians of a particular theological orientation, and which everyone else must either submit to, flee from, or be overcome by.

It is not a coincidence that the most toxic form of this movement is known as Dominionism, which is dedicated to the goal of establishing Christian dominion over what they identify as the “seven mountains” of U.S. society: family, religion, media, education, entertainment, business, and government. One of the central dynamics of the Palm Sunday story, though, is Jesus refusing to accept the crown of political dominion that the crowd so desperately wants him to take up.

So it total refutation of any argument that seeking political dominion or domination can be reconciled with following Jesus Christ, just as it refutes every other similar fusion of ethno-nationalist fervor with warped Christian theology throughout the ages, which Christians have still all too often failed to resist. And even if we manage to avoid that particular trap, it is still all to easy for any of us to fall into wanting a conquering Messiah, driving out our enemies for us, like this crowd that so quickly turns on Jesus after his triumphal entry when it becomes clear that is not who he is.

On Palm Sunday,  Jesus Christ rides to glory not to exercise dominion, not to conquer, not to bend everyone to his will through overwhelming power, but to establish peace, in all its fullness, among all peoples; not to force the submission of all those who do not accept him, but to show forth the glory of his identity and purpose by receiving the worst that human resistance could direct towards him through torment and shame and death, and rising to life again on the other side of it, and therefore showing the futility of such violence and lust for power against the justice, mercy, and peace that Jesus relentlessly brings.

So I invite you to stand in the crowd today and to rejoice, but also to journey this week in the steps of the Messiah who rides in glory right up to the cross that awaits him on Friday, upending every human desire or understanding of true power and glory when he emerges from the tomb on Easter morning.