Palm Sunday 29 March 2015
(Mark 11:1-11 Isaiah 50:4-9 Philippians 2:5-11)
“Which Parade Will You Join?”
There are two parades going on today, and you will have to join one of them by the end of this week!
Parade #1. This is the one we just heard about in Mark’s Gospel. At the beginning of the week of Passover, Jesus shows up, coming from the east, from the Mount of Olives, riding on a donkey. He enters Jerusalem on a young, borrowed animal leading a parade made up of followers who have come with him from Galilee. His followers spread their cloaks on the road. Others spread leafy branches on the road, and as they walk, they cheer and chant, “Hosanna! Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming of the kingdom of our ancestor David. Hosanna in the highest heaven!” [Mk.11:8-10]
Parade #2. Maybe we know less about this parade, but it is certainly more magnificent! This parade is an imperial one—grand, majestic, imposing. The Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, is leading this parade, riding into the city from the opposite direction, the west. He doesn’t have a borrowed donkey; rather, he has the imperial cavalry and foot soldiers. They are arriving at Jerusalem to reinforce the garrison on the Temple Mount. This is what they do each year at Passover, coming to Jerusalem from Caesarea Maritima, the city on the Mediterranean coast from which the Roman governor administers Judea and Samaria.
There is excitement with this parade! Imagine the scene as Pilate’s parade entered the city, with a wide display of royal power. Weapons, helmets, the sun glinting off the golden eagles mounted on poles. The pounding of horse hooves, the clinking of bridles, the marching of feet, the creaking of leather, the swirling of dust. On this parade route there are no palm branches, but there are many on-lookers–some curious, others in awe, still others resentful.
All coming into this one city, not just any city, Jerusalem. Jerusalem, central to the sacred geography of Judaism. It is the holy city, the home of the temple, the place God chose to dwell on earth, the focus of Jewish devotion.
And they are coming for a holiday, not just any holiday, but the most important of the annual Jewish festivals—Passover—celebrating the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, drawing hundreds of thousands of pilgrims to the sacred city. And because this remembrance of Jewish liberation sometimes has been the occasion for riots and revolts, the Roman army parades in with sound and fury, to reinforce the majestic stronghold stationed adjacent to the temple.
Why two parades? Why Jesus on a donkey? It is clear from the scriptures that what Jesus does is no accident. His parade is foreordained, predicted by the prophet Zechariah [9:9], at least according to the Gospel writer Matthew. It has to happen. It was what scholars of the Jewish Bible call a “prophetic act,” a provocative public deed performed for the sake of what it symbolized.
There are lots of examples from the O.T.—Isaiah running naked through the city; Jeremiah smashing the pottery bowl, both prophets and both events seeking to disturb the people to a deeper understanding of how life could be different.
How about a more contemporary prophetic act of protest we’ve been remembering this year through the film “Selma”? This provocative public deed that took place 50 years ago, the march from Brown Chapel, crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge and heading toward Montgomery was a protest march. This is how I’d like you to hear this Gospel story of Jesus riding into Jerusalem, palm branches waving in a similar way—I’d like you to hear it this morning as a protest march, or a protest parade, if you will!
Crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge was much more than crossing a bridge. Jesus riding a donkey into Jerusalem at Passover was much more than Jesus riding a donkey into Jerusalem at Passover.
Jesus (as well as the gospel writers) would have known about Rome’s policy of sending reinforcements to the city for this festival. I would like to suggest that Jesus’ decision to enter the city as he did was a planned political demonstration. The juxtaposition of these two parades entering into the same city for the same festival embodies the central conflict of this upcoming week: the kingdom of God or the kingdom of royal authority. What we call Palm Sunday, is really the choice between two visions of life.
At the beginning of this week we call “holy,” I’d like us to stand together in protest of all in our world, in our communities, in our families, in our churches that seeks to tear us apart. I’d like us to stand together in protest to the merciless brutality, the hackneyed injustice, the deadly apathy, that simply rubber-stamps a world as it is. I’d like us to stand together in protest of all that is other than the Gospel of love and compassion and justice.
Not the conquering hero, but the “…one, who, though he was in the form of God….emptied himself, taking the form of a slave…becoming obedient to the point of death…” [Phil. 2:6,7]. Which parade will you join? Amen