Palm Sunday 25 March 2018
(Isaiah 50:4-9 Philippians 2:5-11 Mark 11:1-11)
“Who Doesn’t Love A Parade?”
Who doesn’t love a parade?
Today’s front page of Saturday’s Gettysburg Times makes us ask this question in a new way. This story tells us how both the Christmas Halloween parades here in town are now in limbo. Without new sources of funding, both of these parades may be no more. I am sure there is more to the back story of this front page headline, but it does give me the opportunity to talk about parades. How about the “March for our Lives” that took place yesterday in our nation’s capital, with more than 800,000 people; as well as marches all across our country and the world, with our young people leading the way demanding safety for our youth, especially in our schools.
Most of us grew up watching the Macy’s Parade on Thanksgiving morning. Homecoming parades are big events for colleges and high schools. The Rose Bowl Parade is always more elegant the football game that follows. Memorial Day parades create a public way to express gratitude to our veterans. There’s a Duct Tape Parade in Avon, Ohio, where duct tape was founded. I once attended a Shrimp Festival Parade in Sneads Ferry, NC, and for those Harry Potter fans, there is a Hogwarts Parade in London. Who doesn’t love a parade?
This Palm Sunday Gospel reading of Jesus riding into Jerusalem may be the most clearly-described parade in the New Testament, maybe in the entire Bible.
Make no mistake, it is a protest march against Rome.
Let’s contrast the “Good News” of Jesus with the good news of Rome. Rome spread its “gospel”, its “good news,” in a very deliberate way: as one writer point out: “We are so used to the word “Gospel,” that it has lost its original meaning. But in these days, when the Roman Empire went off and conquered other lands in the name of their god Caesar, and killed all the men, raped all the women, and destroyed all the homes, the soldiers would come back parading through the land announcing, “the good news according to Caesar,” “another land has been conquered for the god Caesar, and Caesar’s enemies have been killed.”1
Ancient Rome was about influencing others through power, coercion and violence. They praised their gods that they were able to kill the enemies of Roman. That was the Gospel of Rome.
These were the principles Jesus was protesting against on Palm Sunday. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem that day, he was crying out that the reign of God is in stark contrast to the reign of Rome and every other system that seeks triumphant victory by influencing people through coercion and violence.
We need to hear it for what it is. Jesus truly is challenging the powers of his day. What we just heard is a carefully planned “procession” into Jerusalem. Take note that only four verses tell us of Jesus entering the city; twice as many verses tell us how meticulous Jesus planned the entire event. Jesus knows exactly what he is doing.
This is a challenge to “kingship”, and to miss this understanding is grossly to miss the point of what we already know happens on Golgotha at the very end of this week outside this same city. Palm Sunday sets us up for Good Friday, which is exactly why sometimes we read the Passion as the second Gospel text on this first day of Holy Week!
Jesus enters the city from the eastern slopes of the Mount of Olives, whose central peak stands against the Temple Mount. This was to fulfill when the prophet Zechariah prophesied that the end of the world the Lord would stand on the Mount of Olives and split it in two [Zech. 14:4] before assuming universal kingship [Zech. 14:9].
Today’s parade proceeds and the gathered crowd shout out “Hosanna!” “Long live the King!” as Jesus rides through the adoring crowds! This is Gospel satires at its best! Jesus comes not as one who lords his authority over others, but as one who humbly rejects domination. He comes not with pomp and wealth, but as one identified with the poor. He comes not as a mighty warrior, but as one who is vulnerable and refuses to rely on violence.
Scripture scholars will remind us that at the very same time this entry of Jesus was taking place through the East Gate of the city, there was a military parade also taking place through the West Gate.
So what might be the message on Palm Sunday? Courage and grace are the two words that define this day!
Throughout his life, death and resurrection, Jesus challenged people to Kingdom Living. Martin Luther tries hard to explain how we live as good citizens in the world as God’s people through his writings on God’s Two Kingdoms. Kingdom Living is the politics of humility, forgiveness and a servant love that embraces all people, especially those we call our enemies. Jesus beckons us to follow him into a Kingdom of God that lives and dies by love, service and forgiveness.
I will conclude by taking us back 38 years (1980) to this very weekend, only a few weeks before I was ordained. This was a time of terrible violence in the world, and several assassinations of individuals because of their faith.
One of those persons—Sunday, March 24–was Oscar Romero, Roman Catholic archbishop of San Salvador, who was killed while saying Mass at a hospital that cared for the terminally ill. In his sermon that evening, Romero talked about beginning Holy Week. Here are a few lines from his sermon: “we accompany Jesus into Holy Week when the cross, sacrifice and martyrdom are so prominent. Holy Week is a call to celebrate our redemption in that difficult combination of both cross and victory. But as God’s people, by faith, we must be well prepared for the risks.” When he concluded the sermon, as he turned away from the podium, he was killed there in the church.
At the end of Mark’s Palm Sunday account, Jesus goes into the Temple and looks around, but then just leaves and heads out with the Twelve to Bethany–no big celebration. No “high-fives!” The parade is over. He quietly leaves.
But what we know is that the Palm Sunday parade changes quickly to the Good Friday parade. Who doesn’t love a parade? Our challenge and our opportunity is: which parade will we watch from the side of the road and which one will we join? It must be courage and grace we take into this week and into our lives of faith. Amen.
John Dear. Put Down Your Swords: Essays on Peace and Justice.