Parades are held for many reasons. We celebrate special occasions like the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s Day with parades. Homecoming parades show our school spirit, “welcome home” parades recognize accomplishments important to the public. The Inaugural Parade celebrates our country’s history of peaceful transitions of power.
The elements which make up the parade reflect its purpose. Parades celebrating the talents of Marching Bands are filled with outstanding bands, parades commemorating the history of a community are likely full of floats depicting historic places or events in the community’s history. A ticker tape parade includes lots of small pieces of colorful paper showering a Super Bowl, World Series, or Stanley Cup winning team.
Most of us have been to a parade. Some have been part of a parade marching in a band, with a scout troop, maybe on a 4-H float or as royalty in the Homecoming Court. We can picture the excitement of the crowd along the parade, as well as the elevated feeling of being the focus of the crowd’s attention.
As we come to the parade which spontaneously forms as Jesus rides into Jerusalem, we may be able to imagine the sounds of those cheering Jesus on, the images of people taking the coats off their backs and laying them on the ground to honor him, to show their recognition that He is the Messiah, to support his leadership.
What may be more difficult to do is to see the radical nature of this parade. To recognize that Jesus, who had already laid the foundation for a turn-the-world upside down change in how we are in relationship with God and each other, was about to face those who didn’t want those relationships changed because it mean a loss of power, importance, wealth, influence, for them personally.
As Jesus set his face on Jerusalem that day the Jewish people were filling the city to remember God’s deliverance of the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt. It was not just a traditional religious observance of something that happened in the past. As a people, they were experiencing oppression under the Roman imperialism, sometimes as crushing as that of when they were in Egypt. Those who recognized that Jesus had all the attributes of a leader who could deliver them out of their current situation were among those cheering him on as he rode along the road, hoping he would be the one to be a new kind of leader. A leader who would take on the Romans.
From the other side of the city, Pilate is entering to uphold law and order. To remind the people who is in power, to whom they need to show allegiance, to keep them from turning a religious observance based on liberation from oppressors and following God, into a revolt against the status quo. Pilate’s parade more elaborate, as he likely rode in on a war horse accompanied by an armored army. Noisy and clanking with shields and swords. Horses’ hooves pounding the dusty roadway. Men shouting out orders.
The shouts of Hosanna on the one side of town supporting a new world order. The shouts of orders on the other side of town a loud reminder that the status quo was backed up with the might of armies and wealth.
Pilates parade and the parade that forms around Jesus strikingly different.
Through the eyes of what we know will happen in the days to come, the last meal with his Disciples, the prayers late at night while his disciples repeatedly fall asleep, the arrest, trial, execution, we know how different those parades were. How threatening Jesus was to those content with benefiting at the expense of others, to those who were willing to protect their own interests regardless of the impact on others, to those content with protecting their power and preferences without considering the needs, hopes, and desires of others.
As we sing of palms and cheers of Hosanna today we can be tempted to jump from this celebration of Jesus as King to the celebration of His resurrection and our deliverance from the power of sin and death. As the week progresses our daily routines and responsibilities, the needs of those we love, the draw on us to maintain our peaceful places, keeping us from fully contemplating the choices Jesus made that showed God’s love for us in the face of ridicule, humiliation, pain beyond our ability to imagine.
It can be easy to see this Palm Sunday parade as a great memory and not think about what happened after the parade. To jump to the celebration and not recognize the extent of the journey for Jesus and the extent of the call for each of us who come singing praises and waving palm branches today.
Focusing on that journey and call, Paul tells the Christians in Phillipi:
“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature[a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!”
That call applies to us as much today. Helps us focus on which parade we want to join. I am reasonably sure everyone here today would say they have already joined Jesus on his parade.
I suggest that just as the people who so enthusiastically cheer Jesus that day ultimately fell by the wayside as he was arrested, choosing personal safety and the known, to staying by his side and the unknowns which staying with him brought, there are areas in our lives where we are still marching in on the other side of the city.
We are drawn to this turn the world up-side down Jesus, we rejoice that in his resurrection death is defeated and we have life. Yet, when it comes to our day to day effort to be who God calls us to be, we sometimes respond as if we need to be with Pilate’s army. Protecting what is: the structures, policies, relationships which make us feel in power, protected, important.
Concerned over what song we will sing on Easter because it means something to us, rather that considering what song we will sing on Easter which will bring a new understanding of God’s message of Love to someone who desperately needs to hear it. Concerned over how someone else is answering their call to show God’s love to others, rather than considering if God has called you and I to show God’s love in new ways and new places. Quick to point out how if someone else did it differently, visitors would fill our pews. Connected to particular structures and traditions which keep us from continuing on the parade into the rough places where darkness and death overwhelm.
The example Paul calls us to follow is that of Jesus. It is full in, do what it takes to help others experience the transforming Love of God lived out in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. It is not half-hearted, sing praises and throw our cloaks down when we are comfortable where the parade is taking us. It is taking on the nature of a servant, humbling ourselves, being obedient to God even when it challenges our preferences, traditions, relationships.
This is a difficult week in our collective memory as Christians. It is hard to imagine anyone would endure what Christ endured for people who are quick to abandon his parade to join another or retreat to their own agendas. It is difficult to comprehend where we march this morning, faced with two parades. Claiming the one which seems to lead to death and yet leads to God’s gift to us of abundant life, yet too often drawn to the one that seems to lead to victory, but which leads to death.
This week and every week we are called to have the mind-set of Christ. We are called to be willing to not only be part of the parade when it is filled with shouts of joy and blessing, but be ready to follow it when it forces us to let go of the things that keep us from being emptied of self and filled with Christ, so we may share the Love lived out for each of us in the Holy Week we are set to remember.
As we continue to practice what Christ calls us to practice, we will be prepared for all the places this parade with take us.