Everybody Loves a Parade
Everybody loves a parade. Jesus knows that. Pontius Pilate knows that. You know who else knows that—or knew that? Walt Disney. Every day since Disneyland opened in July of 1955, near Los Angeles, a parade, led by Mickey Mouse and a marching band, a high-stepping parade Marshall, a waving Snow White, flanked by her seven dwarfs, has made its way down Main Street, USA, at Disneyland, California. Following the leader, Mickey Mouse, are characters from Disney films through the years—everybody from Pinocchio to the latest Pixar Toy Story in characters like Woody and Dora are there. Every day there is a parade, and every day there are people there to watch and cheer. They stop what they are doing; they run out to the street. They position themselves along the way for pictures. They come running out from the souvenir shops, the ice cream shops, the ride line-ups. They hear the band, the sense the commotion. They come out to see what’s going on. They want to be part of it. Everybody loves a parade.
That’s why the parade, as it is reported in Luke’s version of the gospel story, is so important. But you’ll notice there are no palms in Luke’s version of the Jesus-led parade into Jerusalem; only cloaks on the road, their version of the red carpet.
The other three gospels mention cloaks and branches. Only John’s gospel speaks of palm branches. Also, no “Hosannas!” here in Luke. Only in the gospels of Mark and John the crowds shout “Hosanna!”
For our meditation on this story and what it might mean for us this morning, we can get some helpful details from the other gospels, Matthew’s, Mark’s and John’s. Luke’s crowd is not waving palm branches and shouting “Hosanna!”, but we can picture that as we read, “Blessed is the King….” and “Peace in heaven, Glory in the highest!” that’s what they are doing. Each gospel in its own way brings us this story of Jesus drawing a crowd and causing a stir as he triumphantly rides through the gate into the city of Jerusalem. We can cheer the parade. We love a parade. Can you imagine being there, that day, in Jerusalem?
The date is around 30 CE. We find ourselves in the city of Jerusalem., the Holy City. The weather is warm. Buds are bursting from fresh growth on ancient olive trees. New-born lambs are cavorting in fields outside the walls of the great city, Jerusalem. We are coming out from under the shade of olive trees and date palms near a village, Bethphage. But on this day, while we are with the Jesus procession, coming in from the east side, another procession is approaching the center of the city from the west. We are winding down a meandering rocky road from the hills of olive groves following a man on a donkey. The other one, another parade, is on the opposite side, the west side, on a newly-built, strait, stone-paved road, at another city gate. The other procession is following a man on a white war-horse.
The eastern procession, our group, consists of peasants, tradesman and merchants with their wives and children. They carry their bundles of clothing and personal effects. They are on foot, dressed in their rough woven cloaks. They are pilgrims coming from the surrounding region, by the thousands, to celebrate the highest festival in their Jewish calendar, the Feast of the Passover.
They will find places to stay with relatives and they will join with their extended families to share the special meal that commemorates their deliverance from slavery in Egypt, the Seder Supper.
As the week progresses, these pilgrims will continue to pour into the city. Jerusalem, a city of 40,000, will swell to over 200,000 inhabitants, filling the streets and public spaces as they make their way to and from the temple or move about visiting. Many of the pilgrims are pious Jews who have come to observe the rituals required by the Law. But many others are more interested in the social aspects of the occasion.
But, for all, it is a time of celebration. All have come to celebrate their deliverance from the bondage of Pharaoh in Egypt about thirteen hundred years ago. Today, these same people live under another form of bondage, the oppressive yoke of the Romans. It is not a stretch to reflect on their historical, Egyptian oppression and their deliverance then, to their current reality. Then it was Egypt. Today it is Rome. Then the hand of God delivered them from Pharaoh. Today, they pray that God will deliver them from Caesar. God has promised a Messiah, an anointed one, one who will be drawn from the lineage of the royal household, the unifying servant of God, King David. This one will lead them as Moses did. This one will impose God’s will on their oppressors and lead them to freedom from their burdens -- forced taxation, fear and coercion, crucifixion, the brutal reality under which they suffer.
As the pilgrims mill around the East gate, shouts are heard. The crowd is squeezed to force its way through the narrow passage. “Look, someone on an ass, coming down from the hills up there. Look up, the Mount of Olives. Look, there is someone mounted; we can see him above the others.” A sudden rush down to join the throng that has spread cloaks on the ground and is parting before this rider. They are making way for the donkey and for him. They join in the shouts of “Hosanna, Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”
It seems some know this man. They say he’s the prophet from Nazareth, in Galilee, Jesus. Yah-shuah. This must be him. Yes, it is him, “Son of David, save us! Hosanna.” Look they’re climbing trees and chopping branches. Go get some for us! “Hosanna, Save us! Save us! In the name of God Almighty! Save us in the name of heaven!”
At the west gate another curious crowd has gathered. They too, are squeezing through the narrow passage into the city, but now they have stopped and begin to clear the way for the other mounted rider. This one sits astride a high white stallion. He leads a formation of cavalry followed by foot-soldiers in full battle dress and arms. Except for children marching in parody and jousting noisily, the crowd is silent. One can hear the rhythmic treads of heavy sandals above the grating scrapes of the horses’ hooves on the pavements. One can hear sharp commands for new formations as the column approaches the narrow gate. Through the tension one can hear the barking of dogs and the curses of the advance guards shouting to clear them off the roadway.” Move on, you mutts! Make way!”
This procession, more a military parade, has come up to Jerusalem from the coast, from the port city of Caesarea Marittima. After a two-day march of 60 miles, it has arrived at its destination, the walled city of Jerusalem. To Jews, this is the Holy City. To the Romans, Jerusalem’s status as a capital means nothing. It, the capital, has been replaced by Caesarea, the city built by Herod in honour of Julius Caesar. It is from here on the coast, where access to by sea to Rome is more efficient, that these lands are now ruled.
Mounted on the white war-horse, is Pontius Pilate. He is in his third year as governor of Judea, and he is still in the process of defining his leadership in an effort to impress the emperor, Tiberius. His future and status depend on his effectiveness as governor. His mission this day is to ensure law and order during the potentially tumultuous days ahead, the Jewish festival of Passover.
Prior to leaving Rome, he had been reminded by his superiors about what had occurred in Jerusalem thirty years earlier during the time of Emperor Archelaus. At that time, at this same festival, a riot broke out and “celebrating”/ rioting Jews had to be brought under control. On that occasion, 3000 Jewish people were slaughtered in one day after their demonstrations of resistance got out of hand. Other, smaller disturbances have occurred in the intervening years. Pilate’s mission is to see that this potential breach of the Pax Romana does not happen again.
There seems to be a heightened probability of public unrest. The reputation and power of the Jewish ruling family, the house of Herod, has been diminished by an immoral marriage of Herod’s son, Antipas. And, there are rumors of messianic figures- “saviors,” circulating. One was just recently beheaded. But now some kind of Savior King, who hails from Galilee, seems to be gathering followers. Pilot has many reasons to be concerned. The, “so called,” festival cannot be allowed to turn into a bloody riot, once again. “Not on my watch!”
The scene’s that have been described are not historical accounts but they do bear plausibility because they are taken from historical records. In the Gospel reading from Luke we don’t have support for the notion that there was upheaval in the city because Luke, like Mark, is sparse and brief. But in Matthew’s gospel we read the whole city was “in turmoil.” The Greek word used here, seiseimos, means more than “turmoil” -- that is, some kind of confusion. Seiseimos means “earth shattering” -- like seismic, as when a tornado sweeps through or earthquake strikes – it means: to shake, to tremble.
And the people are asking, “Who is this?” Matthew reports that the answer is, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.” And then Matthew sites a scripture reference from the Hebrew prophet Zechariah.
Here, in this reference, the triumphant king’s arrival is depicted as the bringing in of a peaceful monarch, “humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey who will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war-horse from Jerusalem.” (Zechariah 9:9-10). The prophet has contrasted the war-horse with the donkey. And we too can see the difference in our two scenes.
We, too, should be asking that question. “Who is this Jesus? “
We have two processions entering the city. We have two distinct purposes. The purpose of the Roman procession, the one entering from the west is clear. Everything about it exudes authority, power, might and terror. This is all about control and insuring a peaceful and reliable tax base to exploit.
The purpose of the procession led by Jesus, the one entering from the east, seems less clear. From the people’s point of view, it too resounds with triumphalism. These people have been waiting for their King to return and now he is here. He rides above them, elevated. To some, his reputation as healer, miracle worker, prophet, and as a resistor of authority, Temple and Roman, is well established. Many, simply join in enthusiastically, hailing a celebrity, someone who appears to them to be a conquering hero. But the scriptural references to donkey and war-horse from Zechariah serve to heighten the irony of this event. The shouts of “Hosanna” “Save us, save us we pray.” “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! “-- these sound like shouts of joyous expectation. What do these exclamations and exhortations mean? These words are taken from a hymn of praise in the Psalms, from Psalm 118, “Save us we beseech you, give us success!” “Hosanna” means “Lord , save us!” At the East gate’s procession to Jerusalem, those that have gathered into a pulsing mob, throwing down their cloaks and waving their palm branches cannot be faulted if they perceive the one mounted on the donkey is their savior from the oppressive terror that is Rome. They have been expecting a savior. They have been expecting an earth-shattering event that will rid them of their evil oppressors, a liberator King, like David.
But the “earth shattering” event will come in a different form. The one on the donkey will achieve victory in a manner they cannot imagine, perceive or contemplate. Even those closest to him, his closest friends, cannot comprehend it, cannot accept it, even when they are told as insiders, what his purpose is, and what is about to take place in the days ahead – a death and resurrection. It seems that in the east gate gathering of ordinary people we can identify two elements, two processions: one hails a deliverer, a king and conqueror. This one resounds from the crowd -- rousing, boisterous and assertive. The other, though at the center of the crowd, is solitary and solemn, alone on the donkey, his eyes focused, ahead, as if contemplating a foreboding journey ahead and remembering, his beginnings in Nazareth… “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me”…“today this Scripture has been revealed in your hearing…”
Today, we who claim to be believers in this Jesus of Nazareth can’t be faulted if we understand that the success, we seek is deliverance from our enemies. As a church we can’t be faulted if we apply this success, we pray for to mean triumph over the enemies of the faith. We would like to have a Jesus that rides in with power and rides the world of all its evil. We would like to have a Jesus that will establish the rule of God here now and for all time. But we also know the days ahead will bring us into the presence of a different kind of savior. A different kind of king.
In our Call to Worship and Psalm reading we heard, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. God chooses the stone. We don’t choose the stone.
Our ways are not God’s ways, presuming our will, asking God to affirm it, is different from allowing God’s will to be done. In our Palm Sunday procession, we hail a different kind of king, a king that will call us to walk in another less jubilant procession very soon. Today we join and shout “Hosanna.”
Soon we will follow him as he bears the cross toward Calvary. We will be required to bring meaning to the contrasting processions – the one of celebration, exultation and praise will converge with one of agony, grief and loss.
In Matthew’s version, (Matthew 21:1-9), we have a suckling colt added. The suckling colt, seeking the milk of its mother-mare. This is a hint at the kind of ruler who rides above. He is a ruler whose reign is founded in relationships, in love. Love written on the heart, not on a stone. He is a ruler whose laws are governed by mercy, generosity and compassion. He is a king who is first a servant, not a monarch, and a savior, not a vanquisher. He will suffer for all humankind to secure the victory.
And as we join him in his procession may we be moved to raise this hymn of praise:
O Christ, what can it mean for us to claim you as our king? What royal face have you revealed whose praise the church would sing? Aspiring not to glory height, to power, wealth and fame. You walked a different, lowly way, another’s will your aim. (Delores Dufner OSB, b. 1939)
One parade aspires to that glorious height, to power, to wealth and fame.”. the other parade this day walks a different lowly way, a way leading through the gate to another lonely place, a hill named, Golgotha , “the skull”. We have been called today to choose which parade to join. We are challenged. Yes “everybody loves a parade” , yes we too “love a parade “ Which parade will we be part of ? What kind of a parade marshal will we follow and whom will we love?
“Everybody loves a parade.”