(This sermon was delivered on March 29, 2015.)
Celebrations are many things–loud, flashy, usually filled with lots of people, lots of music, dancing, and much more. The point of a party is to purely live in the moment, to lose yourself in the noise, the joy, and celebration.While parties can range from as small as a household to a grand ballroom, the biggest kinds of parties that I can think of are parades. Parades are parties on a citywide scale. For miles and miles a parade can stretch, filled with people lining the streets, party favors everywhere, people walking down the streets, marching bands, decorated floats, music blasting from every direction drowned out by cheering and crowd noise. A good parade can be an exciting event, delighting the youngest child to the more seasoned citizens among us.
Parades, though almost universally similar in practice, can vary from theme to theme. A Christmas parade will obviously be holiday-themed, whereas a 4th of July parade will be more patriotically themed, and so on. The fact is, one can just as easily get lost in the celebration at one as the other, without really ever knowing–or caring perhaps–what they’re celebrating in the first place. The past couple of weeks ago, we celebrated St. Patrick’s day, which has huge parades in the northeastern part of the country, but I very seriously doubt many people could tell you the finer points of the Catholic saint’s life. More often than not, it’s just another celebration to get lost in.
Today is Palm Sunday, the last Sunday in Lent, and the last Sunday before Easter. Easter is the much bigger celebration in Christian life, and easily overshadows the Palm Sunday celebrations. Why do we celebrate on Palm Sunday? What is the point? It’s a good question to ask, because on the face of it, it seems rather arbitrary. The truth is that it is worth celebrating because one needs a high like Palm Sunday to come down from to appreciate the rest of this week, Holy Week.
A Tale of Two Parades
Palm Sunday, though usually only told with the focus on Jesus and his entry, marks the date of another entry into Jerusalem. Historians and scholars Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan wrote in their book “The First Week” this account of Palm Sunday:
Two processions entered Jerusalem on a spring day in the year 30. It was the beginning of the week of Passover, the most sacred week of the Jewish year… One was a peasant procession, the other an imperial procession. From the east, Jesus rode a donkey down the Mount of Olives, cheered by his followers. Jesus was from the peasant village of Nazareth, his message was about the kingdom of God, and his followers came from the peasant class… On the opposite side of the city, from the west, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Idumea, Judea, and Samaria, entered Jerusalem at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers. Jesus’s procession proclaimed the kingdom of God; Pilate’s proclaimed the power of empire… Pilate’s military procession was a demonstration of both Roman imperial power and Roman imperial theology. (The First Week, Day One.)(From <http://onemansweb.org/jesus-rain-on-my-parade-palm-sunday.html> )
A peasant procession vs. an imperial procession. A reactionary response to a political powerhouse like Rome. The Palm procession is in fact a rebellious exercise of faith against a dominating presence.
I want to draw your attention to this because it’s an often overlooked facet to the scene. We worship Jesus as King now, we worship him as Lord now, and we imagine because we are in a time and a place that it is socially acceptable to do so that it must have always been such a thing. But let me ask you this: When was the last time you pledged your fealty to a local lord? When was the last time you paid a king tribute? I’m not talking about government taxes–we have a representative government, so we can choose who we pay taxes to–I’m talking about paying tribute so that a king does not kill you.
The world has changed drastically in the past 2000 years. Heck, it’s changed a ton in the past 200 years. We don’t have nobility anymore, not like we used to. Pilate, governor of Judea, was given a parade because that was due his station as a political entity in his time and place. People paid their taxes so that Pilate didn’t order them dead. For Jesus’s entourage to throw him a parade like this was the height of political rebellion, a mockery of the imperial culture they lived in. It was peasants thumbing their noses at the emperor saying “We have a king, a king of our own choosing, the king that will come and tear everything down and in its place erect a kingdom of God!”
Palm Sunday is a celebration of a rebellion– similar to a declaration of independence, or even the charging of the bastille. Rebellions are exhilarating when you are in the midst of them, and can feel much like a party when you go through them. The thing about rebellions is that they seldom exist without consequences.
The party crashes down
Jesus riding into town on a colt coming from the Mount of Olives is a significant message to those who are in the know.
What he is doing is recreating a scene from the prophet Zechariah, a powerful one at that, one that would be significant to anyone who knew the writings of Zechariah.
Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion.
ing aloud, Daughter Jerusalem.
Look, your king will come to you.
He is righteous and victorious.
He is humble and riding on an ass,
on a colt, the offspring of a donkey.
10 He[a] will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
and the warhorse from Jerusalem.
The bow used in battle will be cut off;
he will speak peace to the nations.
His rule will stretch from sea to sea,
and from the river to the ends of the earth.
That in and of itself doesn’t seem too bad–he’s going to be righteous! He’s going to be victorious! He will usher in an era of peace, and he will rule the ends of the earth! A little further on in Zechariah 14, it even says that he will stand upon the Mount of Olives, and begin his campaign! Everything is pointing to the Jesus being the coming Christ of prophecy!
One would think this would be a good thing, but what is good for the people in the crowds is not always good for people who have a vested interest in keeping the status quo. The temple officials, the high priests, who though were no doubt devout Jews and faithful people, also recognize that their lives were at stake. If an open rebellion were to occur, the power of Rome would come in and destroy their very way of life. Blood would run in the streets–Jewish blood. A rebellion has its costs, and the priests saw these costs all too well.
Now then: Jesus knew what was to happen. He knew that everything was leading up to this. He knew who he was, and he knew that he had not done anything wrong, nor did he have any intention of throwing a violent rebellion. However, that doesn’t matter to those who would like to see him out of the picture.
Because of this parade, wheels began to turn in the city of Jerusalem, wheels that would come into effect on Thursday night, and would end on Friday afternoon. This is a joyous celebration, yes–but getting lost in this celebration is the fact that every rebellion, even non-violent rebellions, have their cost.
A Week of Consequences
So what I want you to think about this week is this: Is your faith consequential? Does it cost you anything? This is a week of consequences. Today is a day of celebration, a happy day, a triumphant day, a day when the Messiah is publicly given what he is due. Worship, honor, glory–these things are given to him before the people of Jerusalem. And for us, we honor, glorify, and praise Jesus today. But going into this week before Easter, this Holy Week, the story will change. On Maundy Thursday, we celebrate the Last Supper, and the new Commandment, to serve others as Christ served us. On Good Friday, we contemplate the moving and devastating role of the Cross in our faith.
These are the consequences of our faith. These are the end result of Palm Sunday, of getting lost in Celebration of Jesus. Our faith is not one that is always parades and party favors. Our faith Is a faith that should move us to serve others, to love others, to be selfless and to deny ourselves so that we might bear the love of Christ to others.
Additionally, the other consequence is all too real. To live in this world as a true follower of Christ is not always easy. In fact, following Christ guarantees suffering, in one way or another. It guarantees that we will grieve, mourn, and encounter pain and death in our beliefs. Christ calls us to challenge the status quo, and not be satisfied with how power is misused. This is a dangerous path. Christianity is not an easy path. However, for us, it is the only path.
This path, though strewn with palms today, has many consequences. May we all be willing to bear the consequences of faith. Amen.