Saturday, March 23, 2013

Palm Sunday - C

Of Parades and Palms

A Parade

With the kids…

How many of you have ever seen a parade? What was it like? Has anyone ever been in a parade? What was that like?

The idea of a parade is that it is exciting, it is a celebration, and we are all supposed to be caught up in it, and have fun…

Why do you think they had a parade for Jesus? What do you think they wanted to say about Jesus?

Without the Kids…

One of my favourite places to watch a parade is Disney World. There is something about being there that just sucks you in, you feel like you are in a magical place, and all these magical things come to life. I remember being just as excited to watch Santa Clause parades when I was a kid, whether on television from New York, or in whatever city I lived in.

Parades create emotion… Parades create feelings… there is music, there is laughter, there are floats with magical presentations, there are smiles and waves and balloons…

That is where we start, with our own thoughts and remembrances about parades, with all that they have meant for you over the years, and with how they make you feel….

Because today is about a celebration. The Passover is about to being. The whole world makes its way to Jerusalem.

The Imperial March

Passover was the most important festival of the Jewish year. It was a time when everyone made a pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem. So I want you to picture the dusty streets leading up the hill to the city. It is a spring day in 30 AD and the sun is shining… Now, picture this, there are two processions winding their way up on opposite sides of the city, two parades.

One was a peasant procession, and one was an Imperial procession. The one we enacted today was the entry of Jesus. He rode a donkey from the Mount of Olives… he was a poor person from Nazareth and those who came out to watch him ride were the normal, poor, people of the city. Jesus had come 100 miles from Galilee in the North, and word had spread ahead of him, word of what he proclaimed, the Kingdom of God, which most heard as a message of freedom.

Over on the West side of the city Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of all of Judea was entering the city with fresh troops, right off the boat. There were cavalry on horseback and infantry with their spears and bucklers rattling as they marched. Sunlight shone off metal armour and penants proclaimed this the army of Caesar. These soldiers had come to reinforce the Garrison in Jerusalem, to keep the peace during Passover. 

And as they marched they displayed not only the idea of Empire, but the theology of the Romans as well. 

According to this way of thinking, The Caesar was not only the emperor, but the son of God as well. And as the drums beat and swords crashed, these soldiers carried shields and banners emblazoned with their version of God.

You can imagine as a people who have been beaten into submission, who have seen foreign soldiers every day, that you watch this procession a little nervously, a little awed, but a lot resentful.

So back to the other end of the city, and our friend Jesus’ parade. This is a carefully crafted counter demonstration. Jesus planned it all in advance. He sends his disciples ahead of him in two directions as he approaches Jerusalem, some to get the donkey, some to go into town and gather the people who are sympathetic to the cause.

They line the streets and throw blankets and cloaks and palm branches onto the street and shout “hosanna! 
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” It makes the Roman parade seem a non-event.

The symbolism is from the prophet Zechariah, who wrote that the king would come to Jerusalem humbly, riding on a colt, and the foal of a donkey… Zechariah goes on to say the king would cut off the chariot, and the war horse and the battle bow. In other words, Jesus is the prophesied king, who has come to bring peace.

This is the carefully crafted message as Jesus heads to the temple for Passover.

It is the beginning of the confrontation that fills Jesus final week…

The Same Mindset

I have been doing this for a while, as have you… Palm Sunday… Easter… Christmas… Church… and when I started out as a minister I pretty much went by the book. That is what most people do in whatever job they find themselves in. But the thing is, over the years, I have found that we are moving further and further away from just doing things because we have always done them.

We need to start thinking deeper about things, asking deeper questions; and we need to start reworking our faith stories into our real day to day lives so that they make an impact, a difference.

Which for the last month has been one of my obsessions; what do these high holy days, Palm Sunday, Good Friday, Easter, mean to us? What is the “Good News” for our lives? What was Jesus trying to get across?

And the more I thought about it Jesus was trying to get something across. He was working hard on it. He had been circling Jerusalem for months, waiting for the perfect time, for Passover. He waited until Pilate was coming into the city to make a scene. He gets everyone on board and has a parade. Then the second thing he does is march right up to the Temple and kick out the money changers; so he is trying to stir things up, he is trying to get people angry, he is forcing everyone’s hand… why?

Perhaps it was about choosing sides. Perhaps it was about showing an alternative. Perhaps it was about giving us a way to recognize the right side?

This is a parade in favour of love, in favour of helping each other, in favour of honesty and compassion… all those values which we need to make it through.

And the point was to create a reaction. To get us to see that there is something else going on here. To make us think differently about what we see in the world around us.

Then there is Pilate, and the High Priest, and the tax collectors, and the soldiers; and all of those who have some reason to like things just the way they are. There are always those who want to keep things the same, who are either gaining something from the status quo or too afraid to rock the boat.

And we all know that those can be some pretty powerful enemies to make. Of course, we also know where this is leading, and what is going to happen to Jesus in a few days. But the question is, knowing what we know, are we willing to join the parade?


So, the problem is, we all know where this ends up. Palm Sunday is the first day of a week which ends with an arrest and execution…  It is all well and good to point out to you that there is difference between the way the world works and the way God works.

Jesus spent years trying to show the people, trying to make them trust God instead of Caesar… but there are always those who see it the other way. There are always those who are more powerful.

But as we enter this week I want you to realize that what was happening was politics pure and simple… it was about two ways of seeing the world; two ways of living life…. And Jesus was inviting us to choose.

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