A Turning Point

March 25, 2018 – Palm Sunday/Mark 11:1-11


Parades are much more than floats and marching bands and smiling baton twirlers.  History shows us that, often times, a parade marks a turning point – a moment in time when the world changes direction, when the powerful are pushed aside and new power enters in.  Parades mark the changing of the guard, the changing of power, the changing of life as it has been lived before.

In late 1939, the rumble of tanks and explosive pops of gunfire seemed far away from Paris.  The Germans had launched Hitler’s military offensive with the invasion of Poland, but in France, life continued as normal.  All the way through that fall and winter and into the spring of 1940, the war was just a distant irritation.  But in June, German troops began to roll across the border into France.  Almost before the French realized what had happened, German troops were closing in on Paris.  By the afternoon of June 14, the German swastika flew from the Arc de Triomphe, and organized military parades streamed down the Champs Élysées.  Four years would pass before news of an Allied troop surge into France would bolster the spirits of resistance fighters, encouraging them to take to the streets in open defiance of the German occupation.

Four years, two months, and eleven days after Nazi troops unfurled the swastika over the streets of Paris, French General Charles de Gaulle would lead a parade of troops and citizens down the Champs Élysées to reclaim the city.  “On August 29, [1944], the U.S. Army’s 28th Infantry Division paraded 24-abreast up the Avenue Hoche to the Arc de Triomphe, then down the Champs Élysées.  Joyous crowds greeted the Americans as the entire division, men and vehicles, marched through Paris.”[1]

Two parades, each marking a dramatic change of power, a radical change for an entire country.  Two parades brought new leadership, new perspectives, a new way of life.

***

Jesus had walked all over Galilee with his disciples trailing along behind him.  Even when summoned to cure people near death – or to raise from death his dear friend Lazarus – he had walked.  But on this day, as Jesus neared Jerusalem, he sent two of his disciples into a nearby village with a simple instruction.  Just inside the gates, they would find tied a colt that had never been ridden.  They were to bring it to him.  Perhaps anticipating that someone in the village might wonder why two strangers were making off with this colt, Jesus told them what to say.  Just tell them, the Lord needs it.

Doing what Jesus asked, the pair returned, leading the colt along behind them.  When they reached Jesus, they threw their cloaks on the colt’s back, and Jesus settled onto the make-shift saddle.  Other folk threw their cloaks on the ground in front of the colt, and still others strewed leafy branches along the way.  Mounted on the never-ridden colt, receiving the shouts and adulation of the crowds, Jesus entered Jerusalem.

Was this a parade for a king?  As tradition called for, his mount was one that had never carried another person.  The shouts of the crowd seemed to affirm his station – Hosanna!  Save us!  Return the kingdom of our father David!  But was it, really, a parade for a king?

Imagine how Jesus must have looked, riding along on a young donkey, his feet practically dragging along the dusty road, his “saddle” the travel-worn cloaks of his disciples, his garlands the branches his followers could glean from the fields.  Nothing about this parade suggested power.  Nothing about this parade suggested strength.  Nothing about this parade suggested that Jesus was entering Jerusalem to overthrow the occupying Roman forces.  And when he had entered the city, he stepped into the temple, looked around – and then returned the way he had come.

His followers had celebrated with passion.  They waved their branches in the air, tossed them in front of that little donkey, shouted their hosannas.  Finally, they must have thought.  Finally!  One is coming who will bring blessing to Jerusalem and to all of her people.  Finally, one is coming who “will immediately restore the fortunes of Jerusalem.”[2]  “At the very least, Jesus [entered] Jerusalem as a pilgrim of special standing, one the people [saw] as a messenger of God.  His arrival surely will bring with it blessings to Jerusalem and to its inhabitants.”[3]

Of course they celebrated with a parade.  They expected an immediate change in their fortunes, an immediate end to the crushing rule of Rome.  But they could not have been more wrong.  Jesus was the hoped-for Messiah.  “He is no less King than their words would suggest, but his kingdom is other and more than they dare to think.”[4]

“The Jesus whom the crowds welcome and want is not the Jesus they in fact get.  They desire … the teacher who will say what they want to hear and in ways that are pretty and soothing.”[5]  They want a change of power, a new kingdom, but they are not prepared for the kingdom that Jesus will usher in.  Certainly, this parade marks a change.  The Jesus who has discouraged anyone from talking about who he really is, suddenly agrees to an in-your-face parade that is guaranteed to stir up the authorities and further anger the religious leaders who already have been seeking a way to destroy him.  Only Jesus recognizes that this parade will lead, not to joyful celebration at the overthrow of an occupying government, but to simmering resentment that will in time boil over into anger and hatred.  The regime will change, but the cost will be much greater than any of those along the road to Jerusalem can anticipate.  “In this week before Passover, Jesus decides to enter Jerusalem with full publicity – to receive the acclaim of the crowds and to appear before the world as if he is fulfilling one of the messianic prophecies. … Within a week, acclaim will turn into humiliation and mockery.”[6]

Recasting the parade into our time, Carol Penner reflects on Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem in her poem “Coming to a City Near You”:

Jesus comes to Jerusalem, the city nearest you.
Jesus comes to the gate, to the synagogue,
to houses prepared for wedding parties,
to the pools where people wait to be healed,
to the temple where lambs are sold,
to gardens, beautiful in the moonlight.
He comes to the governor’s palace.

Jesus comes to Jerusalem, the city nearest you,
to new subdivisions and trailer parks,
to penthouses and basement apartments,
to the factory, the hospital and the Cineplex,
to the big box outlet center and to churches,
with the same old same old message,
unchanged from the beginning of time.

Jesus comes to Jerusalem, the city nearest you
with his Good News and…
Hope erupts! Joy springs forth!
The very stones cry out,
“Hosanna in the highest,
blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
The crowds jostle and push,
they can’t get close enough!
People running alongside flinging down their coats before him!
Jesus, the parade marshal, waving, smiling.
The paparazzi elbow for room,
looking for that perfect picture for the headline,
“The Man Who Would Be King.”

Jesus comes to Jerusalem, the city nearest you
and gets the red carpet treatment.
Children waving real palm branches from the florist,
silk palm branches from Wal-Mart,
palms made from green construction paper.
Hosannas ringing in churches, chapels, cathedrals,
in monasteries, basilicas and tent-meetings.
King Jesus, honored in a thousand hymns
in Canada, Cameroon, Calcutta and Canberra.
We LOVE this great big powerful capital K King Jesus
coming in glory and splendor and majesty
and awe and power and might.

Jesus comes to Jerusalem, the city nearest you.
Kingly, he takes a towel and washes feet.
With majesty, he serves bread and wine.
With honor, he prays all night.
With power, he puts on chains.
Jesus, King of all creation, appears in state
in the eyes of the prisoner, the AIDS orphan, the crack addict,
asking for one cup of cold water,
one coat shared with someone who has none,
one heart, yours,
and a second mile.
Jesus comes to Jerusalem, the city nearest you.
Can you see him?

Look again at this parade.  Look again at the dusty, dirty man sitting astride a young donkey.  Look at his sandals dragging along the ground as he moves ever closer to the city gates.  Look at Jesus.  Not a mighty warrior.  Not a kingly ruler.  Just a man, humble and vulnerable, riding on an ass.

[1] Wikipedia, “Liberation of Paris”

[2] Lamar Williamson Jr., Interpretation: Mark, 204

[3] Walter Brueggemann et. al., Texts for Preaching, Year B, 248

[4] Williamson, 204

[5] Brueggemann, 249

[6] Margaret A. Farley, Feasting on the Word, B/2, 154

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