March 28, 2010 Palm Sunday A Tale of Two Parades
Show and Tell…
This is a New Testament that I picked up from a free table a few years ago while we were in Seminary. It’s pretty old, and I have to be pretty careful when I open it up because the pages are kind of yellow and a little bit brittle. So I keep it how I found it, inside a little box that protects it from falling open and the pages getting bent or folded funny when it’s sitting on a shelf.
As you can see, it’s really small, and if you opened it and looked at it, you’d see it’s written in Greek. The New Testament was originally written in Greek, which was the language of the day back when it was written… kind of like English is today around the world.
Now, I’ll be honest and tell you I did learn Greek once upon a time and I loved it…I just love learning how people communicate with such different sounds and letters and sayings.
I also love old books. I like the way the pages get brownish-yellow, and I like the pop of an old spine when you crack it open for the first time in years, and I really like the way old books smell.
So, when I found this Bible I was pretty happy about what I found.
I learned Greek a while ago, but I haven’t really used it much since becoming a pastor. See, this book isn’t real functional. I don’t just sit around and read this Greek Bible when I’m working on a sermon.
But now and then I do take it off of the shelf and just feel it, flip through the pages. I might smell it, or imagine an ancient scribe with his quill and his ink, writing these words by hand on some kind of primitive paper.
It helps to remind me that whenever I read the Bible in English, I’m reading a translation. It doesn’t matter what version I’m using—King James, NIV, NRSV…they’re all translations of the original languages—Hebrew for the Old Testament, and Greek for the new.
This Bible helps me remember that Jesus didn’t speak English as his first or even second language. It helps keep me humble as I interpret an interpretation, and it makes me thankful for the people who did the hard work of translating the scriptures into English.
But the reason I brought it here this morning isn’t to talk about translations or ancient languages or the people who wrote the words. I really just wanted us to reflect on the reality of how an object this small () can literally shake the foundations of the world!
Literally, this little book () has shaped and will continue to shape world history for as long as time extends!
Wars have been waged, lives given, lives taken, and lives lost all because of this little book and the stories it contains!
It doesn’t seem like it can be for real, you know? That something this small can be so powerful, from one language to another, from one generation to the next, on and on and on…
It makes my head spin. The sheer absurdity that such a small book has had such a huge impact on the world– that’s a big reason I find the Bible so fascinating.
And the reason I started thinking about all of that this week is because Palm Sunday gets me thinking about things like how this little tiny Bible contains such great power.
It gets me thinking about the upside-down kingdom of God, where the first shall be last and the last shall be first, where the foolishness of God is greater than humanity’s wisdom…the Kingdom of God where the lion and the lamb lay down together, where the king of kings and lord of lords stoops to wash his disciple’s feet.
Palm Sunday gets me thinking about mustard seeds and yeast…the smallest of the small things that take root to turn the world right, one loaf, one garden, and one life at a time.
It gets me thinking about Jesus entering Jerusalem, but also about Jesus entering my life, humbly, in ways I wasn’t prepared for…working his change from the inside out, never forcing but always loving me into newness of life and resurrection hope no matter how stubborn, how petty, or how selfish I can be.
But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.
The scripture this morning is called the ‘triumphal entry’ of Jesus. It has to do with Jesus entering Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. Crowds of his disciples are calling out to him and singing their praises to him. They spread their cloaks before him on the road and give him a royal welcome.
And we could talk about the donkey being the symbol of peace, how some say that a king would enter a city on a donkey if he came in peace, and on a horse if he was preparing for war. So we could talk about how Jesus obviously made a statement by choosing a donkey. We could talk about how we view God—how we like to think that God comes to us on a horse, prepared to make war against either us or our enemies, ready to smite us down from his war-horse when we make a wrong move.
And so we could talk about how Christ enters on the donkey—suggesting he isn’t angry and it’s a time of peace. We could talk about what that does to how we understand this messiah. Because we know today what they knew back then—that this is anything BUT a time of peace.
Back then, it was a time of Roman oppression. It was a time of high taxes. It was a time of economic scarcity.
It was not a time of Peace, and yet Jesus came into the city riding on the donkey of peace rather than the horse of war.
Today it’s a time of Terrorist oppression. It’s a time of high taxes, and it’s a time of economic scarcity.
It is not a time of Peace, and yet I still see Jesus coming on the donkey rather than the horse.
See, Jesus doesn’t live according to our rules. He’s acting and living as if the kingdom of God were already here. He’s creating and proclaiming a different world even in something as simple and small as riding a donkey. He will not go to war, for his kingdom has nothing to gain by it.
He did not and he will not shame or conquer those who oppose him.
Instead he will die for them. Even the ones who are on the horses, ready to fight.
It’s been suggested that there were actually two parades happening in Jerusalem on that day. It’s not impossible, in fact it makes sense to me.
Maybe on one end of town, the crowds are celebrating and cheering in the streets, welcoming in the king of kings who rides the donkey of peace.
They strain to see the man in whom heaven and earth meet…the man who cures sickness of body and of soul. They spread their cloaks before him, investing their hope in this gentle shepherd and his radical teaching.
The first parade is for Jesus, who is bringing hope and peace to a people who desperately need both.
But on the other end of town, maybe there’s a different parade.
Pilate is coming, riding a different animal, coming to Jerusalem for a different purpose. Instead of hope and peace, he brings with him fear and power.
It’s been suggested that Pilate entered the city at about the same time as Jesus, to make sure nothing got out of hand. It makes sense to me…after all, Pilate was responsible for the well-being of the city and of Rome.
There was a good chance that the Jews could and would mount a rebellion. There would be no better time or place for them to do it than the Passover, when Jews from all over the place would gather in their holy city.
So it makes sense that Pilate would need to be there—with his soldiers—on his war horse—just to keep an eye on the city.
So I can imagine this different parade—Pilate on his war-horse, surrounded by soldiers dressed in armor. I can see the chariots and the spears, the swords, and the clubs.
I can’t imagine a more confrontational action that Jesus could have possibly done than ride into town on a humble symbol of peace while Pilate comes on his war-horse.
It’s nothing less than prophetic, the way Jesus enters the city. By riding the donkey, he makes it clear that a different kingdom is at hand.
He does not act like Pilate because this different kind of kingdom requires a different kind of king.
See, part of what gives this book (hold up little Bible) so much power is that it offers hope that the world can be different…hope that the man on the donkey is more true…more right…more powerful…than the man on the horse can ever be.
Last week, Christine talked about extravagant worship.
She challenged us to think about what it might mean for us to praise God with actions that cost us dearly. I think examples she gave were things as simple as clapping during a song, or lifting our hands up when we pray, fully aware that someone somewhere might disapprove.
Well, that clicked with me this week when I read this passage. It’s exactly how the crowds welcome Jesus into the city. They celebrate in reckless abandon—they lose themselves in wild joy that could not be contained as he comes among them, on his donkey of peace.
It’s true, that a few of the Pharisees tell Jesus to calm them down—“order your disciples to stop!” they say.
Maybe they were a little scared of Pilate. I would have been.
Maybe they had wrong expectations of what Jesus was trying to do. I would have.
But Jesus’ response is worth repeating, and it’s worth taking through the week.
He says “If these were silent, the rocks would cry out.”
His faith is clearly in the power of God, and nowhere else.
The sheer Truthfulness of God is too strong to have it’s mouth shut.
Even if we dared to try, God would raise up replacements to proclaim his kingdom as quickly as we fell away—even the rocks would cry out.
Where is your hope? Are you looking to the man on the horse, or the man on the donkey?
Where is your praise? Are you in the crowd, welcoming Jesus with open arms and extravagant worship? Or are you one of the Pharisees, asking Jesus to please calm these people down?
His response does not change—“if these were silent, the stones would cry out”.
So do you have it? Do you have the hope that Jesus offers?
Every day we have a choice, because every day there are two parades going on somewhere.
We can either bend our knee in reverence to the man on the horse,
or we can willingly throw our cloaks on the path of the One who loves us.