Parades require coordination. There are no impromptu parades. I was in the Boscov’s Thanksgiving day parade my senior year of high school. We were one of hundreds of floats that morning. Each of which spent hours before choreographing and rehearsing exactly what they would do. Each of which received details instructions from the organizers as to when to be there and when to step off. How many times to perform and where those performances should take place. We were advised when to lip sync and where to belt it out as we sang and danced. Each step of the parade was choreographed and fit it a larger presentation.
This Palm Sunday, we process and parade celebrating the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. In churches around the world, this parade will be reenacted today with Jesus, palms, and sometimes a donkey. But on that day, two thousand years ago, there were two parades as Jesus and the disciples processed towards Jerusalem. The one we heard about this morning only makes sense in light the second parade. Pilate, Roman governor was entering Jerusalem as Jesus did. Pontus Pilate processing from Caesarea by the Sea to Jerusalem was well orchestrated and the timing was no coincidence. As devout Jews from the far-flung regions gathered to thank God for their liberation from Egypt and look for the day in which they knew full freedom, the government put on a display of force to keep those liberation dreams in check.
This visible manifestation of power was a reminder of the power and might of the Roman Empire that usually tolerated the quaint traditions of Jews and others, until they interfered with Roman intentions and pretensions. In a show of military force, the second parade included, “cavalry on horses, foot soldiers, leather armor, helmets, weapons, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, sun glinting on metal and gold.” The sound of “marching feet, the creaking of leather, the clinking of bridles, the beating of drums” would have had a sobering effect on all those who saw this parade.(1) There would have been no shouts of Hosanna as the powerful Pilate rode astride of his horse, hoping to strike fear into the resentful onlookers.
Contrast Pilate’s show of force with Jesus’ theatrical tableau of peace with justice. Jesus rode on a humble donkey, in contrast to the white stallion of Pilate. Jesus carried no weapons intending to stun into submission; rather, he told stories and invited hearts. He demonstrated a different way and invited people to follow it. Jesus’ followers who had paid attention as he spoke or recalled the scrolls of prophets would recognize his actions as fulfilling the prophecies of those who has come before. They would hear in their minds, Zechariah 9 with coming king riding on a donkey. They would know that this parade was more than a few friends recognizing Jesus as king; this was well-prophecies of God coming to life and bringing closer God’s kingdom.
They were living in the midst of news. News for the moment and news that would change the lives of humanity forever. For their parades mark the beginning of our holy week. Jesus taught and shared that his life would be given in exchange for many. As the week unfolds, they would misunderstand this, celebrate this, protest against this, be angry about this, and ultimately be shocked and surprised with how exactly redemption was worked out. News was lived out with them a part of it. News that sometimes was too much! Peter will deny this week. Judas will betray this week. Mary and many women will sob in the shadows.
I don’t know about you. But that volume of complex situations needing care and attention, sounds a bit like our news today. Sometimes, we have to turn off the news. Click off the television, close out the website, turn our phones from news updates to cute giraffe picture. It all seems too much. Too much to listen to. Too much to process. Too much to know how to understand.
So, yes there may be moments in which we disengage and watch Netflix. There may be times in which we need to escape the harshness of the news if only for the span of a movie in the theater, dinner with a loved one, or great book. People have always utilized escapism as a response.
But our faith calls us not to live permanently with our heads in the sand. We are called to participate and partake of the world in which we live. We are called to usher in God’s kingdom, to do uncomfortable things in the name of Jesus’ realm. We are called to join Jesus in this holy week. To live the whiplash of news in our own day and age, so that Jesus’ way and will might be known here on this earth. This Lent, we have been praying like Jesus. For this holy week, I invite you to pray the news. Pray with the news of joy and of challenge, in your own personal life and in the larger world. Make sure to include both. Do not be so myopic as to miss the needs of the world, or so far-sighted as to miss the needs of those right around you.
This week, if you were praying with the news, you might have prayed for those affected by the tornadoes across the southeastern part of the country. Or as it affected our home, you might have prayed for those who could not fly due to threat of tornadoes.
You might have prayed for those in Columbia who lost their homes to mudslides. More than 230 people were killed, many of them asleep in their beds, when a giant wall of water carrying tons of mud and debris surged through a city in southwest Colombia on Saturday after heavy rains caused a nearby river to overflow.
You might have prayed for the families in Syria affected by the bombing. You may have prayed for our current administration as they seek wisdom in making the best choices, not just for our country, but for the whole world.
You might have prayed for the military as new troops have been deployed and a carrier group moved towards the Korean peninsula. You may have prayed for protection and discernment for those who seek to protect others.
Even this morning, you might have prayed for those gathered in a Coptic Church in northern Egypt where an explosion rocked their Palm Sunday services. 15 people were killed and at least 40 injured at St. George’s church in Tanta. You may have prayed for this morning for those who feel like the political theater of Palm Sunday came to life in the most horrendous and tragic ways in their church and in their community.
Prayer is not an escapist response to the news at hand. No, in fact, prayer is the process of handing it over to God. “Like the food supply for an army, prayer simultaneously feds the individual Christian’s spiritual growth and the church’s effectiveness in mission, if prayer is not emphasized, both will starve.” Herb Miller. Prayer is moving from our anxieties about how we might solve the needs of our world to how will God respond to the call of God’s people to move in power and justice in a world bereft of God’s kingdom based actions.
Today, as we join in the parade of acclamation and praise, one that was well planned, we commit not just to stick with Jesus when it is festive and exciting, full of joy and praise, but we also remain with him as denial and betrayal, pain and suffering, death and bafflement become common. We remain with the Messiah who is with us in our denials and betrayals. We remain with the Christ who never deserts us. We raise our voices in praise and prayer throughout this Holy Week. Join us here for each step of the week and each opportunity to pray together as a community.
This is the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, thanks be to God, Amen.
 The Last Week: What the Gospels really teach us about Jesus’ final days in Jerusalem by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, 2006. Psalm Sunday section, 1-30.
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 21: 1-11
When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, “The Lord needs them.” And he will send them immediately. This took place to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,
‘Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!’ When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’ The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 26: 1-3
When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, ‘You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified. ’Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas.
Meditations For Your Week
Sunday, April 9 ~ Saturday, April 16
Sunday: “The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!’” Matthew 21: 9. Sing out Jesus’ praises! Sing out loud hymns and songs! Let God’s praises be on your lips!
Monday: “He said to him, ‘ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’” Matthew 22: 37-40. Even in the holiest weeks, Jesus calls us love one another. Where are you acting out your love?
Tuesday: “When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, ‘You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.’” Matthew 26: 1-2. Jesus prepared his disciples for what was coming, even when they could not put together all the pieces. Prayerfully listen to what Jesus is preparing you for.
Wednesday: “By pouring this ointment on my body she has prepared me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.’” Matthew 26: 12-13. Where is Jesus inviting you to have your life proclaim the good news of resurrection?
Thursday: “Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’” Matthew 26: 36. As we gather to remember Jesus’ Last Supper on this Holy Thursday, let us pray with Jesus for all those who face their own holy weeks.
Friday: “Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split.” Matthew 27: 50-51. Jesus’ death changes everything. Give thanks to Jesus today.
Saturday: “So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.” Matthew 27: 59-61. Wait today on Jesus.