Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Sermon: Two Parades

Mark 11:1-11

Theologian and author Marcus Borg suggests that on Palm Sunday there were two parades of very different types. The first parade we know about, it is Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. And the people were so excited that they cut branches from the fields, took off their cloaks and coats and spread all of this stuff on the road. The idea is kind of like rolling out the red carpet, they were giving Jesus something special to ride into town on. They were making the road beautiful, welcoming him. And as he rode by they shouted, “Hosanna (or save us) Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessings on the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest!”

They were welcoming him as the one who would save them, who would make everything good and right, who would be king – like David – and restore their country and themselves in the eyes of God. Of course, your heard all of that earlier in the story. So we have heard about that parade already.

But although we know about Jesus’ parade, there was very likely a second parade on that same day that was better known by the people of Jesus’ time. You see, the Passover was coming. The largest religious observance during the year. Tens of thousands of Jewish pilgrims filled the city. And because of this it was a time of the year when the Romans were afraid.

Remember, Rome ruled over Israel. The people were ruled by outsiders. And during this festival, when there were lots of people together, it made those rulers nervous.

If there was going to be any violence or revolutionary moment, if there was going to be a riot or any attack on the Roman government buildings, this would be the time. So right about a week before the Passover, the extra security details from Rome would arrive. Imperial troops and cavalry to reinforce the Roman garrison, and to keep the peace. That is usually the way outsiders try to keep the peace, by using a show of force, military power and police presence.

So this parade would not have been popular with the people of the city. It was a reminder that they did not rule themselves. It was a reminder that they were subject to another’s power, and that if they tried to change that there would be bloodshed. So you can imagine that the welcome the troops received was not positive. There were probably shouts of, “Go Away!” and insults about the emperor.

So Marcus Borg is saying that Jesus chose that day to ride into Jerusalem to make a statement. His parade, his leadership was very different from the Romans.

He did not lead with armies, warhorses, and weapons. Just a few rag-tag disciples; he isn’t on a warhorse, just a donkey. “According to the prophet Zechariah, the king entering Jerusalem on a donkey was to banish the weapons of war from the land and speak peace to the nations. The kingdom of Rome on the other hand was based on violence and the threat of violence.” The so called Pax Romana or Peace of Rome, was a peace brought by the sword.

So there is quite a contrast between these two parades. Imagine the atmosphere at each, the emotions on the streets. The Roman one would have been stern, frightening, and angry. Its tone would be ominous. The marching of feet, the sounds of the horses, the rattling of weapons. Children were probably kept off the streets, just so they wouldn’t be harmed. In my mind it is like a parade of Imperial Stormtroopers walking through the city. But perhaps that is a bit too silly and cinematic and geeky.

In reality it would be more like living in a place where there was a military dictatorship, and the soldiers walked down your street to keep you under control. Where the message was submit or die.

Compare that with Jesus, whose message is peace to the nations. Real peace brought by a very different method – by changing hearts, by bringing people to God, by loving neighbors, by restoring relationships. These are the things he had been teaching. Peace through God’s kingdom. So the people did not cower in fear from him, or shout insults. Rather they came out in joy and welcomed one who would save them. This parade’s atmosphere was celebration. There was no fear of what might happen to their children and so whole families gathered. People were rolling out the red carpet, they threw their coats on the street, they shouted religious greetings. Like the Memorial Day parade here in town, where everyone is smiling.If you had to choose, which parade would you attend? [pause] I’d go to the happy one, personally.

Now in my imagination, as a worst case scenario, I wonder what if those two parades collided downtown in Jerusalem?

What if the two routes crossed and suddenly you had the Roman army facing down Jesus and his disciples? You had the fear of oppression clash with the joy of freedom. What would happen? Frightening thought isn’t it? It might end in a massacre, as people shouted for Jesus as the new king, and the power of Rome moved to crush it. Actually we don’t have to imagine too hard. Because it actually happened in 70CE, less than 50 years after Jesus. [pause] It started with riots in 66CE, and erupted into a 4 year war which ended when the Roman army surrounded the city just a few days before Passover, then marching into the crowded celebration, and eventually destroying the Jerusalem temple. See it really happened.

But it also happens with Jesus, this collision of parades. Not literally. Not on Palm Sunday. But eventually the things they represent clash. The military parade and the Messiah of the people are destined to cross paths. And in the end, the violence of Rome is so threatened by the Messiah who speaks peace, that Rome cannot bear it and tries using all of the weapons in its arsenal to silence it. They put him on trial. The soldiers strip him, whip him, and call him names. They execute him publically, trying to humble him and silence his message. It looks like a massacre. And yet what happens? Well, if it had worked we would not remember this parade that welcomed Jesus, the violent one would have won out.

But it did not, God would not allow Christ’s life to be silenced, the dream of peace cannot be quieted by the noise of oppression. Eventually, the love, the power, and the forgiveness of God win.

We know that, that’s why we celebrate today. The end of the story tells us, love wins, peace wins. The man on the donkey defeats the army on horseback. The man on the cross defeats those who try to put him to death: the governors, the executioners, they cannot stop his power to change the world.

Still today there is this conflict between forces of oppression and those of freedom. There are those who would use fear, violence, and oppression to gain power. There are countries that abuse their own people. There are places where police are not protectors but enforcers. There are places where the military does not represent freedom, but it is meant as a threat.

And in those times and places, Jesus still rides into town on a donkey suggesting that there is a different way. That there is a way of ruling humanity that is built on very different principles. Where peace does not come through death, but through God. Where life is meant for celebrating and experiencing the joy of knowing that you are loved. His resurrection is a reminder that this second way, is stronger than the forces of oppression. That even executions and death cannot stop God from freeing God’s people.

For those who live under the thumb of military and police violence, it is no wonder that Palm Sunday is such a huge celebration. It is no wonder that they want to march the streets carrying palm branches to celebrate this Messiah still today. There is hope, that he will ride into their town, through their streets. That he will confront the hatred and brutality they face each day, and overcome it. That is why we still shout the words, Hosanna, save us! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Because we call for his reign in our midst, and a new day for all of God’s people.

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