Have you ever received a compliment from someone that you just couldn’t quite accept? Maybe it was the look in their eye that made you suspicious. Maybe it was the tone of their voice. Maybe you couldn’t quite put your finger on it, but sure enough in the next sentence here it comes, the word “but.” I really wanted to thank you for doing such and such, but…” Oh here it comes. Or may be the compliment is followed then by an ask. You get all buttered up and find out the person really just wants something from you.”
Today Jesus experiences both. He’s heading into to Jerusalem along with the crowd going up for the Passover, and he finds the people cheering for him, waving their palm branches, and hailing their king. And in the same sentence they cry out, “Hosanna!” or “Lord save us.” They are already laying out their demands, their expectations, and their “but” doesn’t come until the following week, when they turn on him and cry out for his crucifixion.
It seemed that Jesus was expecting this parade, because in the other 3 Gospels he sends his disciples to get the donkey that he rides on. I have to wonder how he experienced this event. He and disciples were simply walking to Jerusalem and they were in this huge crowd also going up to celebrate the Passover. The population of Jerusalem would quadruple for this festival week, so many people were on the road. Was the crowd simply swept along? Did some of them recognize him from his miracles of healing or feeding? What got this crowd so fired up?
We celebrate this holiday and probably think that its nice that Jesus is finally getting recognized, getting praised, getting thanked, but maybe this was just the same mob mentality that comes into play at the crucifixion, a sad commentary on how easily we humans are swayed by popularity contests and vicious attacks. Jesus, of course, was aware of people trying to butter him up to get what they wanted, as well as those who lost interest as soon as they had what they wanted from him. And he was used to disappointing people when he didn’t meet their expectations. He always kept his mission in mind no matter what kind of pressure he received to do what people wanted him to do.
Although the people may have thought that Jesus was finally going to step forward and seize power in the way they thought he should, Jesus was illustrating another kind of power, power with and among, rather than power over. He was holding up a mirror to the power on display on the other side of town.
On this day, we actually have two parades coming toward each other.
The one from the East was the Imperial Procession of Pontius Pilate, made every year so that the Jewish people would know that Rome was more powerful and important than their religious holidays. It was a military parade of the leader coming into the city in case their was a riot among the Jews. It was a parade with cavalry and foot soldiers, weapons and armor, wagons and banners, finery and feathers, a band, marching feet, and lots emotion: Fear, pride, curiosity, awe, and resentment.
And here was Jesus coming from the West, on a donkey with her nursing colt beside her, in plain worn clothing, with palms instead of swords, cloaks spread on the ground, a fulfillment of scripture from long ago, a nothing group of people who were nonviolent, unarmed, and unassuming.
“Hosanna,” they cried. Lord save us!
The reason the Jewish people may find this a good time to riot and rebel, is that they are celebrating the Passover, remembering how God led them to freedom when they had been oppressed in Egypt. And here they are oppressed under Rome, remember how God wants them to be free, and likely to rise up to overthrow their oppressors as they did once before. “Hosanna,” they cried. Lord save us!
Lord save us from slavery and oppression. Lord save us from sin. Lord save us from fighting and killing. Save us from bullying and enforcing our way! Lord save us from arrogance, from needing to be important. Lord save us from imposing our philosophy on others. Lord save us from judging others based on their rank or possessions or wealth. Lord save us from believing that people get what they deserve. Lord save us from putting up barriers between ourselves and others. Lord save us from using our power to scare people who are different from us. Lord save us from wasting our time and resources honoring those we’re afraid of. Lord save us from self-indulgence. Lord save us from ourselves.
Lord save us for humility. Save us for relationship and understanding. Lord save us for peacemaking. Lord save us for elevating the needs of those who suffer the most. Lord save us for deep listening. Lord save us for sharing our gifts and resources. Lord save us for sharing the truth of who we are and the experiences we’ve had. Lord save us for tearing down walls between us. Lord save us for building power with those around us to make a difference in our community. Lord save us for standing up to the powers that crush and abuse. Lord save us for the transformation of our unjust systems. Lord save us for good stewardship of our time and money and gifts. Lord save us to glorify you. Lord save us for the good of the whole community of creation.
Pilate’s parade was an expression of his values, of war, of fear, of conquering one’s foes, of might. Jesus’ parade, his triumphal entry, was an expression of his values, of peace, of hope, of relationship, of community, of love. These two parades are coming at each other and will find themselves face to face by the end of the week. And Pilate with slaughter Jesus, just as a military power would, based on their methodology and belief about winning. And Jesus will suffer, and bleed, and die as countless millions have under the powers of this world. But those powers run counter to God’s values and since God created all this, God knows what the true powers are that last and give life, the powers that will win the day.
So at the beginning of next week, Jesus will be risen. Jesus will forgive those who denied and betrayed and mocked and killed him. His values will prevail and life will prevail, despite the fickle crowd, despite possessing nothing, despite being completely vulnerable and open to attack. This parade is a protest march against the values of empire. It holds up a mirror to the imperial procession, how completely ridiculous and contrary to God it is, how it is actually an act of fear and weakness to have to put on a display like this to keep people under control. Jesus’ parade makes a mockery of Pilate’s parade, and don’t think Pilate doesn’t consider this when he hands him over to be crucified. Today, we joined the protest march. It was outside our comfort zone. We weren’t sure we were supposed to be there. We didn’t like certain parts of it. It made us squirm and for good reason. That parade is a bunch of nobodies, singing pretty poorly, carrying on about who knows what, following a story about a man who people say is God but who was completely defenseless, who cared for people nobody cares about, and who died in complete weakness and scorn. And we gather here and vow to follow him, even though every day we walk in that other parade with Pilate. Walking in Jesus’ parade comes with a cost, a challenge to our own values, but it also comes with a reward, which is eternal life and one we don’t have to die to claim. Jesus promises that we can live, not the way we have been living, but in a simpler, more humble, more loving, cooperative way.
Save us Lord, from ourselves. Save us Lord, for each other, for life, and for you.