I Love a Parade

Palm Sunday, April 9, 2017, Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29 & Matthew 21:1-11

Eternal God, whose word silences the shouts of the mighty: quiet within us every voice but yours. Speak to us in this moment through your living word and through the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, that by the power of your Holy Spirit we may receive grace and show Christ’s lone in lives lived in your service. Amen.

The word “parade” does not appear in the Bible, but every Palm Sunday I wish it did. We used to have Palm Sunday parades when I was in Sunday school. And they were always fun and a little chaotic. The dictionary says that a parade is “a public procession, often including a marching band, held in honor of an event, person, etc.” [Webster’s College Dictionary] There’s something festive and exciting about parades, the way people crowd together to see what’s passing, the excitement and anticipation that goes into whatever event or person is being honored.

I have a lot of experience with parades because I spent eight of my cavity-prone years marching behind a trombone. I’ve marched in 4th of July parades, homecoming parades, parades before and after football games…even a St. Patrick’s Day parade. Twice when I was in college our band was hired to help launch new corporate promotions. Does anyone remember United Airlines’s “The Best of Times” campaign from 1984? I was there.

And I am proud to say that when I was a junior, my high school band finished first in the nation’s oldest Santa Claus parade—and we finished first. Of course, we started first and refused to let rival bands pass us. I’ve seen a lot of parades from the unique vantage point of the front row of the bands. Trombones are always in the front row for obvious reasons.

I think of Jesus make the two mile trip from Bethany up to the temple on a colt as a parade. A spontaneous parade. When the people saw Jesus coming up to Jerusalem, they saw a new age dawning. Everything was about to change and you can feel the excitement in the passage from Matthew’s gospel. People three their coats on the road, others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Everyone was shouting, “Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord!” In Mark’s gospel it says they also shouted, “Blessed is the coming of our ancestor David.” They saw that Jesus was bringing a revolution—a government that would set Israel free from the oppressive rule of the Romans. They’d been waiting for their Messiah, their anointed ruler, their Christ [Those words all mean the same thing.] for a long time. The Romans had been there more than 80 years. And today they saw their Christ coming up the road. Here comes Jesus and with him a just, fair and godly government. Jesus riding up to the temple on a colt was a political, as well as a spiritual, event. Jesus’ riding up to the temple on a colt was a societal, as well as a personal, event.

Hey had waited a long time for their Messiah. This longing should be familiar to us too. We expressed the same longing last December as we sang hymns during Advent and the Season of Christmas that prepared us to celebrate Christ’s birth. Often when we sing we don’t pay close attention to the words, so I’m going to remind you of some of the lyrics, and pause to let them sink in:
O come, O come, Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel…
Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace…
(O Come, O Come, Emmanuel)

Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth Thou art…
(Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus)

Seek the great desire of nations…
(Angels from the Realms of Glory)

Christ, the everlasting Lord…
(Hark! The Herald Angels Sing)

Let earth receive her king…
(Joy to the World)

The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight
(O Little Town of Bethlehem)

And our eyes at last shall see Him/
Through his own redeeming love/
For that child so dear and gentle/
Is the Lord of heaven above.
(Once in Royal David’s City)

All the waiting is over. Jesus was bringing God’s government, at last, to Israel. God’s anointed king was literally just down the street. The long-promised, long longed-for shalom, the time of wholeness and peace was about to begin….

There are two ways parades can end. Sometimes there’s something special at the end of a parade. The West Peoria, Illinois 4th of July parade has elected officials make speeches on the steps of the congregational church. The 4th of July parade in Hopedale, Illinois is usually on the 3rd or 5th of July, (Larger communities get the bands and floats for the 4th of July.) ends at the town park. There are no speeches, no reviewing stand…sometimes there’s a guy selling cans of soda out of an ice-filled cooler. There might be a merry-go-round or a bouncy castle too.

Some parades end with a bang, others just fizzle out. Today’s Jesus parade ended with a bang. Jesus charged into the temple and started turning over the tables of the money changers and the tables of the people selling animals for temple sacrifices. He stayed and started to heal people, on the Sabbath! But what really made the temple authorities angry was that there was a chorus of children outside, saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” That’s made them decide to kill Jesus.

Thus begins what Christians call Holy Week. A week of great excitement. A week of spiritual mood swings. A week when the hopes and fears of all the years meet face to face. A week when we join Peter in loudly promising to be faithful to our Lord…only to realize later that we have abandoned him in his hour of greatest distress.

We o from shouting, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” to “Crucify him!” Today we are waving palm branches and binding them to the front of the temple altar. We go from praising God for opening the gate of righteousness for us and to marveling at what God has done to wondering, “Is it I, am I the one who will betray my friend?” We go from thanking God for the gift of this day, and praising God for loving us constantly, to scattering from his side when he is arrested. It’s easy to get caught up in all the excitement of a crowd, or maybe it’s a mob, as we stand and watch the parade go by. And hope is a natural response to seeing our salvation riding up the road on a colt, just as scripture told us to expect it.

Hope that this time it will be different. In the excitement of seeing salvation riding on a colt, let us reacquaint ourselves with what it means to live as Christ’s disciple.

Let us pray: Christ our teacher, you were obedient even to the point of death. Teach us to obey God’s will in all things.

Christ our strength, you were despised and humiliated as a condemned criminal, teach us the humility by which you saved the world.

Christ our Lord, we live in the hope of the completion of your coming kingdom, teach us to be creative in our service and patient in our waiting. Be with us in times filled with excitement and quiet times. Help us to grow in faith and deepen our trust in you. Give us courage to follow where you lead and listen when you speak. In your holy name we pray. Amen.