“This Jesus Parade!”
A meditation based on Mark 11:1-11
Palm Sunday, 25 March 2018
Community Congregational Church of Chula Vista
Dr. Sharon R. Graff
* * * * *
You know the story well. Jesus asks a couple of the disciples to go to a specific place, where they will find a colt tied up; they are to untie it, tell its human that Jesus needs it, and then bring it to him. You know the story well. Jesus rides that borrowed donkey into Jerusalem in a parade of palms and hosannas that has come to outshine the second parade over on the other side of town.
You know that story well, too…I’ve shared it with you the past two years on Palm Sunday. It’s the story of Caesar’s parade, a military-style parade with all the pomp and pageantry of France’s Bastille Day. Tanks, flyovers, banners, bands—or the 1st century version of that at least—Caesar’s parade was carefully designed and intended to strike fear and obedience into the hearts and minds of the masses.
When a parade like that goes by, we know who’s in charge. We know what’s expected. More significantly, when a parade, such as Caesar’s, marches by, we sense a place deep within us being awakened, and that place is fear. Yes, we all know that story all too well.
But, Sharon, you say, this is Palm Sunday, not Caesar Sunday. Our parade has palm fronds and hosannas and loud boisterous singing and even a choir that is just a bit enthusiastically chaotic! Today is a day of celebration! A day of joy! This is the day when Jesus rides into the capital city, with throngs of folk cheering him on. The energy of Palm Sunday is the sort of energy we need in order to get through this week called “holy.” And it is true.
Seen by itself, the Jesus parade is a joyful, boisterous display of support for this preacher healer teacher from Nazareth. But seen in its larger context, seen in contrast to the Caesar parade on the other side of Jerusalem, which is happening at the very same time, this Jesus parade becomes counter-cultural. Not a simple parade at all…but a deeply political demonstration. While Caesar and his adherents are proudly parading their might and power, while they seek to engender fear and obedience, Jesus and the children and their peasant parents are parading a much different power. It is the power of simplicity, the power of a plain beast of burden, the power of joy and generosity and, yes, the power of resistance. These peasants could have been jailed for their parade, going against the Romans as they were. Yet so seemingly insignificant was their resistance that the Romans of Jesus’ day barely even noticed them out there waving their palm branches and calling this fellow peasant the Christ. Isn’t that just the way God often works? God sneaks up on the power brokers—with grace, with joy, with a surprisingly different idea of what just might work—and God empowers the least of these to change their world.
We’ve been seeing this dynamic at work here in this country for the past six weeks. Teenagers from nearly every state in the union walked out of their schools two weeks ago in protest of the gun insanity that has gripped this nation for far too long. Yesterday, thousands of these young people—not even old enough to vote—made considerable effort to travel to our nation’s capital, as did Jesus in his day, and to capitals and cities across this nation. They traveled and marched to demonstrate against what the dominant culture has been parading. To say, as did Jesus, there is a better way. A way without violence. A way without fear. A way without intimidation or forced obedience or domination. Friends, we know this way…you know this way…it is the way of the Jesus Parade. And it stands in stark contrast to the way of domination, of coercion and of fear.
The way of fear clashes profoundly with the passionate love of Jesus. Some of you may recall a very popular movie that was produced many years ago around Holy Week. It was called “The Passion of the Christ” and with gruesome images, it detailed the final hours of Jesus’ life. We need not be opposed to looking at suffering, least of all the suffering of Jesus, but what if, additionally, we saw the passion of the Christ as a passion for healing and a passion for teaching and a passion for the poor and the marginalized and a passion for equality and justice and peace? What if the passion of the Christ was understood and lived by this church to be a passion so deep and so compelling that others would be drawn into the orbit of God through the passion of the living Christ, not the passion of the dying Jesus? What would that passion look like in your lives?
You already have a glimpse. That passion of the Living Christ, as it is lived in you, Community Congregational Church, looks like this…[show slides…] The passion of the Living Christ looks like joy and humor and plenty of food to go around. The passion of the Living Christ, lived here by you, looks like kindness and inclusivity and friendship and humans truly caring for one another. The passion of the Living Christ, embodied and emboldened by you, looks like beauty and wonder and making a place for the youngest and the eldest and all in between to love and be loved here on this sacred piece of real estate. That’s what the Passion of the Living Christ looks like as you live it, as you let it live in and through you.
You see, the Jesus Parade of Jerusalem—with the palms and the hosannas—it was fueled by the passion of the Living Christ, who lived so fully the way of love and was killed precisely because he resisted so fully the way of fear. Living with you for two years now, has shown me a similar sort of Jesus Parade right here. With your kindness and your gentleness and your resistance of fear, your Jesus Parade is fueled by the love of the Living Christ, present here at this table.
On the ancient Isle of Iona, off the northwest coast of Scotland, live the descendents of a strain of early Christianity that, like you, saw the Living Christ in all life. When this community now gathers for communion, they share these words:
“And as the bread and wine
which we now eat and drink
are changed into us,
may we be changed again into you,
bone of your bone,
flesh of your flesh,
loving and caring in the world.”
My sisters and brothers, the essence of your Jesus Parade is also one of alchemy…of changing and being changed by…of changing from fear to love…of changing from disappointment to hope…of being changed by new thoughts and new possibilities and new people and new leaders. The essence of your Jesus Parade is kindness and patience and a deep knowing that all is well and all will be well. Follow this parade, and you will live.
Amen and Blessed Be