Faith isn't a Parade

Mark 11:1-11

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

“Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Prayer – As we enter this week of Holy Horror, we ask O Lord that you will not only accompany us, but that you will guide us. We find ourselves in the midst of chaos, confusion, power struggles, uncertainty, and a desire for hope and change – not too different than 2000 years ago. Gather us into this week when love came to Jerusalem in a parade of sorts. Remind us that faith is never on parade, but is humbly following the way of the cross – amen.

One of my many memories of childhood was the Gastonia Christmas parade.  Like all the children of Gaston County, we loved getting out of school early to watch the parade.  By getting out of school early we had the opportunity to get coveted front row seats on the sidewalk.  We loved the marching bands, the pretty girls twirling the batons, the Shriners driving their mini-carts around, the clowns, the fire trucks and police cars, the homecoming queens from the various high schools, the Mayor and of course Santa Claus as the grand finale.  

As a kid, it was a town tradition to join the parade when the float bearing Santa came by, marching, following along the rest of the parade route to the edge of downtown.  Hundreds of kids joined in, marching down to the Methodist church parking lot, where we got hot chocolate and were picked up by our parents.

No Christmas parade is complete without a line of dignitaries, seated in big, shining black cars, waving to all the lesser folks standing along the parade route.  If one of the state representatives had left Raleigh early enough, they were in the parade. If some of our US representatives or senators were home from DC, you know they were early in the list of dignitaries.  The mayor led the delegation of community leaders followed by the vice-mayor, the city council and county commissioners. At the end of the procession, the superintendent of the county schools was there, last in the line of important people, which certainly seemed right to all of us school kids.

A parade is never just a line of people just walking.  Parades are a way we signify what’s important, who’s important.  Philadelphia had a huge parade following the Eagles surprising Super Bowl win over the New England Patriots.  Perhaps some of you can remember all of the ticker tape parades through the canyons of downtown Manhattan following a Yankees World Championship, or the Apollo astronauts after walking on the moon. Parades are statements of who’s in power, who’s in charge, who’s most important.  Parades are a way of showing off, of celebrating who we are and what we think is important.

I can remember my parents talking about the ticker tape parades all across the country following the end of WW II and the troops came home to national rejoicing.  I can also recall no parades when my generation came home from Vietnam or Iraq or Afghanistan. A parade says something; the lack of parade says something as well.

It’s hard to know what happened when Jesus came to Jerusalem that Passover week.  The way we celebrate Palm Sunday in churches across our land you can imagine it was a triumphant parade with crowds lining the streets.  It’s most unlikely that ever happened. With Pilate coming into town that same day, security was on high alert and the Romans probably wouldn’t have allowed a competing parade at the same time as Pilate entered for the festival.  But if Jesus in fact paraded into town, his was a peaceful procession while the other was an imperial procession. From the east, Jesus rode a donkey down from the Mount of Olives, perhaps cheered by some of his followers, peasants who were hoping for a political upheaval to the status quo.  On the other side of town, from the west, rode Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of the land, headed into town at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and decked out soldiers. Jesus’ procession proclaimed the kingdom of God; Pilate’s proclaimed the power of empire . . . Pilate’s military procession was a demonstration for all who cared to watch of both Rome’s imperial power and Rome’s imperial theology.  

I hold these thoughts and biblical stories in tension with the March for our Lives held across the world yesterday.  March For Our Lives was created by, inspired by, and led by students across the country who will no longer risk their lives waiting for someone else to take action to stop the epidemic of mass school shootings that has become all too familiar. In the tragic wake of the seventeen lives brutally cut short in Florida, politicians are telling us that now is not the time to talk about guns.  March For Our Lives believes the time is now. There were 844 marches in support for this movement, a movement much different than a parade.

Part of what was different about the march yesterday as compared to a parade was that there weren’t floats, weren’t dignitaries driving by in big, black sedans, wasn’t a sense of accomplishment and wasn’t pomp or circumstance.  Most parades celebrate things as they are; some parades protest things as they are and march toward a new order. Yesterday’s march was a demonstration of hope, a demonstration against the status quo, a demand that change needs to come before another life is lost – perhaps it was a march toward a new order.  

As I have thought about standing with hundreds of thousands of young people across the world yesterday, knowing that today is Palm Sunday, recognizing that there weren’t songs of “Hosanna.”  No one was taking off their coats and spreading them out in honor of those who have tragically lost their lives to a gun-toting person looking to make a mark on the world. There wasn’t a throng of well-wishers welcoming these young people who are saying – ‘We Call BS.”

In his classic, Letter from Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote to the powerful, liberal clergy of Birmingham, AL, who begged him to go easy on the white supremacy of their city, telling him a lot of innocent people could get hurt if he didn’t back off from his march for civil rights.  King didn’t back off. King wrote back that there was a time when the world feared Christians – the world persecuted Christians because the world saw in the church a threat to the established order. Now, things are different said King. Now the church fears disruption of the world. Now the church fears that it’s no match for the world and therefore must adapt and adjust, keep things quiet and respectful.  

Two thousand years ago, an unarmed man came into Jerusalem bouncing on the back of a donkey, not riding a strong, impressive war horse like any Roman general would ride, but riding a servant animal.  It was an odd, ironic parade that first Palm Sunday. It was a jolt to popular expectations for power and lordship, for salvation and liberation. The itinerant street preacher on the back of a donkey came to town to upset the proverbial applecart.  Palm Sunday may be one of the most political Sunday’s of the year, that Sunday when Jesus makes clear – as he came into the capital city on the back of a shaggy donkey – that his way is a challenge to the world’s ways.

Just like the March for our Lives march yesterday, which parade will we join?  Do we realize, recognize, that faith is not about joining in the power-centered parades but stepping up in faith to make a difference in a world that has lost sight of the way.  Palm Sunday, the first day of Holy Week can be a defining moment for us faithfully and politically. This is the Sunday when we are confronted with a political challenge – which parade will we join – do we have the guts to walk in that parade that leads to changes in gun laws – do we have the guts to walk in that parade that leads to the cross – may God give us the courage to parade in faith – thanks be to God – amen.