Top of Page ILLUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT THE SERMON
I just left Steamboat Springs and they have every year a winter carnival. It is different in that it has a very unusual parade. They have skiers being towed behind horses and sleighs being towed by huge Shire Horses. As you stand shivering next to the street you suddenly realize that it is the exact opposite of the 4th of July parade we see all over the nation. Everyone loves a parade! Well, almost everyone. Many of the major events in our local communities and in our nation are punctuated with a grand procession down the main street of town. To celebrate the arrival of the New Year, we click on our television sets and watch the assortment of parades across country, culminating with the Tournament of Roses parade in Pasadena, California. We marvel at the innovative floats. We thrill at the sound of the beating drums and the blaring trumpets as mighty marching bands pass by. We smile and wave as the Grand Marshal and other celebrities motor down the avenue.
Likewise, at Thanksgiving time we look forward to the grand celebration in New York City with the Macy's parade. We look on in awe as scores of handlers grasp the ropes of notable inflatables, such as Garfield, Snoopy, and Woody Woodpecker. The culmination of the parade, of course, arrives at the end when Santa Claus makes his appearance.
In similar fashion, every four years when the president is inaugurated, a festive parade winds its way down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington to celebrate the beginning of the chief executive's term of office. Military bands, equestrian units, and baton-twirling majorettes march past the reviewing stand in turn.
Even the smallest rural villages and hamlets assemble parades. Parades are organized to commemorate Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Veterans' Day, and a whole host of other holidays. Parades are held to honor heroes. And sometimes parades are held simply to give a community an excuse to come together.
Parades certainly are exciting for the participants—for the high school musicians, the 4-H unit members, the Boy Scout troops, the American Legion posts, and the Shriner units. Particularly for the young, marching in a parade is an event that is often remembered for a lifetime. Yet in addition to being a thrill for those who march down the street, a parade is also exciting for those who fill the curbs and the sidewalks, for those who cheer and clap.
In fact, about the only people who don't like a parade are those who see the parade as an obstacle to where they want to go. There is an episode of Seinfeld in which Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer are attempting to get home. Little do they realize, however, that the street they are driving on leads them to Fifth Avenue, which is completely barricaded for the annual Puerto Rican Day parade. Throughout the show, the four of them vent their anger and frustration at being blocked from going where they want to go. Despite their most creative attempts to get through, they find themselves stuck where they are. At the end of the half hour, you're left to wonder what would have happened if they had simply decided to make the best of the situation and tried to enjoy the parade. Instead, by insisting that the parade was running at a cross current to where they wanted to go, and refusing to change their attitude, they ended up seeing the parade as a kind of enemy that needed to be vanquished.
Many churches across the land begin their Palm Sunday worship with a parade. Children and adults march into the sanctuary waving their branches and shouting their hosannas. The scene, of course, is intended to elicit images of that parade in which Jesus and his disciples participated as they entered Jerusalem at the start of that most momentous week. For a large number of people, that procession was reason to celebrate. The Gospel alludes to many unnamed people who spontaneously joined in the event, casting their garments on the pathway in front of Jesus and laying their palm branches on the road before him. That throng saw Jesus' parade as a joyful movement that they wanted to make sure they were a part of.
As Holy Week progresses, though, we come to realize that not everyone in Jerusalem approved of Jesus' procession. Like that Seinfeld crew, Jesus' foes saw that parade running at cross current to the way they wanted to go. Jesus' parade was headed in the direction of inclusion and acceptance. But his enemies preferred the direction of exclusion and purity. Jesus was marching in the way of mercy and forgiveness. Yet some of his opponents were intent on pursuing vengeance and retribution. Jesus was parading toward the goal of humility and service. But those who plotted against him were more concerned with status and privilege.
Jesus is on the final leg of his fateful journey. He has prepared his disciples for his departure by instructing them about the walk of faith. Now he reminds them of what he will face in the capital. Then follows a miracle performed by Jesus as the Son of David. Next Jesus commends a tax collector for his newfound generosity. A parable will stress accountability to a master who will return. As he enters the city amid shouts acclaiming him as king, he laments that the city will reject him. Jesus is Messiah, but he is a rejected one. A Final Passion Prediction (18:31-34)
The tradition of palm branches on Palm Sunday actually originates with the Jewish festival of Sukkoth, also called the Festival of the Tabernacles or Booths, which was probably the most popular holiday among the Jews in the first century. In the observance of Sukkoth, worshippers processed through Jerusalem and in the Temple, waving in their right hands something called a lulab, which was a bunch of leafy branches made of willow, myrtle and palm. As they waved these branches in that procession, the worshippers recited words from Psalm 118, the psalm normally used at Sukkoth. Among these words were "Save us, we beseech you, O Lord." Save us in Hebrew is hosanna or hosanna. This is typically followed by “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. (Ps 118:25-6).” (https://christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/39665/what-is-the-significance-of-palm-branches)
If there was a marching band that took part in that Palm Sunday procession into Jerusalem, you have to wonder what song they would have played. I think apiece like "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" would have been particularly appropriate. That carol is certainly most often associated with the Christmas season, not Good Friday or Easter. Yet some of the words of that carol get to the heart of what Jesus was trying to communicate. "Hark, the herald angels sing, glory to the newborn King! Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!" God and sinners reconciled—isn't that truly the crux of the Holy Week message?
Is that a tune that we are ready to march to? Unfortunately, I think the truth is that many people are sick and tired of hearing over and over about how Jesus likes sinners. Aren't you a little sick and tired of seeing how often sinners get off the hook for things? Almost every time you pick up a newspaper, you read about some unsavory character getting set free. And if that doesn't stop, if sinners keep running rampant without getting their just punishment, we wonder what kind of world are we going to end up with?
But later that week, when the Palm Sunday parade eventually turned into a solemn procession to Golgotha—when Jesus had every right to unleash the wrath of heaven against those who beat him, ridiculed him, spat upon him, and finally pierced his body with nails—Jesus chose forgiveness over retribution. He chose mercy over vengeance. That's the beat of the drum that Jesus marches to.
Is that the beat of the drum that we want to march to? Or do we see the parade that Jesus is leading as headed in a different direction than the direction we want to go? On this Palm Sunday, will you join the parade? Or will you let the parade pass you by?
Connect the ordinary parade not to the extra-ordinary promises and actions of Jesus at the moment but to the fact that Jesus with all his extra-ordinary promises are connected to our ordinary lives. The extra-ordinary promise is to forgive all our sins, the ordinary response from us is to use the power of forgiveness.
Top of Page ILLUSTRATING THE SERMON
Mesopotamian rulers decorated their buildings with illustrations depicting their conquests. Often the pictures depicted the ruler walking on the head of his conquered enemies in front of his army. The actions, designed to lift the monarch’s prestige, cemented his legitimacy as a ruler. Later parades functioned as broad podiums that connected the ruler to his audience and allowed him to spread his authority as he made his way through the crowds.
Religious authorities and organizations used parades in much the same way as the military and politicians did before them. The parade offered a large platform for them to connect with the community and foster power. The public enjoyed the parades since they got a chance to be close to the powerful members of society who passed by. (https://www.historyofthings.com/history-of-parades)
Parades have been a part of American culture since the founding of the nation. In a letter from John Adams to his wife Abigail, he expressed his hope that Independence Day "ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward, for ever more."
When headed anywhere, you need to be sure what direction you're going. A British couple booked their vacation on the Internet. They were planning the vacation of a lifetime to Australia. But when their jet landed in Canada and they were instructed to transfer to a small propeller plane to complete their journey, they wondered how a craft like that would be able to transport them halfway around the world. To their dismay, they soon discovered that they had mistakenly booked themselves tickets to Sydney, Canada—not Sydney, Australia. The man and woman ended up spending their vacation time in the small industrial Canadian town.
One of the ways that fans display their excitement at sporting events is by doing the wave. The wave, of course, is where one section stands, throws their arms in the air, and sits down as the next section does the same thing, and so on around the stadium. Some researchers from the University of Budapest studied the waves at a number of Mexican soccer games. By training cameras on the stands, they calculated that it takes only about 25 or 30 people to get a wave started. Eventually the lead of that small group will spill over and affect the thousands of other spectators around them.
It often takes real dedication and commitment to act in a way that is contrary to the powers that be. The ancient historian Josephus tells about the Roman general Petronius who was ordered to place a statue of the Emperor Caligula in the Jerusalem temple during the first century. In protest of that edict, tens of thousands of unarmed Jews marched through the city streets, insisting that they would rather die than become idol worshipers. Upon seeing the earnestness of their cause, Petronius worked up the courage to write to the Emperor informing him that he would not be able to honor the Emperor's order.
Not everyone likes a celebration. Iranian police arrested about 120 party goers in Tehran. The men and women were charged with mingling with the opposite sex and dancing, both forbidden activities since the 1979 Islamic revolution in that nation. The crackdown was in response to the public outrage that was exhibited when a well-known actress kissed a producer during a televised awards program. According to Iranian law, unrelated men and women are not permitted to socialize, dance, or kiss.
It can be a challenge to hold onto your convictions when opponents are waiting for you in the shadows. The Reverend Charles Joy was minister of the First Parish Church in Portland, Maine, during the early part of the twentieth century. When the United States entered World War I in April of 1917, he preached a sermon in which he declared, "If I remain your minister, prayers shall ascend for Germany and America alike." The following day church members burned him in effigy on the front steps of the church.
"Many congregations are like basketball players high-fiving each other and joining hands in a show of solidarity before the game, but never moving beyond the sideline embraces to play the game" (Thomas G. Long, Beyond the Worship Wars [Alban Institute, 2001], p. 39).
"If a man hasn't discovered something that he would die for, he isn't fit to live" (Martin Luther King, Jr.).
"One fifth of the people are against everything all the time" (Robert Kennedy).
Last Palm Sunday I observed children in my church taking their Palm branches, which they had waved so joyously in procession at the beginning of the service and turning them into imaginary machine guns to point at one another. Often, I have folded the palms into crosses to illustrate the turn of events in the last week of Jesus' life, but the children's action more forcefully illustrated the depth of the tragedy for all the world that had unfolded that week so long ago, and that continues to unfold in the world today.
To forgive is to agree with another person that something in his or her life that hurt me has past and is over and will never be mentioned again. God goes one better by forgetting it also. The best we humans can do is to never mention it again. The videotape in our brains is relentless and will review for us anything from our past we wish to entertain. We can never truly forget and that is why to forgive is such a gift. One has not because one asks not. Does everybody understand that to ask for forgiveness is to abandon any hope of saving oneself? Better to rejoice with other sinners being saved, then to be lost in the company of saints unsoiled by contact with divine forgiveness.
Aaron Burr was at Princeton when revival was sweeping the campus. He went to the president," I have made up my mind to consider the claims of Christ. Mr. President what would you do?" "Burr, if I were you I would wait until the excitement of the revival subsides, then I would think about it carefully." was his counsel. "That is exactly what I will do, Mr. President," responded Aaron. He was never so moved again in his life by his own testimony. He died without any public expression of his faith, known as the man who killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel.
There seem always be those who lurk at the edges of a parade and want to "rain on" it. Luke and John each mention the criticism of the Pharisees to Jesus about the adulation being given him upon his entrance into Jerusalem, their criticism culminating in the dramatic trials depicted in Mark 15.
Cathy Whitaker, in the powerful film Far From Heaven, also has her parade rained upon by society's arbiters. She is a long way in space and time from first century Jerusalem, living as she does in a Connecticut suburb of the 1950's, but like Jesus she does face a crucifixion. At the end of the film it is questionable whether or not she will know a resurrection. Cathy's picture book marriage is shaken when she discovers that her storybook husband Frank, a rising star in his company, is being unfaithful to her. This is upsetting enough, but what really takes her aback is the nature of his lover—it is another man. Frank is wracked with anguish and guilt, as much over his conflicted sexuality as his unfaithfulness. Products of an era when frank sexual talk of any kind was frowned upon, neither have even the words to be able to discuss their plight. Cathy finds herself attracted to their new gardener Raymond Deagan, a handsome black man. Their exchanges are brief and outdoors, but one day when she touches his arm as a gesture of sympathy, the society reporter who has been interviewing Cathy for a puff piece in the local newspaper makes note of it and, in her article, calls Cathy "a friend of the Negro." This does not sit well with her friends, especially when Cathy engages Raymond in some innocent conversation. She had been surprised to come across him at the opening of an art exhibit and to learn how much he knew about modern art. Sensing that they shared some common values, she has spoken to him several times, even accepting an invitation to go to his favorite black restaurant to talk. The frigid reception they receive inside shows that blacks are about as hostile to racial mixing as are whites. The reporter spots Cathy when she and Raymond leave the restaurant, and soon word spreads of her supposed "affair" with "the colored man." Frank is furious when he hears about it. Cathy is heartbroken, not having had anyone to whom she could share her feelings and thoughts in regard to her broken marriage. Her secret friendship with Raymond had been a brief parade for her, bringing comfort and assurance that she was more than just an ornament for a successful husband. But now the rain beat down upon it.
Raymond's gardening business threatened with ruin by the vicious rumors, he decides that he will leave town with his little daughter to start over again. Cathy, now realizing that her marriage is over and her standing in society destroyed, expresses the desire to meet him in his new city. Raymond, all too well aware of the "principalities and powers" corrupting society, tells her he doesn't think it's a good idea. Her best friend Eleanor drives in the final nail in Cathy's crucifixion. She had been unable to share even with Eleanor her anguish over her husband and his homosexuality. When she finally does, revealing also that she had shared her plight with Raymond, Eleanor's warm demeanor instantly turns frosty. Upset that Cathy had told him first, all her racism rises to the surface. She walks away from her friend, assured that all the lurid tales about Cathy are justified. The three people who had meant the most to her leave Cathy alone. We sense by the upward sweep of the camera in the last shot that shows the foliage of the trees changing to springtime that there will be an Easter for Cathy, but that it will be one in which she re-establishes her life and values very much alone.
On October 2, 2006, Charles C. Roberts held 15 girls’ captive inside an Amish Schoolhouse. Armed with three guns and a twisted sense of vengeance towards God for allowing his newborn daughter to die nine years prior, Charles opened fire, killing five of the girls (two of which died later due to their injuries) and himself. In spite of this tragedy, the Amish community (including family members of the deceased) demonstrated an incredible act of forgiveness by attending Robert’s funeral and comforting his widow. Furthermore, the Amish community offered financial support to Robert’s widow.
Pascale Kavanagh grew up in an abusive environment thanks to her mother. “She would hit me and my younger brother, fling plates in our direction, and call us names. My father tried to get between her and us, and she wouldn’t spare him, either.” she said in an interview. This abuse lasted even after Pascale grew up and started her own life. Then, in 2010, at the age of 73, Pascale’s mother suffered several massive strokes leaving her brain irreparably damaged. “At first I was angry. I felt she had left a mess that I had to take care of,” says Pascale. However, as the months went on Pascale’s anger turned to forgiveness. “It was just…gone,” she says. “For the first time, I stopped condemning her. And that gave me peace.”
Probably one bravest and most remarkable woman in history, Corrie Ten Boom risked her life to save the lives of others during the Holocaust by harboring Jews. However, due to an informant, Ten Boom and her family were arrested, ending in the death of her father and her sister (who died at the Ravensbrueck concentration camp on December 1944). Corrie eventually was able to leave the concentration camp due to a clerical error. While speaking in a church concerning God’s forgiveness, she came face to face with one of the former Ravensbrueck prison guards who (not recognizing her) proceeded to ask Corrie for forgiveness from the atrocities he had committed. After a prayer, Corrie found the strength to forgive. (https://list25.com/25-unbelievable-inspiring-acts-forgiveness/)
Top of Page prayers (WorshipAid)
Leader: As they drew near to Jerusalem, Jesus sent two of his disciples to find a colt.
People: Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Leader: Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it.
People: Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Leader: Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches.
People: Hosanna in the highest heaven! Hosanna in the highest!
Lord, we are a fickle people. We celebrate Jesus one day, but condemn him on another. We ask him to save us, but then ridicule his authority. Forgive us, we pray. Transform our minds that we would have a mind like Christ's. Grant us humility, obedience, and a tongue that ever confesses Jesus Christ as Lord, to your glory. In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.
Almighty God, we pray that you would vindicate these gifts of ours. These dollars and cents—as they have traveled within this fallen world—have done damage to the goodness of your creation. We dedicate them now to your care, and we pray that their use will work toward a new creation of goodness and love. Amen.
Merciful God, today is a day of mixed emotions. The season of Lent is coming to a close, and we rejoice as we remember Jesus' entry into Jerusalem. A carpet of greenery and cloth laid out before him, hosannas filling the air—it is a wondrous story. But the joy is short-lived, for his activities in Jerusalem will lead to humiliation, suffering and death.
In our own lives, Lord, we also know the pain of humiliation and loss. It can seem as if all is for naught. But that is not how you have ordered things. All sin and suffering is vindicated by your holy and all-mighty grace. We pray that such grace would be experienced and known around the world, in the hearts and minds of all. And help us to proclaim with confidence the words of the people in Jerusalem upon Jesus' entry: Hosanna! Save us! Blessed is your coming kingdom!