I’m not a big fan of parades. I associate them with being hot and crowded and uncomfortable. Each summer my mother would take us to the Fourth of July parade in her hometown of Oswego, NY. It was a big deal. People would go early to “get a good seat.” I suppose some people brought chairs, but as a child I was expected to sit on the curb. It was always hot and the parade seemed loud and long. Sure, every few floats there’d be someone throwing candy into the crowd or a clown on the edges juggling something. But, there’s only so many times you can get hit in the head with a Tootsie Pop before it’s not fun anymore and clowns were just something I did not understand.
These early memories cloud my judgement when it comes to Palm Sunday. I try to picture the day we now celebrate with palm branches and hosannas. I envision it as being as hot as those July 4ths in New York. I doubt Pontius Pilate’s parade was quite as loud or long as the Oswego ones, but I’m betting it was something to see. Maybe a full Roman Century with bright, shiny armor and flashy spears? Maybe a few horses bedecked for the occasion. Maybe decorated chariots and other blatant displays of wealth? Whatever it was, I’m sure there were crowds pressing in for a glimpse of the powerful and mighty entering the city. Given a choice, I wouldn’t be there.
I would like to say that I’d be at the other parade that was happening across town. You know the one I mean, the one with Jesus riding on a donkey with a colt trailing along. The crowds would be smaller and less noisy. Palm branches and cloaks placed on the ground to honor the One who comes in the name of the Lord rather than polished armor glinting in the sun. I wish I could say with certainty that I’d be here, at least until this small crowd started to mingle and merge with the larger one. The choice seems obvious enough…
Or does it? That’s my problem this year. The choice seems so obvious, yet how many of us are actively making it? I can say with certainty that I will be among those shouting hosannas and welcoming Jesus with great enthusiasm. This year, there is no other parade to consider. If I don’t follow Jesus on this walk from death to life, nothing changes. Of course, if I don’t follow Jesus down the streets of my own city, nothing will change then, either. This is where it gets real.
When Jesus rode that donkey into town it was a political and prophetic act. Jesus demonstrated that he was against the Temple Authorities who worked for Rome as much as he was against Rome. He wasn’t making a religious statement. He was inviting the powerless to journey with him as he went to face the powers of this world that will do anything to further their own interests while stomping all over anyone who gets in their way. Jesus made a conscious choice to confront the oppressors of his day. We must make the same choice if we call ourselves his disciples.
Following Jesus isn’t just about the good times. It isn’t just about Sunday morning worship and kinship and weekly Bible study groups. Being a Christian really is about politics and being prophetic. The reason so many of us falter is that it is hard to stay on the path that leads to life. The work for justice and liberation for all people is endless. It would be easier to fade into the crowd that will turn ugly in a few days. It would be easier to forget about Jesus for the rest of the week and show up next week for the alleluias. But easier isn’t necessarily faith-filled. And easier leaves the world in the hands of the oppressors. There is no possibility of resurrection when we remain death’s captives.
People are dying in Syria, in Sudan, in your neighborhood and in mine because we have remained silent, unobserved, in the space between Rome’s parade and Jesus’parade. Isn’t it time to renew our commitment to follow Jesus all the way from death to life? We can’t afford to be part of the fickle crowd who shouts hosannas now and screams for crucifixion in a few days. We can’t afford to be disciples who whisper about the Messiah to one another and then deny having anything to do with Jesus when the personal risk gets too high. We must be ready to go through it all, including betrayal and death, so that we can fully proclaim resurrection. This is more than just a spiritual journey; this is the difference between life and death.
This year I will make the choice to follow Jesus once more and pray for the courage to face the oppressors and remain on the path that leads from death to life. No one needs to make the journey alone, though, because we’re all invited. I’m not a fan of parades, but this one, this one that proclaims the politics of justice and pronounces prophetic love, this is one that I can’t afford to miss. I hope to see you in the crowd. Palm branches are optional.
RCL – Year A – Palm Sunday – April 5, 2017
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29