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Dr. Bruce Lancaster
March 20, 2016
A reading from the Gospel of Luke:
After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, “Why are you untying it?” just say this: “The Lord needs it.” ’ So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, ‘Why are you untying the colt?’ They said, ‘The Lord needs it.’ Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,
‘Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!’
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.’
As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.’*
I have had the great fortune to sit in the main grandstand and watch the Rose Bowl parade from beginning to end; I’ve yelled ‘throw me something” at many a Mardi Gras parade; I’ve waited for Santa Claus at oh-so-many Christmas parades; Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade is on my bucket list; and who can count all the other parades – Circus parades, Homecoming and 4th of July, Dads with video cameras, Moms waving – everybody loves a parade, don’t they?
Well, what about this parade in our gospel lesson this morning?
One man, riding a donkey. Not much of a parade when you compare it to all the others.
In our gospel story, it’s Passover time in Jerusalem – there again, celebrating a parade of Hebrew slaves out of Egypt.
The gospels give us different scenes of that first Palm Sunday:
John is the only gospel to mention palms; Luke pictures the crowds, adults, men and women, spreading their cloaks and shawls on the ground; Mark describes the crowds of those who followed Jesus along with the disciples; and Matthew is the one who takes special note of the children, singing songs and waving branches;
All are different in painting the picture of that first Palm Sunday, but all four gospels have the same script of the crowd yelling, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”
Now also in this crowd are the Pharisees, they have seats at the parade like some of those in Texas Stadium – one of those way up high fancy suites!
You’re in the crowd, but you’re still on the outside! Up high it’s safe; you can actually look down on the crowd as they cheer.
And there you can remain if you want as a disinterested, unchanged observer.
Which is exactly what the Pharisees were demanding – for you and me to stay in our seats far away, to remain as we are: silently humming songs of faded love, busted dreams, somebody done somebody wrong and you can’t do anything about it kind of tune.
But Jesus knew his Bible, he knows the psalm songs for this day, “Even if my people were silent, the stones themselves would have called out.”
The psalms that surround this parade story are not lugubrious Presbyterian waltzes – these are songs like the kind Dick Clark on the old American Bandstand used to claim ‘had a beat and you can dance to it’ – as if Jerry Lee Lewis had been born in Jerusalem and was singing “Goodness Gracious, Great Donkey-Riding King!”
Psalms that are palm up “Here I am, Lord” – a high-five hallelujah, a fist-knock pump of praise, a hand-clapping disciple, friend of Jesus Christ letting loose with a, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”
The quote is from Psalm 118 – As the psalm goes: This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Yes, one man riding a donkey, and a joy-filled, overflowing life-loving, cheering crowd!
But I have to be honest – this parade puzzles me!
On one hand, how else could Jesus have been greeted? He had been drawing huge crowds for some time now. The things he did electrified the people: blind eyes regained their sight; paralyzed legs could walk again; hungry people were fed; demonized lives were made right; depressed spirits were lifted and made whole; hopeless hearts dared to hope again; he brought the laughter of love into life.
But on the other hand, looking back a few chapters in Luke, when Peter confessed Jesus as Messiah, Jesus ordered them not to say a word about it.
Obviously, all of that changed on Palm Sunday.
According to Luke, Jesus arranged this one-man parade in spite of the fact that Herod wanted to kill him; that he had provoked the religious authorities, whom he called out as greedy, selfish, arrogant, insensitive – no one was going to be giving him the keys to the city!
Some would say that Jesus was simply fulfilling the words of the prophets. After all, Luke makes several references to the prophets in this text.
Now, I have no doubt that Jesus was heavily influenced by the prophets, and Luke was certainly connecting Jesus to the prophets as he wrote his passion narrative. But I don’t think Jesus was living out a script written by the prophets. I think Jesus with God’s help, wrote his own story, just like all of us do.
Besides, as I read Jesus’ life, rarely did he fulfill others’ expectations of him.
It’s obvious from the gospel stories that this man who wept for peace over the city wasn’t going to be a military Messiah and run the Romans out of Jerusalem. He was not going to be bullied by the Pharisees or even swayed by these people along the parade route. No one controlled him with selfish desires, fear or guilt. So, why did he ride that donkey into Jerusalem?
I think he was making his own prophetic statement to his followers and to his enemies. “This is the day the Lord has made.” The time for secrecy was over. The time to speak truth to power and expose the duplicity and hypocrisy of the religious leaders had arrived.
“Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”
The time to speak for the powerless and expose the oppressors was long overdue. The time to offer an alternative voice and way of living was at hand.
That the stones will shout is a figure of speech that simply reminds us that truth cannot be silenced –
And now here, one man riding a donkey… the human figure of divine speech, the Living Word…The truth who will set us free… this one man riding a donkey parade reveals his singular and steadiness of purpose that kept him from ever forsaking his commitment as one of us for us, even to the point of death.
Mattie Stepanek, 13 years old when he died, knowing early on that he would die, gives words to this grace for living, in one of his poems: (“About Living, Part 3.”)
I wanted to live
One hundred and one
But that is no
Longer my goal.
When I die,
I cannot predict.
I cannot control.
I cannot change
What is to be,
Which is what it is
And will be
What it will be.
I wanted to live
And not die.
While I’m alive,
To the fullest.
I treasure each sunrise.
I remember each sunset.
I dance every dance and
I sing every song and
I celebrate every moment.
I wanted to live
I am spending my time
On earth before death
Rather than dying,
And not wasting a moment
Of the precious gifts
Of time and
Of life and
Of being, for now.
In this world of pharisaical fears that threaten us to be silent, to remain as we are, as we were, something has to be said, and we are the ones who must say it.
Salvation’s parade is an invitation to enter into life with all its sorrow and joy, a spirit of life and a way of living that only comes as we keep as close as possible to the one who goes before us!
That we, with that crowd, are called to be joyful disciples of Jesus Christ: until his wisdom, until his teaching, until his healing, until his love, until his challenge for us to love one another changes us, moves us – Until we can no longer remain silent.
TO GOD BE THE GLORY.