By ancient tradition, no sermon is preached on Palm Sunday. Our usual liturgy consists of the cheerful Palm Procession followed by the reading of the Passion in parts and that says it all. Once we have spoken the words “Crucify him” so soon after singing “Hosanna”, there’s really nothing more.
This year, however, most of us are not able to gather and participate in this traditional corporate devotion and, so, I will offer some thoughts to guide us as we begin this Holy Week.
They say that everybody loves a parade and we've probably all enjoyed watching or being in some kind of parade over the years. The Macy's Parade, the Rose Bowl, Mardi Gras, even parades in Chestertown and Rock Hall. The beautifully decorated floats, the marching bands, the people in costumes representing schools, businesses, charities, all trying to outdo each other. And the crowds of watchers.
Of course, the whole point of a parade is to grab people's attention and hold it for as long as possible. It's all about publicity. You don't see a float without some sponsor's name. Parades are public occasions and that's probably why public officials like to be seen in them.
But, alas, the fact is that not everybody loves a parade. The satirist Will Rogers commented that, "Parades should be classed as a Nuisance. They stop more work, inconvenience more people, stop more traffic, cause more accidents, entail more expense, and commit and cause - I can’t remember the other hundred misdemeanours."
Lest we dismiss him as a curmudgeonly kill-joy, though, let's consider that there are other kinds of parades as well. We tend to call them “marches.” There the emphasis is on a cause, often political or social. Living in and around Washington, D.C. for many years I grew up watching marches for and against everything under the sun from Vietnam and the NRA to the ERA and the Right to Life. Maybe some of us have been in those kinds of parades as well. Certainly, we've thought about them.
It's hard to just watch a march and not feel some emotion. Well, they’re intended to engage the on-looker or passer-by to do more than look on or pass by and sometimes they make people nervous. Today, we have been reminded of one that made some people very nervous.
Throughout his life, Jesus knew that Palm Sunday would come. Over the years he visited Jerusalem many times, often without fanfare or even notice. One time, however, he knew would be different. So when that time came he did it in style. The disciples are told to get a particular animal from a particular place. Crowds gather in larger than usual numbers. There's a sense of anticipation.
As the procession heads down the Mount of Olives towards the city gates people throw their cloaks on the ground, an ancient equivalent of rolling out the red carpet. Branches are cut from the trees and carried like a canopy over Jesus as if he were a high official. People are praising God at the top of their voices for what He has done through Jesus. Remember that this crowd includes many people, like Bartimaeus, whom Jesus has healed - living proof of his power. The parade becomes a festival of song. Even in a city as busy as Jerusalem it is impossible not to notice what's going on.
And it is noticed. The Pharisees suggest volume control. This is one parade they don't like. It's a march. It's intimidating, disruptive, it doesn't reflect the mainstream. They're probably right.
And so they begin to plan another parade. One, more to their liking.
Throughout his life, Jesus knew that Good Friday would come. Every time he visited the city, he passed by the bodies of criminals hanging from crosses on Calvary. And Jesus knew all that would precede it. The Last Supper, when, as he transformed the Passover memorial into a living reality, the disciples decided to argue about who would be Prime Minister. His friends snore through his personal Agony in the Garden. A kiss from one leads the rest to remember pressing business elsewhere. Thrice he’s denied by another who promised fidelity. The mockery of no fewer than six trials while being kicked around as a political football. Handed over to a mob to placate a politician's conscience. Leading another parade. But, no singing, no cheering, no carpet.
We can’t escape it. The parade which began outside Jerusalem leads us to that other parade which ended outside Jerusalem.
It's the beginning of Holy Week and today the Church challenges us to be part of the whole parade from start to finish, from Palm Sunday to Good Friday.
They say that everybody loves a parade. How do you feel about this one?