Sermon: Parades and Processions
April 9th, 2017 Rev. Betsy Perkins
First Baptist Church, Delavan WI
Scripture passages: Matthew 21:1-11
Parades and Processions
Thank you for your participation in our palm procession – by singing and moving and waving your palms, in whatever way you could! By doing that we were enacting together an important event that is a part of our faith story. We were living into that story. During Lent we looked at 5 encounters with Jesus, and while that series is over, today’s events are also an encounter. It is an encounter of Jesus with the crowds, with the community in Jerusalem.
How many of you have participated in a parade? What kinds of parades?
We have parades for a whole variety of reasons. Probably most common reason that most of you have marched is for a national celebration event – Fourth of July, Memorial Day. You marched because you were in the band, or on a float. My favorite parade is the Rose Parade, not being in it, of course, but being a spectator. It’s a great way to spend New Year’s Day, watching it on TV. Some of you may prefer the Macy’s Parade on Thanksgiving. Sports is another reason for a parade – like the ticker-tape parades to celebrate a winning sports team.
Most of my memories of parades come from my years living in India. These were more like processions, religious processions – generally Hindu festivals in which an idol would be taken out of the temple and marched around town. Where I went to school, the town of Kodaikanal, there is an unusual festival celebrated by the Roman Catholic churches. It is a 9-day festival of services and events, which culminates in a grand procession to take a statue of Mother Mary from the St. Mary’s Catholic Church at the top of town, several miles down to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church at the bottom of town. It takes place in Lent so Mary can visit Jesus before his crucifixion and death. There are loud firecrackers and bands and dancers and throngs of faithful followers. The statue is bedecked with ropes of jasmine flowers and carried on a large colorful platform. It is always quite a sight!
I can think another kind of parade or procession, and that’s the protest march. Or maybe not just to protest, but a march to show support of cause or concern. The Women’s march on Washington this January brought out record numbers of people. Similar marches went on that day in cities all around the world. USA Today reported that over 2.5 million people participated globally. Since then there have been other marches – the day without Hispanics march, the day without Women march. Marches to protest travel restrictions based on nationality and religion. Moving back to the 1960’s there were the Civil Rights marches and the Vietnam War protest marches. Going back further, the beginning of the 20th century saw the Women’s suffrage marches, and marches in support of soldiers fighting in the World Wars. Every era has had its reasons for people to gather and raise their voices together.
In biblical times it was common for the people of a community to gather together to receive a King as he entered their town or city. They would gather some distance outside the city gates and wait for the king’s arrival. When they spotted him coming down the road musicians would start to play, everyone would wave palms or flags or streamers, and accompany the king into the city. If the king was conquering new territory, or it was a procession with his army, the king would be mounted on a horse. The horse was a symbol of war and of power. The donkey, on the other hand, was a symbol of peace, of humility, a symbol of the kings of the people of Israel, kings in the line of David.
Why is Jesus coming to Jerusalem?
Today we enacted the procession of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Why was Jesus coming to Jerusalem?
According to Matthew’s account, Jesus has had at least 3 discussions with his disciples to share why he must go to Jerusalem. In Mt.16:21 it says, “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” Matthew tells us that after that discussion Peter took Jesus aside and scolded him for saying that!
But again in 17:22-23, we are told that Jesus said to them, “‘The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.’ And the disciples were filled with grief.” Then yet again, in chapter 20, we read, “Now as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside and said to them, ‘We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!” So imagine for a moment, what would their mood be as they approach the city with Jesus? Solemn? Sad? A sense of dread? Fear?
Is that how we felt as we waved our palms and sang and marched around our sanctuary? Not at all! Like ours, the first palm Sunday procession was joyful – at least for the crowd. So clearly, the crowd has no idea why Jesus is coming! The crowd does not act like people who know what is really going on.
The nation of Israel was under the control of occupying forces. They were not free; they were oppressed. The Roman army was the occupying force, ruling on behalf of Caesar in Rome. Israel’s king was basically serving as a puppet king, which is why at the end of the week Jesus is taken to the Roman governor, Pilate, to be convicted and sentenced. The Jews have suffered greatly under the heavy hand of Rome, and they long for freedom. They long to have peace in their land and in their city. That is why the crowd is shouting, Hosanna! It means, Save us! Come to our rescue! Re-establish the rule of the God of Israel over this land. Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna!
How ironic that just before entering the city Jesus told his disciples he would be giving his life as a ransom for many (20:28). A ransom is paid to buy a person’s freedom. Jesus would indeed be saving many people! From our perspective, we already know what is going to happen and what the final outcome will be. Jesus will save! Jesus also knew that, which may be why he organized this palm procession, claiming the victory which the prophets and the psalmists had already announced. However at that moment, it would be like the Carolina Tarheels holding their NCAA victory parade as they arrived into Phoenix, before the final game was even played at the Univ. of AZ stadium.
The crowd was anticipating a victory, but it was not the kind of victory they imagined! They may have imagined a victory similar to the one they were there in Jerusalem to celebrate – the Passover. Passover was a victory won for them by God, saving them from slavery in Egypt. The ransom was paid by the Passover lambs, sacrificed and doorways of homes marked with the blood so that death would “pass over” their homes. God saved them from the devastating losses that came upon the Egyptian people using the blood of the Passover lamb. Then God saved them again by opening the waters of the Red Sea to open their way to the Promised Land, while decimating the enemy.
During the Passover season, the city of Jerusalem would have been packed with extra people who had come to celebrate that saving event in their history. Hundreds of Jews would have made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Even many Gentile converts to Judaism were there for this special religious observance. Jesus enters the city with them in triumph, amid celebration and rejoicing. Yet all is not as it seems, and something sinister is brewing, something ominous. In verse 10, we read that when Jesus entered Jerusalem the whole city was stirred up. The city was in turmoil. The people asked about Jesus, “Who is this?” The crowds gave their answer: This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee. (Buzzer sound) WRONG! Wrong answer!
Jesus was not a prophet, someone who just shares a word from God; preaches a sermon or writes a book. We have heard the right answer in encounters that have come before this – the Samaritan woman who says, “Is this the Messiah?” The man given his sight who says, “I believe” and worships Jesus. Martha, who says, “I believe. You are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus was the Son of God, the Savior sent to truly save, save all people! Jesus WAS God, entering their city. He was coming to not to bring peace to their land, but to bring true peace to their hearts.
Do we understand?
Which makes me wonder, do we really understand? How often are we like that crowd of fickle followers that showed support one day but was silent the next? We process around the church, we wave our palm branches, but perhaps inside we are a little embarrassed about the whole thing. We’re glad we know Jesus and have Him in our hearts. We may even feel bad for those who do not know that saving grace. Yet do we follow through as people who really understand that what has happened is not just for me personally but for everyone? Do we understand that this saving message needs to be taken to the streets, to the neighbors, to the world?
God calls us to do more than just show up and watch the parade go by. God calls us to wave as Jesus goes by – to call attention to Him as God’s saving one in the world. God calls us to get up and go with him – that is what discipleship is! Jesus’s invitation to disciples is the command to “Come, follow me!” Follow me into the places where people are oppressed because they are seen as a threat to power and privilege. Follow me into the places where people are needy because wealth is hoarded by a few. Follow me into communities that are reeling from the devastating effects of storms and disaster. Follow me into homes where children suffer.
Last week Rocky and I attended a meeting to learn about a ministry that is moving into the Delavan area in response to the realities of children’s lives here. I learned that Delavan schools have 126 students that are homeless! Turtle Creek Elementary School is #2 in the state for the number of children who qualify for free lunch! I am so glad that we have followed Jesus into that school to bring food to nearly 130 of those students with Blessings in a Backpack. Hosanna! But some of those children still go home to unsafe situations. A ministry which is working to address that is a Christian ministry called Safe Families for Children. They are not raising funds, they are raising people. They need people who can host a child for a short time when a family is in crisis. They need people who can come alongside a host family to help with baby-sitting or diapers or transport. They need resource people who can mentor and guide a family as they get back on their feet. I will be sharing more information about this ministry in the coming weeks, but I was touched by words they use as a guide, the words of Mother Theresa, “The problem with the world is that we draw the circle of our family too small.”
Jesus is not calling us to be spectators; he is calling us to be participants in His march of love and life. We must get up and join the parade. We must keep on marching and waving the banners of hope and grace. We must ride on as peace makers in the name of the one who leads us, the Prince of Peace. This march is critical for those who wait for salvation – for the poor, the outcast and the alien, the lonely, the afraid, the sick, the prisoners.
We know where this march leads – it leads to sacrifice. But we also know that it is a victory march. The victory is sure, it has already been won by Jesus, the Son of God, our Leader, our Redeemer, our Savior, our King. Hosanna!
Closing song: All Glory, Laud and Honor #204, verses 1, 3 and 4.