A sermon preached by Dave Shull
Spirit of Peace United Church of Christ
Palm Sunday: April 5, 2009
On that spring day in the year 30, two parades enter Jerusalem from different sides.
One is the Jesus parade Brian just read about. They enter Jerusalem through the eastern wall. From the direction of Jericho, the Jordan River, and the Dead Sea. A guy on a donkey. A bunch of hicks from some backwater in Galilee. On the surface, an unimpressive affair.
The other parade comes in through the western wall. From the direction of the Mediterranean Sea. At the head of the parade rides Pontius Pilate. Pilate works for the Roman Emperor. He's governor of the areas of Israel in and around Jerusalem. Pilate's parade is meant keep the people afraid and to remind them their safety lies in the power of Rome. Soldiers on horses, armor, weapons, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, beating drums (Marcus J. Borg & John Dominic Crossan, The Last Week, Harper San Francisco, 2006, p. 3). The only thing that keeps it from being a perfect parade is no 10-storey Bugs Bunny balloon.
Every year at Passover, the Pilate parade makes its way through Jerusalem. Because Rome knows Passover is the most dangerous time of year for them. Passover is when Jews remember how God freed their ancestors from slavery in Egypt. Jerusalem has 40,000 residents. At Passover the population jumps to a quarter million. All those people remembering how God freed their ancestors from slavery. All that religious passion could lead Jews to think God wants to free them from Rome. So every Passover, Pilate has a parade. To keep Jews afraid of Rome's power. And remind them that as long as Rome is in charge, no one is going to step out of line. So they feel safe.
Pilate's parade is never mentioned in the Bible. But everyone in Jerusalem knows about it. And when they see the Jesus parade, they realize something. They realize Jesus is staging an alternative parade.
The Roman Emperor was called the Son of God. It's illegal to call anyone "lord" or "savior" except the Emperor. As Jesus passes, the on-lookers shout, "Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord!" They cry out "Hosanna". Which means, "God, save us!" The crowd is connecting Jesus to the Lord God. The crowd is calling Jesus "savior". If Jesus is lord and savior, where does that leave the Roman Emperor?
But there's more. There's the way Jesus rides into the city. Like we've talked about earlier, in the days before printing presses, religious people knew the stories of their faith by heart. Seeing Jesus ride into Jerusalem on a donkey, the Jews remember what the prophet Zechariah predicted. Five hundred years before Jesus, Zechariah wrote,
"Shout and cheer, . . . Daughter Jerusalem!
Your king is coming!
a good king who makes all things right,
a humble king riding a donkey . . ." (9.9, The Message).
So Jesus is the king the Jews have been waiting for. He's the Messiah. Finally come to Jerusalem to claim his throne. But if Jesus is king, what does that mean about the Roman Emperor?
And the Jews remember something else Zechariah says about this king. Pilate has all these weapons. And the alternative Jesus parade doesn't seem to have any. Zechariah writes,
"[The king shouts,] 'I've had it with war – no more chariots . . . no more war horses,
no more swords and spears, bows and arrows.'
He will offer peace to the nations,
a peaceful rule worldwide,
from the four winds to the seven seas" (9.10, The Message).
The Pilate parade is about keeping people afraid of Rome's power. And convincing them all the fear they feel is worth it if it keeps them safe.
The Jesus parade says God is sending a new king, Jesus. Follow his parade, and you live by a totally different story than Pilate's. The Jesus parade says what helps you feel safe isn't having all this money and all these weapons and all these other ways to intimidate and impress and scare people. You never feel safe with that kind of power because you never trust you have enough money or enough weapons. You can never trust the people are afraid of you to keep them in line. The Jesus parade says we feel safe when we know we're not alone. When God's love so fills us, and when God's love is shared among us, then we are safe. Then we live free and fearless lives. This is safety and security – to know we belong to a community, to know we are known and loved for who we are.
These two parades meet this week. It is the clash between fear and fearless love that fills the days of this week the church calls Holy Week.
Which parade are you in?
The events of this week the church calls Holy Week make it seem like Pirate's parade wins. By Thursday night, even Jesus' closest friends have betrayed him and denied him. When he is arrested by the Temple police Thursday night, every single one of his friends flees. His friends scatter into the darkness. Leaving Jesus alone. Utterly, completely, horrifically alone.
The next day, Friday, Jesus is executed by the Roman Empire. And Pilate smiles. Fear has won again, he thinks. Keep people afraid, remind them you're the power that's keeping them
safe . . . and they'll eat out of your hands. Let the Jesus parade talk about love. And you'll see how it always plays out. Fear is always stronger than love.
The scene is a sprawling market in Mexico City. An old Indian man named Pota-lamo is selling onions. Twenty strings of onions lay in front of him. A guy from Denver walks up and asks: "How much for a string of onions?"
"Ten cents," replies Pota-lama.
"How much for two strings?"
Pota-lamo fixes his eyes on him and says, "Twenty cents."
"What about three?"
"Not much of a reduction for quantity. Would you take twenty-five cents for three?"
"Well, how much for all of it, the whole twenty strings?"
"I will not sell you the whole twenty strings."
"Why not?" asks the North American. "Aren't you here to sell onions?"
"No," replies Pota-lamo. "I am here to live my life. I love this market. I love the crowds. I love the sunlight and smells. I love the children. I love to have my friends come by and talk about their babies and their crops. That is my life and for that reason I sit here with my twenty strings of onions. If I sell all my onions to one customer, then my day is over and I have lost my life that I love – and that I will not do."
[Most of us] greet the morning sun each day with our anxiety and our to-do lists. Pota-lamo greets the sun with a desire to live his life (Daniel Homan and Lonni Collins Pratt, Radical Hospitality, Paraclete Press, 2002, xxiv-xxv).
Pilate's parade is how the world works. More guns. More money. The more ways I can intimidate and impress you, the stronger I am. And the safer I'll feel.
The Jesus parade exposes this kind of false safety and stifled living. The Jesus parade knows our deepest hunger is for God. Our deepest hunger is to know God loves us. So God's love can free us to give and receive love. To feel safe, to feel alive, we need to connect and feel the deep acceptance of another human being and that will make the world feel safer. "Locks and firewalls can never do for our tired souls what friendship and companionship do" (Homan and Pratt, p. xxv).
If we follow Pilate's parade, we live in fear and we will never find the safety we seek.
If we follow Jesus' parade, we live in the love of God shared in community. The love that assures us we are never alone. Living by that love will bring us into conflict with those who try to keep the world in fear. Living by that love is the only way to be fully alive. Because it connects us with others. Who make real for us the God whom we hunger to know.
Two parades. We can only follow one.