Come Join the Parade

by Rev. L. John Gable

Come Join the Parade by Rev. L. John Gable
April 9, 2017

On the church calendar this Sunday before Easter is given two designations: Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday, which means each year we have to decide which it will be for us.  We generally refer to it as Palm Sunday as we celebrate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem to the shouts of “Hosanna!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”  Yet admittedly, some feel that that mood of victory and joy is premature considering the events of the week ahead.  Almost as if it disregards the suffering and death of our Lord and steals the glory of the Easter message yet to come.  And I tend to agree with that.  If our only experience of Holy Week is Palm Sunday and Easter, then in effect we are jumping from mountaintop to mountaintop without experiencing any of the valleys in between, and in doing so, we miss much of the power of the resurrection story.  Of course it is great to hear, “He is alive!”, but the impact of that Good News only really makes sense if we have first suffered the grief of “He is dead.”  In the midst of our Palm Sunday celebration we mustn’t forget the passion of Maundy Thursday and the suffering of Good Friday.  If you hear that as an invitation and encouragement to join us for those Holy Week services, so be it.

On the other hand, to identify this as Passion Sunday and focus exclusively on the Last Supper, the betrayal and arrest, the trial and the crucifixion seems to me to be inconsistent with the Gospel record.  Admittedly, we live in a Good Friday kind of a world: this week alone we hear of mudslides killing hundreds in Columbia, and chemical attacks prompting a military response in Syria, added to all of the other suffering and sorrow we experience in our own daily lives.  We know we live in a Good Friday kind of world, so we need to be reminded, as Tony Campolo puts it, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming!”

Our Gospel lesson this morning is taken from chapter 19, but Luke really starts us on our journey to Jerusalem with Jesus way back in chapter 9, where we read “When the time drew near for Him to be taken up, Jesus set His face to go to Jerusalem.”  In our lesson this morning we have arrived with Him and His disciples on the outskirts of the city during the celebration of the Passover.  Is this the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning?  However we may interpret it, without question Jesus is leading the way.  Despite the objections of His followers, Jesus understands His entrance in to Jerusalem as being part of the larger drama, the upper story, part of the great drama of God’s salvation story.  He is not here by chance or by fate.  This is His purpose, His destiny, for this He was born, to enter in to Jerusalem and die for the sins of the world, and nothing would or could deter Him.

So significant is this event in Jesus’ life and ministry that each of the four Gospel writers tell this story, each in their own way.  However, it is interesting to note that in Luke’s account there are no hosannas, no waving of palm branches, no swelling crowds, nor are there any references to the glory days of King David.  Those are all parts of the story we have borrowed from Matthew, Mark and John.  For Luke, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem was a less noisy, a little less crowded, a little more subdued affair.

According to Luke, this celebration was not the burst of enthusiasm on the part of a great crowd of jubilant by-standers; rather this was more of a disciple event, the twelve and other faithful followers who had witnessed His deeds of power and chosen to walk with Him.  It wasn’t the ground swell of a mighty populace that lifted Him up and put Him on a mighty stead for a victor’s entry into the city; it was the disciples who put Him on a donkey, at Jesus’ instruction.  Luke tells us it was the disciples who spread their cloaks on the ground before Him, not the crowds.  It was the disciples who ran before Him praising God that the promised Messiah had finally come, not the masses.  Naturally a crowd began to form to see what all the commotion was about, but Luke is plain to tell us this was not a celebration of the multitudes; rather it was a little parade made up of a band of faithful followers in the midst of a great gathering of largely indifferent people.  What a different perspective Luke had on that “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem!

Whenever I read Luke’s account I am reminded of an annual event in my childhood.  Every Memorial Day my father would organize a parade of the neighborhood children.  That morning we would all decorate our bicycles and wagons with red, white and blue crape paper, and then at 12:00 noon we would line up at one end of our one block long street and my dad would lead the parade, carrying the American flag and blowing his Boy Scout bugle.  And one of my fondest memories of that annual event is that every year the neighbors would bring their lawn chairs out and cheer as they watched that little parade go by.

That is the picture Luke gives us of the Palm Sunday parade.  The committed few surrounded by the masses of curious onlookers.  How often we have criticized the crowd for being fickle, shouting “Hosanna!” on Sunday and “Crucify Him!” just five days later.  That may in fact be what happened, but not according to Luke’s recollection.  It was not the committed few who changed their allegiances and called for His crucifixion, but rather the great mass of passive observers, the fringe, the indifferent, the uncommitted, those who stood on the sideline but refused to get involved.  It was the faceless, nameless crowd who didn’t really know Him or understand who He was that cast the deciding vote on His fate.

It seems Jesus was never very interested in large numbers.  When He saw the crowds He went up on the mount to preach, taking only the twelve with Him.  He discouraged the crowds of curiosity lookers and thrill seekers in favor of the few who would really listen and take to heart what He had to say.  He issued His invitation to discipleship, not to the masses, but to individuals, inviting them to lay down their lives and take up their cross and follow Him.

President Teddy Roosevelt wrote these challenging words to any who think it is enough to stand on the sidelines and watch the parade go by, “It is not the critic who counts, not the man (or woman) who points out how the strong one stumbled or the doer of deeds could have done better.  The credit belongs to the (one) who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who, at the worst, if he fails, knows at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.”

Tom Landry, the long time, well respected coach of the Dallas Cowboys, was once asked by a reporter what influence and benefit he felt professional football had on the physical fitness of Americans.  The reporter was surprised when he answered, “Absolutely none!  At a football game you have 22 players on the field in desperate need of rest and 90,000 people in the stands in desperate need of exercise.”

Again, that is the picture Luke gives us of that first Palm Sunday.  The committed few in the midst of the uncommitted crowd; the exhausted faithful laying down their cloaks, shouting, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” while the masses of passive on-lookers look on from the sidelines, refusing to get involved.  Clearly Luke tells us Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem was a disciple’s event…and so it should be.

This should be a disciple’s event, even today.  How often we have complained that Christmas has been taken away from us.  We bemoan the fact that it has become a secular holiday, an over commercialized winter festival void of all religious meaning.  That may very well be true.  Disregard some of the miraculous events surrounding it and the birth of Jesus long ago in a little community called Nazareth could be accepted by almost anyone as historical fact, but that cannot be said about the events of Holy Week.  The beginning of His story has a certain “ordinariness” to it that anyone could accept, but the ending has an “extra-ordinariness” to it that can only be accepted by faith.

To say that Jesus lived requires little more than historical reasoning.  One can stand in the midst of the great uncommitted, indifferent crowd and say that; however to say that Jesus is Lord, to claim Him as the Promised Messiah, to worship Him as Savior and Lord, is to make a statement of faith.  The beginning of this journey is for everyone, but the end of the journey is for disciples only.  The story of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, of the Last Supper, the betrayal and arrest, the trial and the crucifixion, and ultimately the glory of the resurrection only make sense for those who have come out of the crowd and joined the parade.

As modest as this little parade appeared to be on that first Palm/Passion Sunday, the Pharisees, those up-tight religious leaders of the day, found it very objectionable, so they complained to Jesus, “Teacher, Rabbi, order your disciples to stop.”  That little band of disciples was getting annoying, so they were ordered to be silenced.  To which Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones themselves would shout out.”  The message is plain.  Some things simply must be said and nothing can hold it back.  God’s truth cannot be contained.  Though every tongue be silenced, this truth will be made known.  Long ago it was a small band of the committed shouting above the din of an uncommitted crowd, 2000 years later the number of followers has swelled, but still there are so many who have neither heard or believed, and we are charged to tell them.  You and I have been called and commissioned to tell our neighbors, and the world, the Good News of Jesus Christ, and if we don’t do it, if we don’t fulfill our God-given calling, then the rocks themselves will do it for us, because one day, the whole creation itself will shout in praise, and every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

So, I ask you today, with whom do you identify in this story, the disciples or the crowd?  Do you feel like one of the few, leading the parade, waving your banner, in your own way proclaiming the Lordship of Jesus Christ, or are you lost in the crowd, standing on the sidewalk, on the outside looking in, wondering what all the commotion is about, still wondering who this man Jesus really is?  Are you one of the committed few who have heard and responded to His call and claim on your life, or one of the great crowd of onlookers, wanting to be close to the action, but afraid to make a commitment?  It makes me wonder how much of life passes us by simply because we are unwilling to get off the sidewalk and join the parade.

Granted, the disciples must have looked a little foolish on that first Palm Sunday, just a handful of them surrounding a guy riding on a donkey, shouting their praises to God.  They must have looked a little like school children on a playground, sliding down the slide, then running to the back of the line to do it again and again.  Twelve grown men laying their cloaks on the ground and as soon as the donkey walked over it, picking it up and running to the front of the line again so that the parade would go on.  But you know, as foolish as they may have looked, history has borne out the truth of their message.  Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords.  Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord!

Friends, there is an invitation inherent in this Palm Sunday story, and it is extended to each and every one of us, even as it was to that crowd long ago.  The parade has begun and we have been invited to join in the processional.  It is an invitation to become a follower of Jesus Christ.  It is an invitation to lay down your cloak and take up your cross.  It is an invitation to get off the sidewalk and come, join the parade.  Amen.