Sunday, March 28, 2021

Palm Sunday

 Mark 11

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 3 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’”

4 They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, 5 some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” 6 They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. 7 When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. 9 Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,


“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

10 “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

Jesse Owens had one. Ben Hogan had one. Amelia Earhart had two, and should have had more.

I hope I have you stumped. Theodore Roosevelt had one, as did Queen Elizabeth and the future Queen Beatrix. John Glenn had two, and the New York Yankees had too many to count. Finally, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins had one—Michael Collins the astronaut, not the Irish revolutionary.

If you guessed ticker tape parade, you would be correct. Funny thing, the ticker tape parade. Shower tons of ticker tape upon adoring crowds (and the source of their admiration), then let someone else sweep up the mess. The good news (for them) is that the work is getting scarce. In the 1950’s there were over 60 ticker tape parades in New York, but in the last decade there were only three. Maybe there is less to celebrate.

And since someone reading or listening today has no idea what ticker tape is, I suppose I should explain. Ticker tape is a continuous printout of stock prices, named (of course) for the tick-tick-tick sound of the machine that produced the tape. All over the city, businesses had these remote read-outs of the stock market in great quantity, and they in turn became a very handy way to celebrate. Think of it as long confetti.

I share this because the ticker tape parade may be one of the best modern examples of what happened that day in Jerusalem. It certainly wasn’t a parade in any sense that we might know. It wasn’t a military parade—think Red Square or Bastille Day—since those are really a show of force. It wasn’t an event parade like St. Patrick’s Day, though you could argue it became one. And it wasn’t a victory parade, since the outcome of the next few days was yet to be revealed.

The reason the ticker tape parade is a good parallel begins with design. A ticker tape parade, like our palm parade, is a planned event, carefully choreographed for maximum effect. This is not to suggest it is disingenuous somehow—it simply acknowledges that these are not spontaneous events. Jesus gives his disciples specific instructions on where to go, what to get, and what to say if anyone has questions.

Further, the ticker tape parade, like our palm parade, was held to send a message. City officials would select the people to be honoured (which by definition means others were not selected) as a way to align themselves with some triumph or celebrity. Likewise, Jesus enters on a humble beast, not some grand mount, sending the message that he would be a different kind of king, not the one they were anticipating.

Finally, the ticker tape parade, like the palm parade, belongs to the crowd as much as the planners or the people being honoured. Just as ticker tape parades would be meaningless without the celebrating crowd, the palm parade would be just an awkward entry without the palm-waving, the scattered cloaks, and the passionate shouting. “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

So the palm parade was carefully choreographed, message-laden, and dedicated to the people who stood by that day. It was a turning point, or maybe a point-of-no-return, when Jesus truly “set his face to Jerusalem.” And it was also a declaration, a declaration that Jesus’ kingship would be unique, unlike any other. So what would it be like?

It might be helpful to think about kingship before Jesus’ reinterpretation of kingship, and the momentous change God was planning that day in Jerusalem. In the distant past, it appeared that God blessed those in power. They ruled at God’s pleasure, and then they fell when the reverse was true. And then the first big change, through Moses. Remember that God, through Moses, defeated a king and freed the people. But the king (Pharaoh) remained. He did not fall, although certainly his economy was ruined. God only acted to free his people, to end their suffering, and bring them home. Moses mounted his own parade of sorts, through the Red Sea and on into the wilderness. It wasn’t a coup or a revolution, more of a parade in the form of a successful rescue mission.

Back to Jerusalem. Jesus confronted royal power that day not with a show of force or a victory parade, but rather with symbols: kingship that should humbly serve the people, kingship that was based on biblical models of faithfulness and not the sword, kingship that was located in heaven rather than on earth. It was a carefully choreographed, message-laden, and dedicated to the people who would then witness even more symbolic action: tables turned in the temple, a clarifying conversation with the high priest about kingship, and his journey to the cross.

So let me end with that clarifying conversation, the real conclusion to the palm parade, when Jesus is asked, “are you the anointed one, the Son of the Blessed One?” (14.62)

“I am,” he said. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” This was never insurrection, rather the last stage of incarnation. Jesus entered Jerusalem to promptly leave Jerusalem, changing the nature of kingship forever. Earthly kings cannot save you, and they cannot even save themselves. Rather, we wait for the Son of the Most High to save us, now and in the days to come. Amen.


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