Palm Sunday Parade

April 5, 2020
Rev. Deborah Dail
Denbigh United Presbyterian Church

Scripture: Matthew 21:1-11

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,

“Tell the daughter of Zion,

Look, your king is coming to you,

humble, and mounted on a donkey,

and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Sermon

Growing up in Middletown, Virginia – a small town with one

stoplight – we looked forward to the annual parade.

The parade featured all the fire engines and rescue squads of the town – all cleaned and shined by volunteers. You could see your reflection on the emergency vehicles they were so shiny.

Miss Middletown rode atop a float, a fire engine, or in a nice convertible. I remember marching in the parade with my Girl Scout Troop, led by my mom – all of us in our uniforms.

Little League Baseball Teams rode in the backs of pick-up trucks and churches made floats and rode on them in the parade.

The best part was that people from the fire engines, the cars, and the floats threw candy and bubble gum to kids along the parade route. You could collect a really good stash of candy at the parade!

The parade was something to look forward to every year and we loved it. It was the highlight of the summer in Middletown, Virginia.

Despite my happy memories of the parades of my childhood and the smile those memories bring to my face, I confess I’m not much in the mood for a parade today because (as we say euphemistically) “of everything that is going on.”

Normally, we’d be watching our children of the church parade down the aisle of the sanctuary with their palms – waving them and sometimes whacking each other with them. The children would have been corralled before the service and reminded of the story of Jesus riding into Jerusalem with people waving palms. They would have been reminded not to hit anyone with their palms and to “look happy.” The Palm Sunday parades at church are always unpredictable, but cute to watch, providing a bit of holy chaos and joy. But not today.

I suspect Jesus wasn’t much in the mood for a parade on that first Palm Sunday either. He knew Jerusalem would be dangerous for him. He knew a Sunday parade would be followed by his suffering and death by week’s end.

The Palm Sunday parade hadn’t been planned for many months as even small parades are today. On the one hand, it had actually been planned for many years. The prophet Zechariah had spoken hundreds of years earlier: “Tell the daughter of Zion, ‘Look your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’” Jesus knowingly fulfilled this prophecy. On the other hand, the parade appears to have been impromptu as far as the participants were concerned.

People were still trying to figure out who Jesus was and wasn’t. But, seeing a man riding into a town on a donkey caught people’s attention. For those in the know of the words of the prophet Zechariah, a light bulb went on. Could he be the long-awaited Messiah who would save them from Roman oppression and bring peace to Israel? Could he be their new king?

Even still, it was a little confusing that he came riding on a donkey and not a strong horse bearing a sword. He didn’t look much like a king, but the small entourage gave him the “red carpet treatment” of their day by laying palms and garments on the road. They greeted him as a King, and they shouted “Hosanna” which means “Save Us.” “Save Us.”

Jesus was making many statements by the way he entered Jerusalem that day long ago. He was a king, but he was a very different sort of king. He was a conqueror, but he would defeat an enemy different from all others. He would answer their cries of “Save Us,” but his salvation would be different and more far-reaching than what they imagined that day.

Jesus, the de facto Grand Marshall of the parade in Jerusalem, was humble – a quality not expected of kings or other leaders even today. This week I read these words written by Eugene Peterson encouraging leaders to be humble: “The most important quality that good leaders need to develop is humility. Humility, to put the record straight, has nothing to do with weakness. When we humble ourselves, we operate from a position of strength. We know that we’re loved by God and that he calls us to love others. We also know that other people are loved by God and are therefore objects of our concern. When we become leaders, then, it is simply to lead people to God and to share his love with them.

“Humble people are confident people, for they know that God is the rock under their feet. Humble people are knowledgeable people, for they know that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Humble people are strong people, for they do all things through Christ who strengthens them. Humble people are leaders. But it’s the way they lead that distinguishes them. Instead of leading like a hard-driving cowboy prodding cattle, they lead like a gentle shepherd tending his sheep.” (Conversations, Eugene Peterson, p. 1924).

The humility of Jesus had nothing to do with weakness. It had everything to do with strength. He knew who he was, and he knew what he was called to be and do. He knew that he was one with God. He was a gentle shepherd tending his sheep as he rode into Jerusalem.

“When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?” The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Who do we say he is on this Palm Sunday? Who is Jesus to each of us? Who is this Jesus?

At the end of the week, Jesus would be crucified. He would be executed on a cross. After Jesus breathed his last breath, a Roman centurion and other soldiers stationed at the cross, said this: “Truly this man was God’s Son.”

Jesus wasn’t much in the mood for a parade that Sunday, but he went to Jerusalem anyway, knowing that he would “ride on to die.”

Let’s show up this Holy Week, even though we aren’t in the mood for another sad story at this time with “all that’s going on.” Let’s show up this week to remember and to in some small way join in the story of Jesus’ last days on earth. We will be doing our daily devotions, a Maundy Thursday Service, a reading of the Passion Story on Friday, and hosting prayer on Holy Saturday all through Facebook Live throughout this week.

This is a week, whether we feel like it or not, to ask ourselves again: “Who is Jesus to me and to our world?” With the Roman soldier, I hope by week’s end we can affirm in the depths of our hearts: “Truly this man is the Son of God!”