Parade into Holy Week…

Matthew 21:1-17

1 When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 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. 3 If anyone says anything to you, just say this, “The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately. ” 4 This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, 5 “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.” 6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7 they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 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!”

10 When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” 11 The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.” 12 Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. 13 He said to them, “It is written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a den of robbers.” 14 The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them.

15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that he did, and heard the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became angry 16 and said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, “Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise for yourself’?” 17 He left them, went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there.

Don’t you just love a parade? I’m willing to bet half of you would say, “uh, no not really.” I know many of us here have been in many parades: for the Water carnival, 4th of July, representing your school or your team or your church or the city of Hutchinson. There are bands and pumped in music; there are tractors and fast moving mini-cars, politicians and beauty queens, loud horns and dance routines and candy and candy and candy.

Did you know there were 2 parades in Jerusalem on the day we just read about? On one end of town there was the annual parade of Roman imperialism: soldiers riding horses. Glimmering gold and silver glinting off the sun on the edges of spears, on the fronts of shields, on the tops of helmets. No doubt the people’s pilgrimage into town would come to a halt, all conversation would stop as they gave this parade a wide berth. In the midst of this show of military might would be the current Roman governor of Judea, Pilate, riding a donkey which was the chosen animal to make clear the king was in their midst.

It was no mistake, the timing of this parade. It was to intimidate. To remind people that while worshiping the God of Israel in the Temple was all well and good, but it was this king, Pilate, who ordered their days and nights; who decided about their livelihood, where they laid their heads at night. They knew, they expected this parade. This was the government’s big chance to remind the faithful Jewish people who had traveled to thank God for their freedom from Egyptian oppression – well, it was their chance to be reminded who was in charge, their current oppression.

On the other end of town was an entirely different parade, the one we read about today. Perhaps people had chosen a different route into town, hoping to miss the annual intimidation parade and stumbled upon something that looked strangely familiar, but what was it? Who was that, anyway? Something is off here. Instead of gold and silver glimmering in the sun and the quiet submission of the pilgrims as the procession marched past, there were cries of “Hosanna!” which means, save us and waving of palm branches and laying down of coats instead of waving metal spears and flouting glimmering shields. And just like the other parade, there was a king on a donkey. But instead of being surrounded by an obscene show of military might, Jesus was surrounded by, well, the people. An obscene show in its own right.

Make no mistake, Jesus planned this. Jesus, as a faithful Jew himself, knew there was a parade at the time of Passover in Jerusalem each year. Jesus was showing the people an alternative king. Jesus was making a mockery of the kingly power that was lorded over the people. This parade offended and threatened the Roman empire. This parade offended and threatened the religious establishment surrounding the temple.

In our time, this is a Black Lives Matter “parade” happening at the Mall of America during the Christmas season. They didn’t show up to shop but to sing and that’s now allowed. Or this is like the 3 marches in Selma, Alabama in 1965 for equal voting rights for people with black skin amidst a climate of racism and segregation. It is the protests and petition signing that are no doubt happening in Indiana and Georgia as those governments seek to “protect religious freedom” by refusing civil services to people they claim their faith tells them to exclude, to discriminate against.

This is no “watch from the sidelines” parade. As Jesus rode that donkey into Jerusalem, he did it surrounded by the people, involving the people’s raised voices, involving their very lives. This is a parade that demands that we don’t sit in the comfortable shade but that we get dusty and sweaty as we follow along, yelling for Jesus to save us. Children’s voices and lives are included in leading the way, their voices shouting above our own, pointing to the power of Jesus. And we end up following Jesus right to the Temple where he begins to save us from ourselves: he turns over the systems in place to offer sacrifice, indicating that he will be the once and for all sacrifice. And he immediately begins to heal those who would have been excluded from the Temple. It was subversive and disruptive.

This is who we follow. We follow Jesus, the Christ – the anointed one, the King. And he beckons us to follow along in this parade – the parade that leads to mockery and to criticism and to anti-patriotic behavior. Because following Jesus means you are lead right into the midst of discrimination and hate and oppression to proclaim freedom in the name of Jesus.

And it’s that proclamation of freedom, of love for the whole world, of Jesus saving power that gets Jesus killed.

We know what Holy Week feels like, don’t we? We know what it’s like to be betrayed by our friends, by our spouses, by our work place, by our own bodies. We know the darkness of Holy Week because we live it every day don’t we? Disappointments and devastation. Depression and anxiety. Meaninglessness and routine.

And this is right where Jesus meets us.

So get into parade, the crush of people this week to walk with Jesus toward the cross. Today is the day that we don’t step aside and make way for Jesus to walk by. We are swept up in it as we walk right into the heart of Holy Week.

A week where we break our fast by confessing and being forgiven.

A week where we celebrate at the communion table and swear we aren’t the ones to betray Jesus, we won’t be the one to sell him out.

A week where we, from a distance, betray him and watch him be tried, silently begging him to defend himself since we can’t find our own voice to do it.

A week where we watch him crucified and then sit in the silence and darkness of Holy Saturday, hoping that Easter will come.

This is the week where it seems death wins. That military might and unfair trials have the last word. This is the week our Savior cries out from the cross, wondering why God has betrayed him. It is the week we are reminded that life following Jesus is learning how to walk in the dark, right where Jesus is, sitting in the dark with us, the very place where hope is born.