The People’s Parade: Sermon for April 2, 2023

Before there was a passion, there was a procession. Read the story for yourself. If we’re honest it was more like a parade but it wasn’t a parade organized by the corporate suits who coordinate slick political events to sell their candidate as if they are players of some political drama. But as Jesus approached Jerusalem, a parade instantaneously bubbled up from some deep need in the world.

The people’s parade of palms and cloaks thrown down before him was as spontaneous as a grass fire in late summer. The kindling that created the conditions were dry and parched and the crowds filled Jerusalem to overflowing for the days of the celebration of Passover. All that was needed was a spark to ignite the scorched conditions in Israel that would challenge Roman rule.

Like American cities in the 1960’s many communities today struggle with issues of racism, gun violence, inflation and unemployment, between the politics as usual and the politics unlike anything we’ve ever seen … Jerusalem was a powder keg with a short fuse. The people believed one small spark could ignite a roaring firestorm that could topple even the mighty Roman empire.

The word of Jesus’ appearing spread like wildfire and within minutes a large crowd had gathered. It was a parade as if the circus had come to town! Men and women acted like little children joyfully greeting the carnival and all its magic. Within seconds of Jesus’ appearing, they stripped the palm trees along the path and threw them down in front of Jesus as a way to signify the approach of a king. That’s the moment when Jesus mounted a lowly burro to enter the city. Had he entered the city on a stately stallion symbolizing his own sense of power, the crowds would have erupted in ecstatic fury.

But Jesus took the role of a fool’s king by shunning the signs of royalty. He refused to play the role they desperately wanted him to play. He sat upon a lowly little burro barely big enough to lift his sandals off the path, he mounted the little beast and played the parade for the foolishness it was.

Jesus was no jester for the peasant parade that wanted to crown him king. He was no clown for the circus that tried to make a political triumph of his entrance into Jerusalem that day. It was a coronation parade to crown a new king and Jesus turned it into a parade of the absurd.

Meanwhile down in Waco this week, hundreds of homeless men and women gather to worship as the church known as Church Under the Bridge that meets under the Interstate bridges linking Baylor University to the larger Waco community.

Jimmy Dorrell, their pastor, stands on a flatbed trailer to preach to the toothless and the addicted and the forgotten who have been shunned from conventional society.

A mentally challenged man enthusiastically plays an electric guitar that’s not plugged in to the speakers. It doesn’t matter to him that no one can hear his guitar because he’s playing to God. Another man wanders around the restless crowd tossing peppermint jawbreakers to the crowd. He offers them freely and joyfully as if they are the “SacraMints” of Christ’s body and blood.

And one of their own, a homeless man rides a burro amidst the concrete columns that hold up the eight lanes of speeding traffic heading north and south. And a crowd of two or three hundred homeless men and women receive one of their own as the Christ on Palm Sunday. They lay down their palm branches and celebrate the Jesus who entered Jerusalem on that day.

“Blessed be the King who comes in the name of the Lord,” the cry goes up. There is dust in the air with the sun turns it gold. Around a bend in the road, there suddenly is Jerusalem. He draws back on the reins. Crying disfigures his face. “Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace.” Even today, he says, because there are so few days left. Then the terror of his vision as he looks at the city that is all cities and sees not one stone left standing on another – you and your children within you – your children. “Because you did not know the time of your visitation,” he says. Because we don’t know who it is who comes to visit us. Because we do not know what he comes to give. The things that make for peace, that is what he comes to give. We do not know these things, he says, and God knows he’s right. The absence of peace within our own skins no less than within our nations testifies to that.1

Jesus played the parody but he played it on his own terms and later that week, the same people who shouted “Hosanna” turned on him and cried, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

This is the week of Christ’s passion for the sins of the world. This is the week Jesus laid it on the line for us. Let’s join the parade that Christ is forming and work for the kingdom he came to bring.

© Dr. Keith D. Herron 2023

1 Frederick Buechner’s Palm Sunday sermon entitled “The Things That Make For Peace” from A Room Called Remember