Two Parades: Pilate on a Steed and Jesus on the Back of a Borrowed Burro (borrowed from Pastor Dawn Hutchings)

Please read the sermon in its entirety on Pastor Dawn Hutchings Blog:

Marching in the Wrong Parades – A Palm Sunday Sermon     Posted on March 18, 2013

I love a parade. So, I find the details of the parade on that we celebrate today fascinating. In their book: The Last Week, New Testament scholars John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg, point out that the parade that heralded Jesus entry into Jerusalem wasn’t the largest or most spectacular parade in town during that particular Passover season.

Back then, Jerusalem was a destination hotspot—a tourist town. The city’s population swelled from 40,000 to 200,000 during the holidays and Passover was one of the busiest holidays. Crossan and Borg point out that there were two processions into Jerusalem on what we call Palm Sunday. One, we know well and commemorate today with the waving of palm branches. We remember a peasant riding a donkey, accompanied by his peasant followers coming from the north into Jerusalem.

Also entering Jerusalem at Passover, from the west, was the Roman governor Pontius Pilate. Like the Roman governors of Judea before him, Pilate lived in Caesarea by the sea. In other words, Pilate spent most of his time at his beach house. But with crowds of devout Jews flowing into Jerusalem to commemorate their liberation from Egypt, the Roman Governors would put on a display of force, to deter the Jews from getting too exuberant about the possibility of liberation from Rome. Pilate’s procession was the visible manifestation of Imperial Roman power. Once a year, during the Passover, the Roman procurator moved his headquarters to Jerusalem in a show of strength designed to prevent any outbreaks of insurgency or violent rebellion against Roman rule. Such outbreaks were a constant danger, both because Roman rule imposed real hardship economically on their subject nations, and because, no one likes the foot of a foreign power on their necks. In a show of military force, the second parade included, “cavalry on horses, foot soldiers, leather armor, helmets, weapons, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, sun glinting on metal and gold.”

The sound of “marching feet, the creaking of leather, the clinking of bridles, the beating of drums” would have had a sobering effect on all those who saw this parade. There would have been no shouts of Hosanna as the powerful Pilate rode astride of his horse, hoping to strike fear into the resentful onlookers. As Pilate lead a regiment of his own most trusted soldiers into town; as a show of force, he did so with confidence knowing that he was backed up by several battalions of Rome’s finest garrisoned on the west side of Jerusalem ready to flood into the city at Pilate’s command.

So, what are we 21st century Christians to do with the Palm Sunday? Well, it seems to me that no matter how you look at the story of this amazing procession into Jerusalem, you can’t help but see the image of a Jesus who offers us a choice between two parades. The attraction of the power and the might of Pilate’s military parade with all its glory and wonder is still there to tempt us. The temptation to use force and violence, military might, nuclear deterrence, shock and awe, is still marching its way into the hearts and minds of so many people.

The pathways to glory still beckon. Power and might, greed and violence attract more attention and more converts than the path less traveled: Jesus versus Pilate, the nonviolence of the dominion of God versus the violence of the empire.

Two arrivals, two entrances, two processions—and all too often we find ourselves in the wrong parade. The world is full of parades, or as we might more frequently say, full of “bandwagons.” Sometimes it’s really difficult to know which parade to join, which bandwagon to hop on. It’s so easy and so tempting to join the wrong ones and so hard, sometimes, to get in the right procession.

It’s so easy to simply get caught up in the enthusiasm of the crowds and join the processions which has the loudest brass bands or the most elaborate floats or the greatest number of celebrities or the most charismatic leaders. It’s easy to miss the counter-procession that is taking place on the other side of town—the one where Jesus is riding on a humble donkey, claming a dominion, not by violence, but by courageous loving, serving and accepting his place among the victims of imperial power. In so doing, for those with the eyes of faith to see it, Jesus bears witness to the futility of the world’s kind of power in establishing god’s peace, God’s shalom, and points Christ’s followers to a different way. The dominion of God is nothing remotely like the kingdoms or empires with which we are all too familiar. Power does not come from domination or oppression, but rather flows from love and service. Leadership requires servanthood and grace. Peace is won without sword, and person claims greater value than another. While Pontius Pilate processed into town with a showcase of intimidating muscle and glinting armor astride a noble steed, Jesus processed unarmed, unflanked, on the back of a borrowed burro.

Holy Week reminds us how easily we are distracted and fooled by fancier parades and promises.

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