I love a parade. I realize that’s terribly old-fashioned, but I love the simpler, more pastoral pleasures of life. I like fireworks. I like county fairs. I like English Pub Quizzes. I like hand-dipped corn dogs. In a world of electronic doo-dads and media entertainments everywhere you look, there is something honest and satisfying about young people playing in a band, about young beauty queens and princesses riding in donated convertibles from the local dealership, the local veterans marching together once more.
There is also a group-mind component to it. Whenever you get a whole community together in one place, there is the tendency to just let your mood float upon the waters of everyone else’s mood, to cheer when they cheer, to ooh and aah when those with us do. You might not cheer the local horse-riding organization, there is always some group of young women riding horses it seems, even in Manhattan parades, you might not cheer them on your own, but in context, it seems appropriate to cheer them along with a hundred or so other people in your particular section of the block.
You get swept up in the moment. You become a part of the civic landscape and surrender a little of yourself to the group. Maybe that’s why people don’t do it as much anymore. We are more and more attuned to the individual pursuits, the personal soundtrack of the iPod, something I regret to say that I myself have succumbed to. We stream movies on our phones, though I cannot manage it without my glasses. We have personalized interior environments that we create so that we don’t feel the need to be outside; we have HDTV and fully-integrated sound and food delivery.
No wonder parade attendance is falling off, it’s just a little hokey in context, and you do not get to manage it to your liking, it has a will of its own.
There are no less than five parades in this morning’s Gospel reading and in each one, the mood of the crowd changes. From triumphant welcoming of the King of Kings to the bloodthirsty cries for vengeance and the release of a convicted murderer, the crowd, a living and breathing thing, a force all of its own, changes. It does not change because the people in it have changed places, we can assume a fairly broad cross-section of the town’s population in each crowd, but something changes them, something happens.
Now the first parade is the one we just indulged in by way of the palms distributed to you. Once was a time when the church, especially the urban church would parade around the block, waving the palm branches and singing All Glory Laud and Honor for all the world to see. Well the blocks have changed a little in the suburbs and the churches have done a poor job, if you ask me, of teaching why this re-enactment of the ancient Jerusalem crowd’s terrible hypocrisy is important and so we have gradually moved away from such displays.
The first parade is the revolutionary act, the joyful hope that things will change. Even this first parade is an echo of another parade this day; call it the zero-th parade, the one we do not see. In Jerusalem at this time, especially during the Passover, the Romans would garrison additional troops in the city and occasionally parade them through the streets. There were a lot more Jews in the city during the festival and the Romans wanted to let people know who was boss so they held parades and marched a few thousand well-armed, well-disciplined men around of a while.
So this first parade is not just a religious and political statement, the welcoming of a new king (which is why Herod is so unhappy), but it is also the revolutionary act of holding their own parade, showing their own devotion, rowdy, cheering, dis-organized, undisciplined, throwing palm branches at the feet of a revolutionary, the Che Guevara of Bethlehem.
After all he is preaching release to captives and freedom for slaves and the liberation of Jerusalem and even if he is speaking in metaphors and emphasizing that liberation is also a spiritual thing he is bound to get the attention of the ruling party, the Romans, the Parade guys.
So we get to the second parade, when the assembly rose up and took Jesus to Pilate.
I imagine that the mood had grown a bit darker. Those in the assembly who wanted to maintain whatever peace they had instead of seeking after some new kind of peace, rose up and took Jesus to stand before Pilate. They probably compared the two parades, the Roman army, the boisterous rabble and decided which one was more likely to prevail if it came to a confrontation and so they took Jesus to Pilate; but the whole assembly rising and taking Jesus somewhere, well, whether you like it or not, that’s a parade.
A more somber affair to be sure. No marching bands. How the mood shifted from the parade of palms just hours before.
The new addition to the parade when it reaches its third iteration, the trip from Pilate to Herod, well that addition would certainly be those same Roman soldiers, a polite and courteous lot, I’m sure that they were extremely deferential to this King of the Jews. Or, rather, they probably just drove Him on ahead of them, the crowd trailing along behind, a parade trying to keep up with its drum major. The mood of the parade suddenly began to feel a little ugly, a little wrathful.
People who had sung Hosanna were suddenly jeering and spitting, though certainly from a safe distance. After all, decent political sense would have told them that this was just what happens when you challenge the dominant authorities, this is just what happens when you step out of line and declare that things are not good and that they must get better. Better to stay on the safe side, better to fall back in line with the crowd, melt into the group mind.
Herod, prideful guy that he was, wanting to who how much he loved his Roman masters, probably added some of his own palace troops to the fourth parade, back to Pilate, the mood growing ever darker as this revolutionary, this messiah was driven to and fro through the town. I’m sure that the people who saw the whole thing were growing increasingly fearful, after all, they had been in the crowd that morning, had anyone seen them there?
I sometimes wonder how many revolutions we never hear about because they never get past about this stage. Someone steps out and is immediately squashed by the authorities. I wonder how many times the crowd is the determining factor, if only the crowd had held together the revolution would have taken place, the world would have changed a little, I wonder at the power of the crowd, the ones along the parade route.
After all, we hear about things like the Arab Spring because they gain traction, they move forward, they succeed. Footnotes in history are the uprisings against Saddam Hussein, or the Shah, or Mubarak, dozens against each of them and yet we can not name a single one, they never got past the parade of palms, the initial flush of enthusiasm, quickly extinguished by the crowd, the mob, those watching the parade.
After the confrontation with Pilate, a guy just trying to keep the peace, though it is easy to demonize him for his performance today, we reach the final parade since this is the year we read Luke on Palm Sunday, we get the gentler version, not quite enough to make a movie about it, which is why they use John’s Passion all the time to make the movies. Jesus is driven to Golgotha to a chorus of women wailing their laments. Women are braver than men, did you know that? Being less than a man in the eyes of the law allows you a little latitude, it would seem and they cry that this morning’s hopes are going to be dashed in such a brutal way. That this Son of Man will be taken from them.
Jesus interrupts the parade for a moment to tell them that their tears ought not be for Him, but that soon enough they will need them again. He is going willingly to his death, but their tragedy will visit them soon now, very soon. For if while the Son of Man was still here, the words of His message still fresh upon the ears and in the hearts of those who had heard His Gospel message, the Romans were permitted to do this thing, then what would be their fate when he was gone and buried, his words and ministry fading in their memories? They’d be needing those tears soon enough.
Because the very same crowd which had laid the branches at His feet, the very same crowds which had sung Hosanna in the highest to the King of Kings now called for his death. They heard the Truth, capital T truth, they saw the love of God in one man and heard his message and for the sake of safety, for the sake of the crowd, they turned aside and followed whichever voice was loudest, whichever way the crowd went. Jesus is described sometimes as a lamb going uncomplaining forth but it is the crowd who are the sheep, surrendering to the fears of today, and in so doing, losing sight of the promise of tomorrow, and of forever.
We all end up making the same kind of calculations. We decide what our priorities are and act accordingly. What has always confused me is the person who believes and yet does not seek the word of God, the worship of God. If that is a priority, ought it not be a pretty big one? What parade are you joining if not this one? What parade could be more attractive than being a part of the revolution of humanity, the eternal altering of the nature of Man?
In this morning’s Gospel we have a whole community moving quickly from adulation of the King of Kings to condemnation of the rabble-rouser. They have heard the word and the promise of deliverance but when it does not meet with their expectations, they cast it, and Him, aside. Better the devil you know, right?
Deliverance simply cannot be vulnerability. Triumph simply cannot be achieved by death, right? Peace is only secured at the point of a sword, right? When Jesus fails these all too common tests, as He is an uncomplaining participant in ever-uglier and more demeaning parades the crowd sees its expectations fall aside and so they turn against Jesus.
I get it. I understand. I wish that when I preached each and every heart were filled with the love of God and that as soon as I opened the doors to the sanctuary you would all stream out of here doing good deeds wherever you went. I wish that the coming of faith had the same effect on everyone as it has on our children, that it would be universal peace and harmony, the way things are supposed to be, says so right in the Bible.
But there are other parades calling to us. Other crowds seeking after our attention and our approval. There are other people shouting and jeering that they have the way to happiness, that they know the truth. How do we stay true? How can we possibly stay on the way, knowing the truth, living in the light?
My favorite scripture is this weeks reading from Paul and in it is a part of the key. “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.”
He humbled himself. He allowed the truth to be His shield, and the truth to be His guide and it allowed Him to do what had to be done, even though it was hard. It allowed Him to stay on the path, even though it meant death. It kept the central mission of God in front of Him at all times.
You are the project of God, the reason for the incarnation, the ministry, the crucifixion, the whole parade. God’s love for you is so incomprehensibly vast that nothing can draw Jesus from the designated parade route.
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus is a call for us to try and see the world through the eyes of the one who loved it so much he’d die for it, for you and you and me and all of us. We are called to love one another, to wash each other’s feet, to hold each other’s hands, to care for each other.
And if every once in awhile there is a really good Dixieland band playing in the parade on the next street, and if we should wander away from the path for a little while to enjoy the music, our place in the parade of God’s love will never be lost, it is reserved just for us.
Jesus endured five parades in today’s Gospel, sticking to the path that His love for us illuminated before Him. I love a parade, and as for me, I’m going to try and stick to this one, the project of God, the peace, salvation and blessedness of all.