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  • Dr. Bruce Havens

There Goes the Parade!

a message by Dr. Bruce Havens

based on the theme: “Where Will You Go?”

Arlington Congregational Church, U.C.C.

April 5, 2020

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.”
Jesus Cleanses the Temple
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.

I like to say that I have run with the Olympic torch! True story! This happened back when I could still run, actually back when we were in Greensboro. One morning I went out for my run. Part of it was on the sidewalk beside a fairly busy four lane highway. It was early morning and I looked around and there were dozens of people running, there were TV trucks and police motorcycles. I was wondering what was going on! All of a sudden a guy went running past me carrying a torch – the Olympic torch – it finally dawned on me. Well, I kept pace for about, maybe 100 yards then watched as they all went roaring by me. Clearly whoever the runner was was out of my league or at least my running pace! Imagine that! So, for at least a few minutes I “ran with the Olympic torch,” it’s just that someone else was carrying it and I happened to be running along. As they passed me by and I turned to go my own way, I thought to myself, “Well, there goes the parade!”

That might be the way some of us are feeling with this Covid19 lockdown, uh, I mean, “safer at home,” order. Now, there’s what would seem like a well-chosen phrase isn’t it? “Safer at home.” Probably true for a lot of us ALL the time. Unfortunately, not for all of us and for some people never true. My prayers go out to those who are at risk or suffering from abusive household situations. Children, spouses, even animals suffer abuse under “normal” times but in a “lockdown” situation the stress has increased the number of reported cases of abuse. But even for those of us not dealing with that kind of abuse, “safer at home,” or “missing the parade” of life can be a trigger to increase substance abuse, depression, anxiety – many things that may be part of many people’s every day experience or not – but emerges even more in this time of social separation. So our prayers, our compassion, the importance of reaching out to friends, family, even coworkers where appropriate, anyone who we can to lift up and support. And to ask for support and encouragement too. So that is my pastoral care reflection as we went further exploring the Palm Sunday Parade.

The phrase, “there goes the parade,” came to me as I thought of this scene describing Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Yes, it was a parade but there were a lot of messages being sent in this parade, both verbal and apparent, and nonverbal and yet pointed. Some scholars have observed that this was a well-planned and pointed act of “Performance Theater.” Jesus was sending a message both to his followers and to the religious and political power people, people like Pilate and Caiaphas.

Scholars point out that the writers of the Gospel spend many more verses describing how Jesus sets up this event than anything else they report. Jesus asks for a very specific ride for this parade. No red Cadillac convertible with a waving blonde Homecoming Queen. Some versions describe it as a colt, a young animal on which Jesus would have looked ridiculous, his legs hanging almost to the ground. His followers were waving palm branches instead of royal flags, and they laid robes on the ground instead of a “red carpet” that any real VIP would have had.

All this was a nonverbal comment on Pilate’s tradition of marching into Jerusalem at the beginning of the Jewish Holy Days in full military regalia on a mighty steed with hundreds of armored soldiers with weapons of sword and spear on display. Think of those old videos of the Russian May Day military parades replete with miles of marching soldiers and tanks and missiles on trailers behind army trucks. Pilate’s entry was intended to intimidate the Jews whose fanatical wing tended to get too hyped up during the Holy Days and start all kinds of public rebellious acts. Pilate didn’t want or need that kind of thing getting back to Caesar or he might lose his job as Governor. And Pilate had a reputation as one who would respond to any acts of rebellion swiftly and so violently that even Caesar had been shocked by it.

So rather than “out-Pilate,” Pilate, Jesus chose to mock him and his power by doing the opposite. His entry also was a wave at the religious leaders who bent over to appease the Romans so as to keep their own positions and their own privileges. The waving of palms, the quoting of Scripture, all pointed to an alternative kind of power – God’s power which is not the kind that needs armies and weapons and threats of execution. Then Jesus tops the whole parade off with going into the Temple and turning over the tables of moneychangers and sellers of sacrificial animals. Jesus was disrupting the economic system that benefitted the Temple and the privileges of the High Priest and his Council. You don’t disrupt the Temple income! Why it is almost like megachurch preachers continuing to hold services during this pandemic with thousands of people present claiming God will protect them, and religious freedom shouldn’t be restricted, because, you know, if the people aren’t there the plate doesn’t get passed and the payments on the jet and the Rolls and the mortgage on the mansion might not get paid! Disrupting the lucrative income of the Temple? Suggesting there was an alternative Kingdom to Caesar’s? This was a sure way to get Jesus killed! And, of course, we know it did get him killed.

These days we might be feeling like, “there goes the parade” too. All of the protections to prevent spreading the virus mean the usual Easter events won’t be held. We will not celebrate Easter like we are used to. The great hymns, the choir songs and egg hunts, the brunch here at the church. We won’t do that this year. This Palm Sunday Parade won’t lead to the Easter we had planned, but God has a way of giving signs that God’s purposes are still being fulfilled. It is easy to miss these signs because they often don’t come out as huge miracles or grand parades. Sometimes they are found in the simplest of things.

Jesus gave the disciples a sign made up of the simplest of things before the going got really tough. The night before he and they went through the toughest time anyone can imagine – betrayal and denial by friends, a kangaroo court and judgment by a vicious ruler, a horrible suffering death for an innocent man – that man gave his friends a sign, a way to remember what was important. It was a sign set in the most ordinary of human actions: eating and drinking. Jesus took food and drink, the most essential part of being human short of having a body and breathing, and made it a way to remember who he is.

So in a few moments we are going to reenact that. We aren’t going to do it the way we always have. We aren’t in the same room. You aren’t necessarily going to use bread and wine. That was my point in inviting you to use whatever you have or to buy whatever you wanted to use. The bread and wine that Jesus used were the most common parts of any dinner time in his time. So we will do the most ordinary thing, which is the most extraordinary thing – a sign that we are in this together – communion. We might say the parade is different, but it still goes on. Different bread, different cup but it is still Jesus’ parade. And it is still a way, a sign to remember him by. And it is still a sign that we are together in God’s heart when we go through these things.

While I wasn’t doing anything as grand as really running with the Olympic torch. We don’t necessarily have to really be together to experience Jesus’ presence with us. When you and I reenact this sign Jesus gave us, he is with us. It can be hard to see the signs of it because we may be looking for something extraordinary. Communion is a sign that Jesus is with us in the most ordinary of things like eating and drinking. If he can be with us in these things I believe he will be with us in these extraordinary times, to see us through. May our communion together remind us of that and strengthen our faith in that. AMEN.

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