A Palm Sunday Parade: Marching for Our Lives
Matthew 21: 1 – 11
March 25, 2018
Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN
Palm Sunday is a high point in the Christian year. We wave high our palm branches, symbols of new life. We sing “All Glory, Laud and Honor”, the choir processing down the aisle, children leading the way. We shout “Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of our God. Hosanna!” It is a frenzy of celebration. Oh how we love a parade, especially one that welcomes our long awaited Messiah. Palm Sunday is a day for exuberance and overflowing praise. It is a high point in the Christian year.
So, it should come as no surprise that I chose to be baptized on Palm Sunday. Right here at Redlands United Church of Christ. I was 15 years old at the time. Richard Blakely was the pastor at the time. I kneeled before him. He asked me a question about my desire to follow Jesus Christ. “Yes! Yes!” I proclaimed with excitement. And then he sprinkled water on me “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” – this was in the early 80’s before inclusive language had made its way into the church. I was officially a follower of Jesus Christ and I couldn’t imagine anyone else I would rather have followed than Jesus – especially on Palm Sunday waving palm branches high in the air and shouting our “Hosannas”.
Little did I know what it truly meant at the age of 15 to be a follower of Jesus. I thought I was joining a celebratory parade – and I loved parades. But I was joining not just a parade, but a protest march. This was no longer Galilee. This was now Jerusalem. Do you know the difference between Galilee and Jerusalem? Galilee is sitting at the feet of Jesus and singing “Kumbyah”. Galilee is a fun week at summer camp. Galilee is warm and fuzzy Bible Studies. Galilee is punch and cookies during fellowship hour. But in Jerusalem the stakes are much higher. We take up our cross and follow him whatever the cost.
Matthew tells us that Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem was just as the prophecy found in Zechariah declared, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt. He will cut off the chariot and the war horse and the battle bow shall be cut off and he shall command peace to the nations” (9:9). Jesus comes into Jerusalem non-violently bringing peace.
Interestingly, I noticed something in this passage that I had never noticed before. “The disciples brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them.” Did you catch the plural? It sounds like Jesus rode in on both animals at the same time, straddling two animals like a circus act. That is odd. How did he do that? But John Dominic Crossan makes a compelling point when he says that Matthew wants two animals, a donkey with her little colt beside her, a symbol of the protest demonstration. Jesus does not ride a stallion or a mare, a mule or a male donkey, and not even a female donkey. He rides the most unmilitary mount imaginable: a female nursing donkey with her little colt trotting along beside her. Just as Zechariah declares, Jesus “cuts off the chariot, war horse, and bow and commands peace.”
Crossan tells us that at that same time that Jesus rode a nursing donkey into Jerusalem, there was another parade taking place on the other side of Jerusalem. Riding in from the east was Jesus, but riding in from the west was the Roman governor, Pilate. It was a militaristic triumphal entry to Jerusalem with war horse, chariot and weapons. Crossan’s description of that parade is this:
“A visual (procession) of imperial power: calvary on horses, foot soldiers, leather armor, helmets, weapons, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, sun glinting on metal and gold. Sounds: the marching of feet, the creaking of leather, the clinking of bridles, the beating of drums. The swirling of dust.”
Each year, this Roman military parade took place just before Passover to remind the Jewish pilgrims that Rome was in charge. Such a demonstration would have been especially significant at Passover. Not only did Jerusalem’s population swell from 50,000 to over 200,000 during the Passover holiday, but the Passover was explicitly a celebration of the liberation of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. With this militaristic parade, Rome becomes the new Egypt and the Emperor the new Pharaoh.
Our Lenten theme is “Lovers and Fools”. Jesus was willing to look like a fool on a nursing donkey, all in the name of love. Two processions. Two parades. Two kingdoms: one proclaiming the Kingdom of Caesar, the other the Kingdom of God. Which one will we serve?
It is hard not to draw contemporary parallels. At this time, officials at the Pentagon – under orders from the White House – are planning a multimillion dollar military parade (estimating between 3 and 50 million dollars), a symbolic show of force from the world’s most powerful nation. Meanwhile, thousands joined the “March for Our Lives” yesterday around the nation. Two very different kinds of parades.
Yesterday, a group of us from RUCC participated in the “March for Our Lives.” We went to the Riverside County Courthouse and held up signs that read, “Faith Before Firearms”, “Never Again”, “Enough is Enough” “Books Not Bullets”, “No Silence End Violence”, “Protect Kids Not Guns”, “This isn’t what Christ meant by ‘Suffer the Children’, and “Children Shall Lead Us”. Yes, children shall lead us just like they did in our Palm Sunday parade this morning, just like they have since the mass shooting that took place at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida on February 14th.
This mass shooting hit particularly close to home for us at RUCC. One of the 17 victims of the Florida school shooting was Carmen Schentrup, great niece of church members, Fred and Chris Nicoloff. Carmen was a high school senior, one week shy of her 17th birthday, when the gunman shot out a window in the door of her AP psychology classroom. He stuck the barrel of his semi-automatic, assault-style rifle through and fired bullets flying everywhere. Carmen was struck four times and killed. Carmen’s parents said, “It’s unimaginable…but we need to imagine it…We need to act. We need to do something more than pray and console each other.”
With more urgency than ever before, the Schentrups support gun control measures such as banning the sale of assault-style weapons and high capacity magazines. They want to see loopholes in background checks closed. Carmen’s father said, “You say it’s the man (the shooter) – sure. But in the end, if we allow him to have the gun that can fire indiscriminately large amounts of bullets, that’s on us. We let that happen.” The gunman, who is 19 years old – could not legally buy a handgun. He could not legally buy alcohol. But he legally could buy an AR-15. Yes, we let that happen.
We marched yesterday. We marched in memory of Carmen. We marched because no other developed nation comes close to the rate of gun violence as the US. We marched because there is a mass shooting – defined as four or more people shot in one incident, not including the shooter – nine out of 10 days on average. Yet, over 90% of Americans support stricter gun laws. We marched because we were too late to save those precious 17 lives in Parkland, Florida, but we don’t want any other lives lost to senseless gunfire. We marched because we are inspired by the surviving students at Marjorie Stoneman Douglass High School who led the national walk out day. On March 15th, exactly one month after the Feb. 14th massacre, students around the nation from Maine to Hawaii walked out of their classes at 10 a.m. for at least 17 minutes – one minute for each of the dead in the Florida shooting. The protests took place at schools from the elementary level through college. Our 3 high schools in Redlands participated. My nephew, Ian, participated. Some of the high school teachers witnessed the walk out and you spoke about how it was a moving experience, a holy act. These walkouts were without a doubt the largest protest led by high school students in the history of the United States. We marched because we were inspired by our young people. We marched because we believe enough is enough. We marched because we choose faith over firearms, peace over power. Thank you to all who participated in the “March for Our Lives”.
In the words of the prophets may our swords may be beaten into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks. That first Palm Sunday parade was more than a frenzy of celebration; it was a protest march. Little did I know that day I was baptized, that day that I enthusiastically decided to follow Jesus that I was joining a protest march too. On this Palm Sunday, we are faced with the question –which parade will we join? Which Kingdom will we serve? Who will we follow? Amen.