I’ve never much liked parades; it’s a bit like after service coffee hour on steroids. Parades are quite a bit of stimulation for us introverts. I suppose it’s a matter of perspective but to my mind parades are all hassle. From the bad behaviour of people who push their way to the front even though you were there first, those with no regard for the sight lines of children and the inevitable fact that it’s always too hot or too cold or too wet. Besides parades are either small town hokey or big city corporate. I’m a true bah humbug Scrooge when it comes to parades. Given all of this it is possible that I approach the beginning of Holy Week with a bit of skepticism. Can anything good come of a parade?
You may recall hearing that there were two parades happening that day. The one that took place every year, the one that was quite possibly filled with people like me, there out of duty more than desire. That parade at the west gate of the city was big, it was a spectacular display of military force and it happened every year before the Jewish Passover as a reminder to the religious faithful that Caesar was Lord, not some liberator God. The Governor Pontius Pilate would extract himself from his beach home in Caesarea and ride into town with all the king’s horses and all the king’s men. If anyone had an inkling of a thought of uprising against the powers that be, they would quickly think again.
The parade on the east side was different. There were no horses or armed guards, just Jesus on a donkey. There were no floats from corporate sponsors; just ordinary people, cheering and waving palms. These people were filled with expectant hope, dreaming of a new life, longing for a release from so many struggles and concerns. Every one of them would have known that when a prince rides into enemy territory on a donkey he comes bearing peace. Jesus wasn’t there to fight. By weeks end no one seems to remember this.
Parades don’t last, they aren’t meant to be permanent, just one off moments, a little out of the ordinary escape for ordinary folk. Everyone knows, whether you’re on the float or sitting with a numb backside on the curb, you’re a participant in a fleeting spectacle. When the last float rolls by you all pack up and escape the chaos, returning to your ordinary.
If you know the story that comes after the Palm Parade you’ll know that all of the enthusiasm quickly makes way for fear and betrayal. You’ll know that the street cleaners had barely finished picking up the palm branches when things took a turn for the worse. The protest for this way of Love quickly gives way to the cross. But on the way to the cross, in fact all the way to next Sunday, we call this week Holy. Holy Week, an entire seven days of holiness, ordinary holiness.
It’s not called holy week because it’s special or distant or a unique one off. No the thing that is holy about this week is just how ordinary it is, the holy thing about this week is the way it tells stories that we know as our own, deeply personal stories of triumph and betrayal and intimate friendships and death. This week is holy because it is our week, it tells our story, it tells the stories of our lives, the whole gammet of them and insists that God is part of all of it, that through the best of times and most especially in the worst of times God is faithful and present. This story isn’t about the past, it’s not history, it’s our story. And we call it holy so that we will know that in all these moments we’re not alone, that God too is with us. And we will be more able to see the holy to find it, name it, touch it, in the most tender and vulnerable places.
Holy like the evening Jesus gathered one last time with his closest friends and they shared a Passover feast that reminded them of the struggle and perserverance of their ancestors. They filled their bodies that night with the nourishment of good food and flowing drink, and tender touch, and conversation both robust and guarded. Where things are said or left unsaid. We know that table, where the holy is tangible if we just take a moment to see it and taste it. Tables where no matter the outcome we sit down with the intention to feed the bodies and souls of every single person gathered: Holy
We know what it means to watch a friend leave the room for good, without saying goodbye. Judas walks away from the table and sells out for a few gold coins.
Peter does it more subtly, after promising Jesus his loyalty one time after another he denies having known him. We know what it is to have friends walk away when we need them most. We know what it is to be the friend who can’t stay because we think we can’t bear the cost of the friendship, to walk away because in the moment it seems easier than staying there at the table and working through the murky stuff that is relationship. Walking away from the table because you can’t figure out how to stay – Holy
We know too what it means to look into the eyes of your mother one last time. There on the cross it was the last time to look into the eyes of his mother and to know as everyone throughout time has known that it’s not right for child to leave this world before parent. Jesus there on the cross, not as a martyr or a hero but as one who refused to sell out, knowing that had he cared less about the common good he may well have saved his own life, and spared his mother a broken heart. We don’t mean to break our mother’s hearts, none of us do. But it happens, sometimes, through bad luck or wrong choices, or because of the fact that we have this ability to irreparably break relationships.
Looking into the eyes of your mother for the last time, as you sit vigil by her palliative bedside, looking in the eyes of your mother for the last time as she turns her back to you in judgment because your God given identity challenges her socially established prejudices. Looking into the eyes of your mother for the last time. Relationships ended or paused or in limbo – Holy
We know Jesus calling out from the cross My God my God why have you forsaken me? Don’t think for a minute that this is a line from the story book that is the bible, no these are the words extracted from a breaking heart, when hope is lost, when we have run out of reserves to see a way where there is no way. These are the words we whisper when the thoughtless, cutting words of another leave us feeling exposed and weak. This is the cry when you give it your all and there is no reward. This is the cry when you are the one given the diagnosis, or the pink slip or the unfortunate bad luck of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. My God my God why have your forsaken me, it is the cry from the thresholds, form the thin places, from the edge when we really don’t know if there is any coming back, whether this moment has finally gone too far to promise any sort of resurrection. Broken hearts and bodies and dreams- Holy
We know what it means to go on trial, to be beaten and crucified. Don’t tell me you’ve never been hanged on the cross. Don’t tell me you’ve never stood on watching as the nails were hammered into someone else. Holy, even the moments we stand helpless at the foot of the cross wondering if it all had to come to this or if we might have, could have, should have done something differently. The regret and the guilt – Holy.
You see the god of power has failed us, has failed for the past several centuries to deal with the problem of evil, has failed to take away our suffering and struggles. And so as theologian Jürgen Moltmann once wrote: “to recognize God in the crucified Christ means to… understand oneself and this whole world …as existing in the history of God. God is not dead. God is in death. God suffers with us. … Suffering is in God. God does not reject,… Rejection is within God.” The entirety of our lives is IN God.
Back to parades: I don’t mean any disrespect to the parade. Parades serve their purpose. Parades and protest marches, and all description of one off gatherings of strangers. There is near electric connection that can happen when strangers gather together to celebrate or to protest, to dream or to mourn. No I mean no disrespect to those who show up once in a while hoping somehow that they might find a bit of what they are looking for by coming together for a parade or an Easter Sunday service.
No I mean no disrespect to the importance of such things. I just know, as you do, that most of life happens not on the parade routes but in the trenches or perhaps to put it less dramatically, around dining room tables, and at bedsides, and in parks and gardens and school yards. Most of life happens not in an Easter or Palm Sunday sort of way, but in the ordinary holiness of the every day.
And it’s in this ordinary holy that more often than not we have opportunity to meet the God we long know, to touch the heart of the divine, to know that we are not alone. In this holy ordinary we meet a God who suffers with us and by us but more important than that we meet the God who resides in the suffering. All of it, every bit of our human experience is lived within the heart of God. You right here right now are in God, not cheering God on from obstructed view curbside seats, not desperately grasping for some piece of a distant divinity but standing in the very heart of the divine.
Oh my, can we trust that truth? Or are we so busy waiting for a grand parade, a total transformation that we might miss the truth that we are right here, right now, and always living our lives within the very heart of God.
And if you’re too busy
waiting for a parade or too preoccupied with the total transformation of a
dramatic apocalyptic event you are likely to miss what one theologian called
the proximate goals, the “gradual measures, the minor improvements, the
piecemeal changes, the little bits of progress that are in fact in glorious
revelation of the living God in whom we live and move and have our being.” Holy is
life, and when God was made known in the human body of Jesus of Nazareth we
caught a glimpse of the fact that in his most human experience of dying on the
cross, he revealed to us the true depth and breadth of his divinity. Holy Holy Holy
 Douglas John Hall, The Cross in Our Context: Jesus and the Suffering World, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 2003, 90.