There were two parades in Jerusalem that day. There was the one that happened every year at the time of the Passover celebrations, a spectacle of Rome’s military force. It happened quite intentionally just before the Passover, serving as a reminder to the religious faithful of just who was in power. 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. Here Jesus rode a colt in place of the mighty horses of the governor. There were no floats from corporate sponsors; just ordinary people, cheering and waving palms at a man on a donkey. Everyone present would have known that when a prince rides into enemy territory on a donkey he comes bearing peace. By weeks end no one seems to remember this.
It wasn’t a protest parade in the way we know them. It wasn’t meant to be a thumbing of the nose at the governor over there on his high horse on the west side. It wasn’t angry or hostile. There was more of an overflowing sense of hopefulness in the crowds. It was politically charged, to be sure, but rather than protesting against something these folks were getting on side with something. This was not Jesus going through the motions to his predestined death on the cross. He was not being obedient to God’s predetermined plan so much as he was being responsive to God’s invitation to trust in this way of love and justice. It was about faithfulness to God’s call, to a way of being in the world that is incredibly simple and exceedingly challenging.
When we look at the news headlines from this week alone, with civilians being killed by chemical weapons and missiles being launched in retaliation; churches in Egypt being bombed as people gather for worship, when we consider the prevalence of war and violence in our global community; when we try to get our heads around the statistic that 150,000,000 are thought to have died globally in wars in the 20th Century, I can’t help but think there must be another way.
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.
There’s the moment when Judas walks away from the table and sells out for a few gold coins. Peter has no sooner promised Jesus his loyalty than he denies ever knowing the guy. Everyone sells out. All of the good folks who so enthusiastically joined the parade retreated in an instant into their various expressions of fear.
We can keep Judas and Peter and the rest of them at arms length, safely on the pages of our bibles, relegate them to a moment in history, just as we can keep those thousands of soldiers from Vimy as letters etched in stone on a memorial half a world away but if we’re honest with ourselves we have to admit that their stories are actually our stories.
How is it that Jesus’ most loyal supporters went from love to fear in a heartbeat? How did Palm Sunday lead to Good Friday? It was one small act of betrayal at a time. I don’t know about you but I can name a few times I’ve chosen my own security over the common good, denied that I know Jesus through small acts of choosing to secure my own future over the well being of the whole. We are Peter, scared into a corner and speaking words we know to be false because somehow we have lost our nerve. Bible stories are relevant because they are our stories.
Holy Weeks in our lives are those times we lose our centre, our grounding, our trust in the persistent call of the Spirit that invites us to be a people of love. Holy Week is when our small selves win the day and we turn our backs on any sense of higher calling.
If you read ahead in the story you’ll notice that Judas and Peter turned their backs on Jesus when they were alone, away from the other disciples and the community that had shaped them. That community had been a place of prayer, teaching, eating, a place that grounded them in the tangible feeling of love that then fired them up to go out and make it happen. It’s no small thing that they were alone. We can forget what we stand for, lose sight of the love we are grounded in when we begin to think I’ve got this, it’s all up to me, no one’s going to have my back if I don’t look out for myself.
Their story is our story. Christian communities what they do best, when they do it best, because often the fail, but what they have the potential to do best is root us in the truth that we are all one, that we do this is community because this is how the entire universe is structured.
I’ve spoken before about the Pando tree in Utah, arguably the oldest living organism in the world. Some date it back 80,000 years and others over a million. On the surface it looks like a lovely grove of aspens but below the surface its root structure reveals that in fact it is one living organism. It’s longevity and health is absolutely attributable to its extensive interconnected root system.
We can look to trees to tell us that there is strength in community or we can look right here. We always include baptism in a regular Sunday worship service, never as a private family function. There’s a reason for this. We ask all of you to promise to be there for these folks. The church in her wisdom knew that our faith journey, our spiritual quest can’t fully happen in isolation. And so the whole community promises to be there for these individuals and families, because even these babies will know their own Holy Weeks one day, they’ll have moments when they want to sell out. They will have a better chance at living into the love Jesus lived and invites us to embody if they have a community to keep them grounded, to bouy them up, to remind them that you are a beloved child of God and so is every neighbour.
Between now and Friday one by one everybody in the story will abandon Jesus, but more than that they will abandon his message, the love that be embodied, until Friday comes and we know how that ends.
Imagine for a moment how things would have been different had love won that day. “What would have happened if the people rose up in love rather than fear? What would have happened if the leaders embraced wonder rather than worry, and embraced a new spiritual vision rather dead institutional power? We will never know, because neither they nor we have ever tried to live out the radical vision of a resurrection that does not require death! What would happen [to our communities and countries] “if it chose love over power and challenged the powers and principalities to care for the least of these, first, and place planetary well-being and unborn generations ahead of short term profits?”
Will we choose moment by moment to stand for something? Will we dare the vulnerability of being rooted in community? Will we join the procession of love? Will we find our own colts and wave our branches and say I’m all in? It’s a way that’s incredibly simple and exceedingly challenging and it begins when we choose to stand for something, one step at a time. Amen