Staying Through the Parade
Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on Mark 11: 1 – 11. Focus on Palm Sunday and Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem. And why crucifixion precedes resurrection. Check out Jody and the choir as they sing: “Shout to the King Hosanna”
Jerusalem was going to be Camelot, and Jesus was going to be King Arthur; that the way Thomas Long, a Princeton Seminary professor, once characterized the situation of Palm Sunday. The crowds were dreaming of trumpets, towers, tapestries, long flowing robes, glimmering crowns and sparkling scepters. The disciples would be the knights at the round table, ready and able to battle the evil Roman empire and restore Israel to her former glory.
And the people believed this because 500 years earlier, the prophet Zechariah said that one day there would be a day like this one. That ancient promise was indelibly etched in the mind of a glory-starved nation. For half a millennium they kept an eye out for David’s successor to gallop into town and assume the throne. The orchestra was forever practicing, “Happy days are here again.”
So when Jesus decided it was finally time for the world’s most anticipated parade, they were ready. As he rode into the capital city, tourists from all over Israel lined the street and cheered wildly. The owner of the dry cleaners suggested that all participants lay their coats before Jesus’ donkey. The few holdouts with expensive blazers found vendors selling palm branches and spread them instead like a royal carpet before the King of the Jews.
The crowd shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is coming! Hosanna in the highest!” They cheered until they were hoarse. They came in all shapes, ages and sizes. There were old men who had been making this pilgrimage during the Passover for 50 years. They knew how unlikely it was that Jesus was the one they had been waiting for all of their lives, but what if?
And on this day – everyone believed enough to overlook the fact that Jesus was a wanted man with only days to live.
Even the disciples believed this, but it was almost too much to hope for – and it didn’t quite add up. All the hosannas, palm branches, and dirt-encrusted jackets couldn’t hide the fact that he was less than what they expected.
A white stallion would have been better than this little donkey that left Jesus’ feet dragging along the ground. There were no conquerors’ weapons attached to the saddle. In fact, Jesus had no saddle, only a cloak. He didn’t fit the messianic profile. He was poor. He was from a backwater town called Nazareth. What kind of king walks around as an itenerate preacher sleeping beneath the stars, hanging with the dirty people of the land.
Whatever questions they might have had were rudely answered five days later when the grand marshal of the parade was executed a common criminal. The parade with its shouts of Hosanna turned out to be Jesus’ death march. There would be no round table, no Camelot.
The new monarch was crowned with thorns. This king rules not with a cape and a scepter, but with a cross. The king’s disciples weren’t following anymore. They had their answer. It was now clear what it meant to follow this Messiah. And the path of the cross wasn’t what they had bargained for.
It’s real easy to praise Jesus without following him. Like the Palm Sunday crowd, we want to see what we want to see. We want a miracle worker as long as the miracles don’t cost anything. It’s easy to be a Christian when there is no sacrifice and no mention of the cross.
We’re just as tempted, as they were to skip the struggle and become the safe haven of convention, caution, prudence, discretion, and reasonableness. The church is so tempted to line the Palm Sunday parade route with comfort and security, but so quick to cry crucify him when he doesn’t meet our expectations.
In the 1960s, Clarence Jordan founded Koinonia Farm near Americus, Georgia, as a Christian community that built friendships across the lines of race, class, gender, and age. Not to surprisingly, Jordan wasn’t popular with most of the local folks, though he came from a prestigious family. The farm was controversial and constantly in trouble.
On one occasion, Jordan approached his brother Robert, who later became a Georgia state senator, to ask him to be the legal representative for Koinonia Farm.
Robert told his brother that he couldn’t do that. He said, “Clarence, you know my political aspirations. Why, if I represented you, I might lose my job, my house, everything I’ve got.”
“We might lose everything too, Bob.”
“But it’s different for you.”
“Why is it different? I remember, it seems to me, that you and I joined the church the same Sunday, as boys. I expect when we came forward the preacher asked me about the same questions he did you. He asked me, ‘Do you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior?’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ What did you say?”
“I follow Jesus, Clarence, up to a point.”
“Could that point by any chance be the cross?”
“That’s right. I follow him to the cross, but not on the cross. I’m not getting myself crucified.”
“I don’t believe you’re a disciple. You’re an admirer of Jesus, but not a disciple of his. I think you ought to go back to the church you belong to, and tell them you’re an admirer not a disciple.”
“Well now, if everyone who felt like I do did that, we wouldn’t have a church, would we?”
“The question,” Clarence said, “is do you have a church now?” (James McClendon Jr., Biography as Theology [Nashville: Abingdon, 1974], pp. 127-128.)
We’re all tempted to be admirers rather than followers. Christ’s church is not the fellowship of the comfortable, but of the cross.
If we follow Christ we’ll live against the grain. We’ll tell the truth in a world that lies, give in a world that takes, love in a world that lusts, make peace in a world that fights, serve in a world that waits to be served, carry a cross in a world that crucifies those who love.
The crowd at the foot of the cross is smaller than the crowd on Palm Sunday. Most people don’t stay for the whole parade, because following Christ has consequences.
To believe in a God who offers us his crucified Son as our Lord and Savior, is to be forced to move toward a belief in a God who is able to include crucifixions in his will or toward a god who is powerless against them. The one is larger than our ability to comprehend the other too small to matter.
For 2000 years the passion and death of Jesus has captured the attention and imagination of the church. It’s the focal point of the faith. It’s the universal symbol of what it means to be a Christian.
When Christ calls us out of the crowd to come and follow, he bids us to come and die with him – To live our lives for something bigger and greater than fear, security or comfort. He bids us come and give our lives for others.
And here’s the great paradox of our faith – We are called to give up our lives in order to save them. Amen