Palm Sunday: a parade or a procession? Years ago, I was stopped by a funeral procession on the way to Dale Memorial Park. My, then young, children were with me and they began to ask questions about a funeral procession. Have you every thought much about the order of a funeral procession? It is usually led by a police vehicle followed by the funeral director, minister(s), pall bearers, hearse, immediate family, friends and others. A funeral procession is an orchestrated dance-like movement that is symbolically organized. Notice that the deceased is in a vehicle in the middle of the procession.
Palm Sunday was a parade, a magnificent parade with great shouts of hope from enthusiastic crowds. There was great extravagance shown to the Lord as palms branches were cut from trees and laid in the street along with the coats and cloaks of people who lined the street as Jesus rode by. This was a royal celebration akin to a king parading through town. The shouts of “Hosanna” were symbolic and hope-filled. Hosanna means “save us now”! The crying out of “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” and, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David,” must have been quite a scene. Just imagine in your minds eye the laughter, joy, energy and fun everyone in this crowd was having.
Notice Jesus’ location in this “parade”, he was in the middle of those who were walking ahead, clearing the way for Jesus to walk through and those following behind. Was it a parade or was it a procession? One thing is certain, that Palm Sunday crowd could never have imagined what would happen just four days later. But we do!
Our 2019 Lenten season series of messages is all about how well we see God in our lives and especially for today, how well do we see how God has been and is at work in us, through us and all around us? As we spend time discerning our own faith life, we have looked at the hard aspects of faith too: suffering, wisdom, our calling as a disciple and priest of Jesus and the ways that God is at work in us. Today let’s celebrate and remember why Palm Sunday matters so much.
That first Palm Sunday crowd saw an overthrow of the “bad guys”. And they were celebrating the hero who had come to do it. Jesus, to them, was a proverbial “Lone Ranger” who rode into Jerusalem atop a blazing white stallion kicking up dust as he pranced through town. As Jesus passed by, you could hear the people say, “Who is that masked man?” and “Did you see His Sword? But He didn’t have time to stop. There were bad guys on the loose and Jesus had a job to do.
As He rode into Jerusalem, Jesus quickly sized up the situation and formed a plan to capture the ring leader of the trouble makers. His name was Diablo, although some called him Satan. But Jesus wasn’t afraid. He got down off of His stallion, clenched his fists, popped his knuckles, made that squinty eyed grimace, and said, “Go ahead…make my day.” After a short scuffle, Jesus hog-tied the devil and threw him in jail! A large crowd gathered. Jesus mounted His horse and pulled hard on the reigns. The stallion stood on its hind legs, neighed loudly, and pawed the air with its front legs. When it stood as tall as it could stand, Jesus leaned forward in the saddle. Holding the reigns with one hand while lifting his white hat in the air with the other, He shouted with a loud voice, “I’ll be back.” And as Jesus rode off into the sunset, the background music of The William Tell Overture could be heard by all!
Is that how you would have done it if you were Jesus? It’s what I would have done. It’s probably what Hollywood would have done. But Jesus always does things differently. He never did things the way any of us would have done them. As we look at what really happened 2000 years ago when Jesus did enter Jerusalem, it is not what any of us would have done. In four days: cheering will turn to jeering; happiness will turn to anger; affection will turn to rejection and hope will turn to despair.
Yet, Palm Sunday IS a joyous celebration. It IS a day of great promise. It IS a day we MUST all celebrate because Palm Sunday is the day that Jesus’ true identity was officially introduced and revealed to the world after thousands of years of waiting. On that special day, Palm Sunday, Jesus is officially proclaimed the long-awaited King of Israel. Here Israel is your king!
But the Palm Sunday parade was really the Palm Sunday procession as Jesus, riding atop a lowly, peaceful donkey, was riding into death – not the throne seat. Why is this a procession and not a parade? Why must Jesus die instead of using his great power to overthrow the hated Romans? Why did the people turn from Jesus so quickly from praise and cheers to insult and jeers? So, the questions still linger…why, why, why?
I believe the answer is in the loving wisdom of almighty God. Can we acknowledge that God ALWAYS gives us what we need first, instead of what we want?
We didn’t need a king first; we needed a messiah!
We didn’t need a political coup first; we needed a spiritual awakening (and we still do!).
We didn’t need an overthrow of Roman authority first; we needed an overthrow of the power and authority of death!
We didn’t need an earthly kingdom first; we needed a heavenly home!
Having a right vision of Palm Sunday matters friends. Right vision helps us to see the “why” to the ultimate questions this day asks us every year. Why does Palm Sunday matter?
Palm Sunday is a procession because God’s love for us is greater than the pain, anguish, suffering, humiliation and death that Jesus experienced and endured for us to make us free!
God always gives us what we need, and because of that great love of Jesus, through faith in him, the only one who faced death and defeated it forever, all who place their faith and hope in Jesus are free – yes, free indeed!
That’s why Palm Sunday matters!
By the way – the parade starts next Sunday! It started at the empty tomb and will continue for eternity!