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Palm Sunday - Two Parades

Luke 19: 28-40               "Two Parades"           April 14, 2019

The story of Palm Sunday is in all four gospels. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, all of them talk about the same thing. When Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey, it reminded them of the prophecy in the book of Zechariah. One day there will be a new kind of king, a king who will offer a new kind of peace. His kingdom will be the world. His peace will dismantle the weapons of war and free those who are oppressed and somehow make us all free so we don’t need to be afraid anymore. His kingdom will be the world.

 

28 And when he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 When he drew near to Beth′phage and Bethany, at the mount that is called Olivet, he sent two of the disciples, 30 saying, “Go into the village opposite, where on entering you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat; untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say this, ‘The Lord has need of it.’” 32 So those who were sent went away and found it as he had told them. 33 And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 And they said, “The Lord has need of it.” 35 And they brought it to Jesus, and throwing their garments on the colt they set Jesus upon it. 36 And as he rode along, they spread their garments on the road. 37 As he was now drawing near, at the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, 38 saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” 39 And some of the Pharisees in the multitude said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” 40 He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”

41 And when he drew near and saw the city he wept over it, 42 saying, “Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace! But now they are hid from your eyes.

 

For the last several years Houston, Texas has had a problem. Every January they struggle with competing Martin Luther King, Jr. Parades. We might easily guess the reasons why this happened. In 1978 the Black Heritage Society organized one of the first MLK, Jr. parades in the country. Unfortunately, two of the leaders had a falling-out. So, now they have two different parades, following two different routes. It’s unfortunate. Even on a day when we celebrate a man who advocated unity and peace, grudges bring about division and conflict.

 

Reminds me of the story of the time they found this man on a deserted island. It seems he’d been ship-wrecked years ago. He was so excited that he insisted on showing his rescuers where he lived. He brought them to a clearing. There were three huts in a circle. The men asked him, “Why three huts?” The man said, “This hut is my house. This hut is my church.” The men asked, “So, if that’s your house and that is your church, what is that other hut?” “Oh, the man said, “That’s the church I used to go to.”

What happened in Houston is hardly unheard of. People get hurt feelings and rather than resolve them, they just go to another hut or join a different parade.

 

Parades are fun. I don’t know about you, but I still remember standing in the cold waiting for Santa to arrive on that last float. The bands. The baton twirlers. The children scampering for candy. We may not realize it at first, but today, there are two different parades marching into Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday. One parade is coming from the East and the other one coming from the West. Coming from due East we process in singing, “All glory, laud and honor, to thee Redeemer King, to whom the lips of children the sweet hosannas ring!” If you can, imagine two little boys in front carrying a paper banner. Someone laid it out on the floor of their garage. It has two words in red paint: Pax Christi – you find those same two words on the walls of catacombs, in medieval stained-glass windows and even on the paraments hanging on pulpit and Communion Table and on the stoles ministers wear when they preach. Do any of you know what those two words means? Pax Christi? It means, “The Peace of Christ.” In a moment, I will tell you the origins of that name.

The kind of floats you will find in this Palm Sunday parade are likely to be some of the same kinds of floats you will find at either one of those MLK, Jr. parades in Houston. One float may have children from all different races standing together and holding hands. Another float may say, “Keep the Dream Alive!”

There is all kinds of friendly ruckus in this parade. Children are pulling off palm branches and waving them in the air like sparklers on the Fourth of July. People are cheering, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the name of the Lord!”

There is a laughter. The air tingles with hope.

The Grand Marshall of the Pax Christi Palm Sunday Parade is riding in on a donkey. He is wearing a Ghandi-like robe. For the Romans looking on, it must have seemed silly. Who cheers for a man on a donkey, for goodness sakes? Yet, for the Hebrews, it meant everything. They really didn’t care if the Romans didn’t get it. They cared. They remembered. The prophets said the Messiah would enter Jerusalem just like this. Jesus fit the bill. He looked determined that day as he rode into Jerusalem. Whatever humility looks like, it doesn’t look weak. People were so excited they even took off their coats and laid them at his feet. Everyone seems happy except a few Pharisees who say, “Teacher, tell them to be quiet!” To which Jesus responded, “I tell you that if they were silent, they very stones would cry out!”

 

Now, all of this is in deep contrast to the other parade coming from the West. The banner leading this parade was not scrawled out in someone’s garage. It has two bold words professionally designed probably by Haliburton: Pax Romana, which means, of course, “The Peace of Rome.” The Peace of Rome has little in common with the Peace of Christ.

The Grand Marshall of Pax Romana was Pilate. No donkey or Ghandi-like sari for him. Pilate rides in on a war horse. He is draped in imperial colors. He is flanked by soldiers. Their armor gleams in the sun. Their swords flash with the stain of blood. There are no joyful cheers here as the parade goes by. There’s just hoofs stomping and chariot wheels turning. The dust which rise from their feet are clouds of fear. Pilate and his army moved in at the beginning of Passover to make sure nothing got out of hand.

The words Pax Romana was etched in stone all over Rome. It was carved into the buildings and bridges. Soldiers had it tattooed onto their arms. For 200 years, Rome extended its empire as far south as Africa and as far north as Britain. Pax Romana included about 30% of the known world at that time. Everywhere you went, you could see those words. Everywhere you went, you also knew what those words meant. You see the only way to maintain peace over a territory that large, was to have no tolerance for dissention. There was good reason it was silent when Pilate marched by. No one dared speak.

The peace of Rome was not peace in the way we think about peace. It was forced obedience. It was peace maintained by crushing rebellions. At the end of the first century, Rome was crucifying as many as 300 people day. All in a desire to maintain the Pax Romana.

One reason why the Pharisees told Jesus to quiet the crowd is because they didn’t want to draw the attention of Rome. They didn’t want to be crushed under the weight of Pax Romana. Jesus didn’t listen, of course, and in the end, he suffered Roman wrath.

And, THAT is exactly why the early church started to use the name Pax Christi. In a world dominated by the cruel oppression of Pax Romana, early Christian believers wanted people to know there was a choice. Pax Romana is here to dominate. Pax Christi is here to defend. Pax Romana demands allegiance. Pax Christi invites us to have faith. Pax Romana terrifies its people into silence. Pax Christi will make even the stones cry out in joy.

There were two different parades that first Palm Sunday. In fact, there will always be two different parades. They still march through our lives.

 

Luke says that when Jesus’s parade finally turned the corner and he saw the city in all its glory, he started to cry. “Would that even today you would know the things that make for peace.” He wasn’t just speaking to a crowd two thousand years ago, he was speaking to us. Jesus could see all the way into our living rooms, deep into our hearts. He was also staring right down Pennsylvania Ave. and up the steps to the Capital dome in Washington.

Jesus wasn’t just weeping for the Jews centuries ago.

The difference of the two parades comes down to one word: fear. Pax Romana demands fear. It thrives on fear. It wants to do everything in its power to promote fear, instill fear and grow fear. There is a cost to marching along with Pax Romana.

I recall what former president Dwight Eisenhower once said:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.

 

Pax Christi is here to bring us hope. It tells us we don’t have to be afraid. We don’t have to be afraid of immigrants. We don’t have to be afraid of people who are different. We don’t have to be afraid of what is under our bed or the people coming out of the closet. All that goose-stepping fear is Pax Romana, scaring us into joining the wrong parade.

The Pax Christi is not peace in the sense of silence. The Hebrew word for peace, which Jesus brought along as he marched in on Palm Sunday is shalom, but that Hebrew word means so much more than the absence of war. Shalom means justice, and yes, the peace of Christ does mean doing things like buying palms from Third World countries which pay people fairly. The Pax Christi is about the quiet confidence which comes from knowing the Lord and the noise of joy when we do.

“Do not be afraid,” said the angels.

“Do not be afraid,” said the Psalmist.

“Do not be afraid,” said King David to his son, Solomon just before Solomon rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.

“Do not be afraid,” said Jesus.

If we happen to find ourselves caught up in fear, we may not realize it, but at that moment, we may be marching in the wrong parade. I admit, I have marched in the wrong parade. Fear has gotten the best of me and I have made mistakes while caught up in the wrong parade. But the good news for all of us, is the right parade is very nearby. We just need to follow the man on the donkey.

 

TO GOD BE THE GLORY FOREVER AND EVER. AMEN.