Everybody Loves a Parade

February 13, 2000 / Mark 11:1-11

Although churches from our tradition arenít tied to the liturgical calendar, most of us know Palm Sunday and Easter.

Palm Sunday remembers the final Sunday in the personal ministry of Jesus. It commemorates the Sunday before his death the following Friday. It is called Palm Sunday because of the so-called "triumphal entry" that took place that day. As Jesus entered Jerusalem, there was a clamor and celebration ó a parade, if you please.

When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,


"Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"

"Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!"

"Hosanna in the highest!"

And you know what happened a week later. That was the day of the resurrection, the day we joyously celebrate as Easter Sunday. The tomb was empty. Jesus was showing himself to be alive both to individuals (e.g., Mary Magdalene) and to groups (i.e., the apostles).

Two glorious Sundays! But do you remember what happened in between?

Life was rosy on Palm Sunday. But Jesus made enemies Monday by driving animals out of the temple precincts, turning over the tables of money-changers, and saying the priests and people had turned the temple into a "den of robbers." He faced down his opponents among the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians over the next couple of days. By Thursday, his death warrant had been issued, and he was put under arrest by the temple police. On Friday morning, he was forced to carry his cross to "The Place of the Skull" and was crucified there with two other prisoners.

Itís easy to be a Christian on Palm Sunday. Itís even easier on Easter. Everything is rosy. Thereís not a cloud in the sky. Who wouldnít want to be with Jesus! But more of life is lived Monday through Saturday than on Sundays. Have you noticed?

The doctor runs the tests on Tuesday and calls with the awful diagnosis late Thursday afternoon. Someone from the court serves you with divorce papers at work Wednesday morning. You have a wreck Saturday, get called about a bounced check Tuesday, or make a court appearance for a DUI on Monday.

Sundays are good. Sundays are songs and sermon, lunch with family or friends. Itís our best day, our faith-affirming day. It feels good to be a Christian! But life is tougher on those other days. Disappointments hit hard. Tragedy creates doubt. Reaping the bitter fruit of some of our foolish or sinful behaviors boxes us into tight, painful corners. Being a Christian isnít so much "fun" now. It is hard. It is a test. It is the true measure of discipleship.

Hail, Jesus!

It was a Sunday in April A.D. 30 that Jesus sent some disciples ahead of the larger group to get a colt that had never been ridden before. They left on their errand, found things just as Jesus said they would, and brought the animal back. Some of the disciples "saddled" the donkey with items of their own clothing, and Jesus ó for the only time recorded in the Gospels at least ó went somewhere by a means other than walking. When you have a parade, there are always some special things.

With all his reluctance about being identified or confessed gone now, Jesus started into the Holy City. It was Passover season, and hundreds of thousands of people were thronging the highways to Jerusalem. As the name "Jesus!" began to be whispered among the people, that whisper became first a murmur and eventually a cheer. His disciples and total strangers laid their cloaks on the road before him or cut branches ó perhaps "straw" ó from the fields to line his way.

Only Jesus Knew the Meaning

Although Jesus was their true Messiah and King, it is more likely that the masses other than his committed disciples were hailing him as a great prophet in this scene. His reputation had been spreading for more than three years now. But he had avoided making public claims of an extravagant sort. He and his Father knew a timetable for his ministry that had been kept from his disciples until just recently. He had been telling them what they refused to believe about Jerusalem, suffering, and death.

But the time for silence had passed. The hour of confrontation had come. So he did not protest or seek to silence the cheering multitude. In fact, when some of the Pharisees in the crowd challenged him to "rebuke" his disciples and put a stop to the parade atmosphere, this is what he said: "I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out" (Luke 19:40).

In retrospect, the disciples would realize that this scene of Jesus riding into Jerusalem was in fulfillment of prophecy:

Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion!
Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and having salvation,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey (Zech. 9:9).

Jesus knew that text. He knew the significance of what he was doing that day. And he knew the fickle nature of crowds, everything that lay ahead for him in the week to come, and how alone he would be by the wee hours of Friday morning.

So, while we call this Jesusí "triumphal entry," it would more properly be called his "bittersweet entry" into Jerusalem. He was headed to his death, but everyone else was trying to make it into a parade. They were shouting the great Hallel Psalms (113-118) and thinking in terms of their Jewish nationalism. They wanted a great prophet to come, rally the citizenry of Jerusalem to revolt, and throw out the despised Romans. Jesus had a very different agenda. What conflicting emotions must have run through him. And I suspect he rode along with his head slumped on his chest more often than he flashed a V-for-victory sign or exhorted the crowds to cheer louder.

When the Noise Died Down

When the noise died down, somebody needed to pick up the litter and mend the holes made in some of the cloaks by an animalís hooves.

When the noise died down, most of the people sought out their family and friends, went to dinner, and thought through their plans for the next day ó with few, if any, thoughts of Jesus figuring into those plans.

When the noise died down, God was still God ó and still in control of where the next few days would go.

When the noise died down, Jesus was alone ó but he was not alone, for he was in the center of his Fatherís will.

When the noise died down, Jesus knew that he would be dead before another Sunday came ó but that death was no threat to his Fatherís love for his Son or to the vindication of that Sonís faithfulness to his Father.


The first ticker-tape parade in New York City happened spontaneously. As a parade was being held in connection with the dedication of the Statue of Liberty, office workers threw ticker tape from the windows of buildings that lined the parade route. That was on October 29, 1886. When Charles Lindbergh was given a heroís honor after his solo flight of the Atlantic Ocean, 750,000 pounds of ticker tape poured onto the streets. And the biggest ticker-tape parade ever was held March 1, 1962, for astronaut John Glenn after he had become the first American to orbit the earth in a spacecraft. The sanitation department cleaned up 3,474 tons of ticker tape, confetti, and other paper along a seven-mile route of jubilation.

All the world loves a parade, but more of life is duty and faithfulness than ticker tape. Sundays are great, but the real test of our discipleship comes between those peak days when we have to negotiate lifeís dark valleys. Two thousand years ago, the crowd was cheering him on Sunday but willing for him to die five days later.

Weíve had a great day today, havenít we? The Lord has been praised in our midst. But letís touch base a few days from now . . .


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