I love a paradeLatest Issue, Where's the Faith? Thursday, May 11th, 2017
Social Chaos: Where's the Faith?
As a progressive Christian, I believe there are many names for God and many ways to a loving God; this article reflects one of those ways. Take from here what works for you. Celebrate life with joy and peace!
I love a parade! I remember being in our Memorial Day parades in Madison, Wis., marching with my Cub Scout troop until the parades were stopped because of the riots in the ‘60s. Yes, I was alive back then! Ha!
There’s something about a parade; the drums, the lines of people along the street and waving and smiling to total strangers!
Palm Sunday is sort of a parade, celebrating Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, signifying the beginning of Holy Week in our 21st century church liturgical calendar. In their book, The Last Week, New Testament scholars John Crossan and Marcus Borg point out that this parade wasn’t the largest or even the most spectacular parade in town during that Passover celebration.
Back then, Jerusalem was a destination spot, a tourist spot. It was the Mecca for those of the Jewish faith. The city’s population would swell from 40,000 to over 200,000 during holy holidays and Passover was one of the busiest holidays. Lots of excitement; you could feel the buzz in the air!
Crossan and Borg point out that there were actually two processions into Jerusalem on what we call Palm Sunday. One procession we know well, and commemorate today with the waving of palm fronds and shouts of Hosanna. We remember a peasant rabbi riding a donkey, accompanied by his peasant followers from the north into Jerusalem.
Also entering Jerusalem that day from the west, was the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate. Just like the Roman governors before him, Pilate lived in Caesarea by the sea. In other words, Pilate spent most of his time at his beach house.
But with the crowds of devout and faithful Jews pouring into Jerusalem to commemorate their liberation from Egypt, the Roman governors would intentionally put on a display of power and force to remind them who’s in control and to deter the Jews from getting too exuberant about even thinking about the possibility of liberation from Rome. Pilate’s procession was meant to be a visible manifestation of Imperial Roman power.
This is how it worked. Once a year, during Passover celebrations, the Roman procurator moved his headquarters from the beach to Jerusalem in a show of strength, strategically designed to prevent any outbreaks of rebellion against Roman rule and occupation. These outbreaks were a constant threat because the Roman rule imposed economic hardship on their subject nations like Israel, and because no one likes the foot of a foreign power on their necks.
In a show of military force, the second parade included foot soldiers, the cavalry on their horses, leather armor, helmets, weapons, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles with the sun glimmering on metal and gold. The sound of marching feet in cadence, the creaking of leather, the clinking of the horse bridles; all of this would have a sobering effect on those who saw this parade. There were no shouts of Hosanna as the powerful Pilate rode proudly on his steed, hoping to strike fear and awe into the helpless onlookers.
As Pilate led a show of force of his own trusted soldiers, he did so with confidence, knowing he was backed up by several battalions of Rome’s finest soldiers stationed just to the west of Jerusalem, ready to march into the city at his command.
Theologian Spong insists that the Gospel writers were trying to make sense out of the crucifixion and did so through the lens of their own Jewish scriptures and traditions. Those events were passed down for decades by oral tradition (word of mouth) until, in the hands of the gospel writers, they were to reinterpret these events to portray Jesus as the Messiah, the one the people were waiting for as foretold by the prophet, and the story is set during the Passover to portray Jesus as the new Moses, sent to deliver his people from the hands of their oppressors.
He goes on to say that the historical details are impossible to sort out some two centuries after the events. So what are we to do with Palm Sunday?
Well, it seems that no matter how you look at the story of this amazing procession into Jerusalem, you can’t help but see the image of a Jesus who offers us a choice between two parades. The attraction of the power and the might of Pilate’s military parade with all its glory and awe is still there to tempt us. The temptation to use force and violence, military might, nuclear deterrence, shock and awe, is still marching its way into the hearts and minds of so many people. This seems to attract more attention than the path less traveled: Here we have Jesus vs. Pilate, the nonviolence of the dominion of God vs. the violence of the empire.
Two arrivals, two entrances, two processions; and all too often we find ourselves in the wrong parade. Sometimes it’s difficult to know which parade to join. It’s so easy to get caught up in the enthusiasm of the crowds and join the processions with the loudest bands or the most elaborate floats or the greatest number of celebrities or the most charismatic leaders.
It’s easy to miss the counter-procession that’s taking place on the other side of town; the one where Jesus is riding on a humble donkey, claiming the dominion of God, not by violence, but by courageously loving and serving. The realm of God is nothing like the kingdoms or empires with which we are all too familiar. Power doesn’t come from domination or oppression, but power flows from love and service. Leadership requires servanthood and grace.
Jesus is our ultimate example of servant leadership. Peace can be won without a sword. Let’s be mindful how easily we are distracted and fooled by fancier parades.
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