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This Sunday, we celebrated Palm Sunday when Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey as children and a crowd of peasants welcomed him with shouts of “Hosanna” and by waving palm branches.
The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord— the King of Israel!” Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written: “Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him…
This morning, we celebrate Palm Sunday, the day Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey as children and adults welcomed him by waving their palms and shouting “Hosanna!” All of us this morning participated in a palm procession to remember that special day which is recorded in the Bible.
But, did you know that this wasn’t the only parade happening on that day? According to history, there was another parade going on at the same time. Pontius Pilate also came into Jerusalem that day, and his parade would have included Roman Soldiers and big horses, and military equipment. It would have been an Imperial March, which just means it was royal and fancy, and maybe even a little frightening as it showed off the Roman Empire’s power and strength.
Now some of you are familiar with the Star Wars movies. Has anyone seen or heard of Star Wars? Yes?
Well, there is an Imperial March in Star Wars, too, and it’s the name of a song that plays every time the villain shows up. Do you know who the villain in Star Wars is? There are many, but the most well-known one is Darth Vader. Now, Darth Vader wears a helmet like this and has a light saber like this, a red one.
To contrast the Imperial March with the Palm Procession, I’m going to need your help. Will you join me for one more parade?
But this time, we’re going to walk in the Imperial March, so instead of waving palms, maybe we’ll shake our fists and flex our muscles, and instead of walking nicely, maybe we’ll stomp our feet, and be as strong and powerful as we can as we walk up the stairs and behind the choir, so that everyone sees us. Okay?
Follow me in the Imperial March!
Great marching. Thank you for being in both the palm parade and the imperial march.
You may go sit down in your pews.
This morning, our children have been invited to stay with us for the whole service.
Many churches hold intergenerational worship services that are more interactive and include movement and conversation throughout all of worship.
Oftentimes, the sermon is the hardest part of worship to sit through, for adults and children alike. And so, this morning, we will open up the scriptures together, for one another. Which means, we will be talking to each other.
So there will be moments within the sermon, where I will pose a set of questions, and then you all will have a conversation with those around you, sitting in the pews near you. We encourage children to talk with your parents or siblings, for the youth in the balcony to talk to each other. Choir folks, talk someone next to you. Adults who are sitting far from anyone else in your pew are encouraged to sit a little closer to someone, introduce yourself if you don’t know their name, and have a conversation.
Now, I know that for some of you, at least for this particular season in your life, church is a place and a time to come and sit quietly and anonymously, and the last thing you want to do is talk to someone else. If that’s you, we get that. You’re welcome here, too. When we say all are welcome; we really try to mean it. So, there is an insert in your bulletin with the questions we’ll be discussing. And you can write or draw your response without sharing with another person if that’s what you’d rather do.
But for the others of you, please take a risk, and engage with someone you may or may not know.
After each set of questions, I’ll give you some time to talk, not a lot, and you’ll know when it’s time to come back together because the organ will start to play.
So, please pray with me:
O God, we give you thanks for the sound of children in our midst, and we gave you thanks that the voices of children rang out shouting “Hosanna” on that first Palm Sunday. Help us to welcome you into our hearts and our lives as you were welcomed into Jerusalem. And may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be pleasing and acceptable in your sight O Lord our strength and redeemer. Amen.
Palms, Parades, & Protests
So this morning, our children, as you saw, were a part of two different parades: the palm processional and the imperial march. They got to show us a little bit of the contrast that the two would have had.
Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan write about these two different parades in their book The Last Week. And they contrast Jesus’ peasant palm procession with the royal, imperial, pomp and circumstance of the other parade.
The children got to participate in both kinds today, although our imperial march was more Galactic Empire than Roman Empire, and we all got a glimpse of both today. But on that first Palm Sunday, you couldn’t have attended both. You would’ve had to choose one or the other.
So the first question to discuss with those around you is this:
How and why would you choose one over the other?
There would have been good reasons for attending either parade.
More people probably would have known about Pilate’s parade, it happened every year before Passover, so maybe it was tradition for some families to go and see this big royal march. Some people probably really enjoyed seeing some of that military strength and might. Maybe it made them feel powerful, too. Or maybe Pilate and the other soldiers were like celebrities, people would’ve taken selfies with them if they could do that back then.
But then, there’s Jesus’ parade. Jesus had developed a bit of a following himself.
He healed people; he helped them; he answered some hard questions about faith.
He was a teacher, but he also served and fed people and had some radical ideas about God’s kingdom and what it meant to follow God. If you were sick or hungry or had a need, Jesus may have been able to help you, and that may have swayed you to attend that palm processional.
The word “Hosanna” doesn’t mean, Hooray Jesus or Yay God; it means, “Please Save Us!” It isn’t cheering Jesus on; it’s asking for Jesus’ help, and hoping that he can provide it.
“Hosanna! Save Us!” The people who showed up to Jesus’ parade needed some kind of saving. And salvation is derived from the word “salve”, something that heals and helps us.
So the next question is this:
In what ways do we need God’s help? How can God help us?
Whatever help or salvation we seek from God, we know that God cannot be contained or ordered around. God’s help usually comes to us in surprising or unexpected ways: by granting us acceptance or peace with a difficult situation rather than doing away with the situation altogether; by sending us friends or loved ones to encourage us and help us, so that we don’t feel so alone in our sadness or pain or difficult situations; by giving us the courage to choose the right way even if it’s harder or if we’re uncertain and scared.
God does answer our Hosannas, but God never shows up the way we would expect. In fact, Jesus, who was God incarnate, God with us here on earth, wasn’t what people expected either. And many had a very hard time with his message.
One way that Jesus talked about living and being in the world, that would prove to be very difficult to follow was the way of peace and love and forgiveness.
The Roman Empire, the ones who threw that other Imperial March parade, were the very opposite of that. Borg and Crossan call the Roman Empire a “domination system:” a system that dominates people, that uses fear and violence to control people, a system that politically oppressed people and economically exploited the poor and the vulnerable. And they used religious language to justify it all. They called Caesar the Son of God and said Caesar’s way (which was Rome’s way) was God’s way.
But Jesus said that God’s way was different: that God loved all people; that God wanted all people to be treated fairly; that peace rather than violence; love rather than fear or hate, that these were God’s will.
According to their book, Borg and Crossan believe that Jesus’ palm processional didn’t just happen to be on the same day and at the same time as Pilates’. Rather Jesus knew this other parade would be happening, and he came from the east while the Roman army came from the west.
And they say that Jesus knew exactly what he was doing because he was putting on a planned political demonstration against the powers that be. He was resisting Rome’s Domination system with a protest parade.
Now, we don’t live in the Roman Empire today. But we are familiar with domination systems. We know that people in power still use fear and violence to try to control people. We know that people still oppress and exploit those who are vulnerable.
Bullies at school and bullies in the American political arena use this method still today. Villains in the Roman Empire and villains in the Galactic Empire from Star Wars use these methods.
And we have a choice this morning:
To follow Jesus and work against the domination system to proclaim love and justice and peace for all. Or to be swept up into the Imperial March because it is louder, more popular, and more easily accepted.
So the last set of questions is this:
How can we share God’s love and peace with others?
Jesus’ way wasn’t always popular. In fact, we know that even the crowds that welcomed him would turn on him, that “Hosannas” would turn to “Crucify him.”
Following Jesus, being a protestor in his palm processional is not always easy.
But we are God’s beloved children. And we are called to sometimes do things that are hard.
This week, as move into Holy Week, we are to prepare the way of the Lord.
The way of justice, the way of peace, the way of hope, and the way of love.
Let us walk that way with Jesus and prepare that way for all to trod.
Thanks be to God, Amen.