It was risky for anyone who shouted to him. But They knew Caesar couldn’t rescue them. Only God Could.
a quick message on Jesus' triumpal parade
We are also coming into the homestretch of Lent, which ends on Good Friday. But before we can get there, we have Palm Sunday to celebrate. It’s a day when churches around the world remember the time Jesus rolled into Jerusalem for another religious holiday – Passover.
His no ordinary trek. Unlike the thousands of other Jews who went to the city to celebrate this great festival, Jesus came to die.
It’s safe to say that most of the people who filled the streets had been praying for God to fulfill the messianic promise to save Israel from their oppressors. After all, that’s what Passover was all about.
God did. Just not as they had expected. It wouldn’t come with a political stunt or an act of war. Instead, God used the Empire’s greatest weapon against itself– the cross of crucifixion.
In its day, the cross was the most brutal form of death one could imagine. Everyone feared it. The very threat of it had most people towing the line. But Jesus wasn’t most people. He was the Anointed One – the Christ – the One in whom God reveals all truth through.
A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
Like I said, Jesus and his followers come to Jerusalem for Passover a celebration which Shane Claigborne calls “an anti-imperial Jewish festival.” If you do not know, Passover commemorates God’s victory over the oppressive yoke Egypt placed on Israel. Even the waving palm branches was symbolic of God’s victory over the foreign occupation which sparked the Maccabean revolt some 150 years before Jesus was born.
By the time of this weird little parade, around the year 30 AD, Judea and its capital Jerusalem had been under Roman occupation for 90 years. God’s people weren’t happy by this. And Rome knew it. Yes, Caesar was the most powerful man in the world, but even he knew he couldn’t rule Jerusalem without incorporating the help of the Jews. He gives positions of power to wealthy Jewish families because Rome trusted wealth. And the wealthy trusted power. (Boy, how little we have changed.)
Rome made sure the rich were not just the secular rulers but also the chief priests, elders, and scribes who ran the Temple. This powerful new ruling class grew their coffers by exploiting the poor. And the religious people found loopholes to allow it.
If you’re familiar with Jesus’ ministry, you know that he had a generous heart for the poor and exploited. He goes after the religious elites for allowing it to happen. In fact, this particular parade will end with Jesus riding to the temple where he will chase out the money changers and loan sharks.
Despite the imbalance of power, both the rich and poor hated living under Roman rule. They longed for a King David-like figure, a messiah who could defeat Caesar and all his minions. In rides Jesus. A young prophet from the wrong side of the tracks who has garnered a great following.
All eyes are on him. Including those of Pontus Pilate and King Herod. They knew Passover was a volatile time, one that was often marked with riots and uprisings. But Rome had ways of making sure things didn’t get out of hand. Like the crosses that lined the hillsides, imperial military parades were used as a reminder of what will happen if you do not obey Caesar.
It’s believed that when Jesus entered the city, he did so on the heal of Pilate who had just marched through the streets with his cavalry, chariots, and foot soldiers in tow. Pilate rode on a warhorse, a symbol of peace through power. In contrast, Jesus came on a small donkey, a symbol of humility and humbleness. Pilate had a well-armed military. Jesus had a few fishermen armed with a heart full of love.
To those shouting, it was worth the risk. They knew Caesar or his minions wouldn’t come to their rescue. They believed God would. So they that is where they put their faith. For a day or two they were hopeful Jesus was the one God sent to save them. But by then end of the week, as they watched him being nailed to a cross, even his closest friends had lost all hope.
How lucky are we to know better? We know God hears our cries and saves us...not because Jesus died, but because he lives. Hope and resurrection. This is what it is all about.
In the movie, “The Shawshank Redemption,” a young prisoner named Andy is learning to survive in this new world. When the system tries to break him, Andy tells his friend Red, “There’s something inside us that they cannot touch.” When Red asks what that is, Andy whispers, “Hope.”
More than positive thinking or wishful optimism, hope is what keeps us going. We see it in prisons, hospitals, and on the battlefields of life. Hope is what we cling to when all else seems to have abandon us. Hope is what gives those battling CV-19 a fighting chance. During my own battle with cancer, I had hope that God wanted me to do something more meaningful with my life than to die.
We need hope. Without it, a vulnerable student can get discouraged and drop out of school. And a fragile addict easily returns to old habits. Without hope, loving parents give up on a child, married couples throw in the towel or worse, they stay in an abusive relationship. Without hope, the virus wins.
May we never forget that if the Roman cross couldn’t beat God, neither can a virus. This is not to say we don’t need to be smart and stay sequestered inside. We do if we want to stop the spread of CV-19. But we need not be afraid. We have hope. We always have because we have Christ. And because of Christ, we have Resurrection.
Resurrection is God’s promised grace coming full circle.
It wasn’t an after-thought. Or a loophole slipped in because God made a mistake. Resurrection was built into creation long before we were. We see it throughout life. A wave crashes and dies only to return to the water from which it was formed. A sunflower can only grow once its seed dies, and its shell destroyed. Although we stop breathing, the molecules and energy that make up who we are continues to live. Because of resurrection, we live – changed and transformed by God’s undying love for us. God is a God of life. Life that comes through death and resurrection of Christ who rode into Jerusalem and turned the world upside down.
At the end of “The Shawshank Redemption,” Andy sends a letter to Red that says, “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” This is a reminder of what Jesus’s death revealed to the world – the universal truth of God’s salvation. Life. And life everlasting.
Resurrection is God’s promise to us that no virus, war, or empirical fear can stop us from living into our Christ-like selves. Noting good ever dies. And so let us live, by bearing the fruit of God’s love with each other.
We know how to do this, because Christ showed us the way to our redemption and salvation. We must never lose sight of him but stay close to him, and learn from him how to live and love in the fullness of life.
When your cross seems too hard to bear, when the pressures of life are crushing you, and the world around looks dark and grim, there is the light of hope that radiates through Christ, who strengthens you and empowers you to get through whatever life hits you with. Even death. It is my hope that you will lean on Christ today, to open your heart and welcome him into every aspect of your life.
In Christ we know the solemnness of any cross we face is bookended with the triumphant arrival of Easter. An empty tomb is proof of God’s heart and intensions for creation. Viruses come and go like kings and their empires. But in Christ, God’s love for us remains.
It’s already been engrained and etched in every living thing throughout creation. Including you and me. As St Paul taught us, God’s love has been implanted in our hearts by the Holy Spirit that already dwells within us – just as it did in Jesus the Christ, the anointed King who rode into our lives with only the full power of God’s love in his arsenal.
To him we lift up our voices and shout our glorious “Hosanna!”
Even though we cannot line the streets right now, we can let our hearts sing this joyous refrain. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.”
Bartlett, David L and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol. 3. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2011).
Claigborne, Shane and Chris Haw. Jesus For President. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008) p. 122.
Gau, Terry Menefee. Shaken to the Core, April 9, 2017 (accessed on April 2, 2020) http://www.rageforexplaining.com/shaken-to-the-core
McAllister, Stuart. Cynicism and Hope. Slice of Infinity. Atlanta, July 7, 2017 (accessed on April 2, 2020).
Ramerman, Dale. Palm Sunday. April 13, 2014. (accessed on April 2, 2020). http://www.christchurchanacortes.org/info-for-members/sermons-2/rev-diane-ramerman-2/palm-sunday3.pdf
Rohr, Richard. The Universal Christ. (New York: Convergent, 2019) pp. 169-187.