What kinds of parades have you attended? Fourth of July? Homecoming? Gay pride? A few years ago Jacob (Yankel) Nosson had the day off and his young son wanted a Hebrew scripture coloring book, so Jacob put his son in the car and headed across New York City to their Synagogue. He had no idea of the drama that lay ahead. He hadn't heard about the parade going on in the city that day. Streets were blocked, traffic was redirected and the cars moved at 15 inches, per hour. When the father's patience wore thin he recited passages from The Tanya, the Jewish book of wisdom. Jacob finally grabbed a parking spot and decided to walk the rest of the way, thinking they were home free. He got out the car and came face to face with a large float blaring tropical music at the end of the boisterous Caribbean American parade. Carrying his boy, he managed to cut across the street while walking in the flow of the crowd following the parade, reciting his Jewish teachings in Yiddish the whole time, to calm his spirit. At one point a guy in the crowd turned and looked at Jacob and his son and said, "You got the wrong parade, man, you got the wrong parade!" (From http://www.chabadtalk.com, 2007).
This morning we've heard about Jews caught up in a different drama, in a different city, in a different parade. It's 30 CE, a spring day like today. The crowd is energized. They have waited for a Messiah superhero and the word about Jesus has gone viral! (Thanks to Rev. Dawn Hutchings for this phrase, http://pastordawn.com )
As Jesus rides into the holy city of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives to the east, the flash mob that appears is beyond excited. They wave branches of victory, throwing their coats down like a red carpet for the royal Jesus. But just a few days later when Jesus travels out of the city, shouldering a cross up that hill of the skull, the masses have disappeared, probably telling each other, "We got the wrong parade, man, we got the wrong parade." This was not the parade they expected. Besides, there was another choice in town.
Another parade was coming into the city from the west on this beginning of Passover: the imperial procession of Governor Pontius Pilot, leading a display of Roman power: cavalry on horses, weapons, banners, with shiny metal and gold, reflecting the sun. Roman officials knew about Passover and came into the city not to honor the Jewish season but to protect Roman interests and reinforce the Fortress Antonia which overlooked the Jewish Temple. They knew that Passover was a Jewish celebration of liberation from another empire and wanted to make sure nothing got out of hand. These dueling processions, Jesus' from the east, Pilot's from the west, exhibited two kingdoms, two powers and two theologies. In Roman imperial theology, the Emperor was seen as the Son of God.
There's no armor on the parade Jesus led and instead of cavalry, common people followed him. Instead of a steed, he rode a colt, echoing the image from the Prophet Zechariah:
“Look your king is coming to you humble and riding on a colt of a donkey (Matt. 21:5, quoting Zech 9:9) ....He will cut off the chariot...and the war-horse from Jerusalem…and he shall command peace to the nations" (Zech. 9:10). “This king, riding on a donkey, will banish war from the land...a king of peace...embodying an alternative vision, the [Reign] of God.” (From The Last Week, Marcus Borg & John Crossan, p.4)
There is power in both kingdoms. For Pilot it was a mounted cavalry armed with soldiers and swords. For Jesus it was Mount Calvary disarmed by courage and compassion. One power results in death; the other power transforms and brings life.
The people of Jerusalem had a choice of parades that day. We have the same choice every day. This Palm Sunday drama echoes in our modern dramas. We all confront choices of how we will walk through this life: following the way of peace and justice: of sharing power that lifts and builds up, the way of God; or following the way of oppression: of power that controls, dominates and divides. Only one is the way to the abundance and peace that Jesus talks about. We don’t always choose the procession Jesus led.
Maybe we think Jesus’ way to peace and mutual respect just isn’t practical. It’s a nice idea for church, but it’s not realistic for the rest of the week. Don’t tell that to the people of Halden Prison in Norway. Halden is often described as the world’s most humane maximum-security prison. There are no deadly electric fences, razor wire, or menacing guard towers. Instead of concrete and asphalt the grounds look more like a park. No, no one has ever tried to escape. The prison is designed to resemble life on the outside as much as possible. The guards are encouraged to socialize with the prisoners. The sole mission of the prison is respect, community and rehabilitation; to help inmates have a good life when they get out. That includes a home, healthcare, a job and people to support them. Norway’s recidivism rate is only 20%, one of the lowest in the world. In contrast, in our “practical,” and expensive system in the United States, more than 76% of former prisoners are rearrested in five years and about one in every 100 American adults are in prison. Which way really leads to the life and abundance we all want? How can we work for restorative justice not heavy-handed retribution? If you want to find out more please talk with me or Jerry Fillingim.
(http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/29, Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy Report; Incarceration and Recidivism: Lessons from Abroad, Carolyn W. Deady; March 2014; www.salve.edu/sites/default/files/filesfield/documents/Incarceration_and_Recidivism.pdf; National Institute of Justice, www.nij.gov)
Maybe we get lured in by the illusion of might and control that Pontius Pilot projects. We’ve all been hurt and put down, some more than others, and the security and control promised by force is attractive. But anyone who has tried to force a child into a mold, or tried to control the outcome of a meeting gone awry by clamping down from the top, knows that sooner or later that “fix by force” fails.
Maybe we find ourselves in systems or relationships that don’t reflect our values. Something happens that helps us realize, "Wait, I got the wrong parade, man, I got the wrong parade!" Stuart Briscoe realized that when his new boss tried to get him to follow his parade, telling Stuart, “If this client calls for me, tell him I’m out.” Stuart asked, “Are you planning to go somewhere?” “No, I just don’t want to talk to him, so tell him I’m out.” Stuart clarified, “Let me make sure I understand—You want me to lie for you?” The boss blew up at him. Stuart stopped, prayed and got a flash of insight, telling his boss, “You should be happy, because if I won’t lie for you, you can trust that I won’t lie to you.” (From Moody Bible Institute Founder’s week, 1986) Stuart realized that that was the wrong parade.
When have you seen a seemingly harmless compromise of values, leading to other compromises that can lead down a path that doesn’t reflect your values? When have you been called to follow the way of integrity and respect, when the road was steep or the crowd around you was hostile? When have you felt called to work against the controlling power of oppression? In this week before Easter, I invite you to stop occasionally and check out who or what is leading you. What's at the head of your parade? It takes courage to follow the way of Jesus.
One church had a great Palm Sunday parade planned. They even lined up a donkey to lead their big procession. Jesus was all set to take the saddle. The disciples were decked out in appropriate apostle attire of old robes and dishtowel headdresses held on with soccer headbands. The children’s minister gave the high sign, the organist hit the keys and “All Glory Laud and Honor” in all its glory filled the sanctuary. It seemed the donkey was not a fan of traditional hymns, or maybe he was unchurched and spooked by the new environment, but when Jesus jumped on, his ignition turned off. The disciples pulled the reigns, no go. The crowds of palm wavers pushed from the rear, no motion. The choir sang; the donkey stood, still, hoofs dug in the narthex carpet. Finally, Jesus walked into Jerusalem while the donkey greeted latecomers at the door.
That donkey isn’t the only one who gets spooked by a new situation. Sometimes we get nudged by the Spirit to go a new way and we get a bit anxious about what’s ahead. There have been hundreds of times when I wasn’t comfortable with something I felt called to do.
When have you walked that path? When have you been called to follow a new path with courage and compassion, without fully knowing where it would lead? Maybe it was serving at the Berkeley Men’s Shelter or marching in the Gay Pride Parade. Maybe it was forgiving someone or learning how to respect your child, your parent, your students or yourself more fully.
On your way home to the person you truly are, take time to breathe deeply and ask yourself, "What parade am I walking in? Which power truly deserves my allegiance?” There are opportunities in your daily path to create something healing and hopeful with the mystery and power of God. Launch out on your path and listen for that internal message: "Way to go! You got the right parade, self! You got the right parade!" Amen.