Is the Parade Passing You By?
In many ways, Palm Sunday is an easy week to preach. You’ve got four gospels and four different sets of verses to use. The theme of "God coming to us in peace" is typical and it makes a nice comfortable message to those in the middle of life’s dramas. However, Palm Sunday is also a tough story to preach because we know what happens next week. The praise of the crowd becomes jeers and shouts of "Crucify Him!" The palms branches laid before Jesus become the rough crossbeam of a cross carried on his scarred back. His faithful followers prove anything but as Jesus is arrested, tried and executed.
With that in mind, here’s my attempt. It was 1979 when Tom, about 12 junior high youth, and I gathered on Pasadena Blvd. to wait for the Rose Parade. We got there about 10 in the morning of December 31st and just barely managed to find enough place for the group to "camp out". The only thing that made it bearable was that our apartment was only a few blocks away so at least we had a bathroom to use when needed. Now if you’ve never camped out before Portland’s Rose Parade you are missing an experience, but in Pasadena you’ve got more people than watch Portland’s Parade. And into this whole mix, you’ve got 12 kids who think they can go anywhere and do anything without problems. About 8 am the next morning after literally minutes of sleep, Tom turns to me and says, "I’m done having fun, can I go home now?"
He didn't. Like the rest of us he stayed. We watched the parade and marveled at the ingenious floats, bands from all over the nation and all the rest. Then we went home and crashed. Now, when I catch the Pasadena Rose Parade on TV my thoughts go back to those times I saw it live. There is just no comparison. Had Tom gone home, had I said, that’s enough, if the kids had been too tired to stay, we’d have missed the experience—even though we may have watched it on TV.
The sad fact is we all know people who give up and go home before the parade starts. I can watch it on TV they say. I don't want to go to the trouble and all the other excuses may be valid but they still miss out on the experience of the parade itself. Likewise, people are sometimes too preoccupied to sit and wait for the life changing parades that are right before them. Parades like the one that featured Jesus that first Palm Sunday.
The Jesus Parade is quite a celebration. Jesus himself is even part of a bigger parade as he rides into Jerusalem—the parade that kicks off Passover. Not all the chanting, waving and hoopla is directed at Him but Jesus uncharacteristically accepts it as praise for His bringing salvation. Psalms sung testified to Messiah's arrival and God's victory over evil, can you say Rome? In what we call Psalm 120-134 you have lines like, "I call on the Lord in my distress." "Our feet are standing in your gates O Jerusalem. May there be peace within your gates and security within your citadels." Have mercy on us, for we have endured much contempt." "those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, the scepter of the wicked shall not remain over the land." And here's one that the Romans must have loved to hear, from Psalm 129:1 "They have greatly oppressed me from my youth, but they have not gained the victory over me."
Those who were part of Jesus' group came from Lazarus' home. He was a walking reminder of the power and position of their Jesus. For them there was no doubt as to who the Psalms spoke about. Can you imagine the looks the disciples gave one another when they came to the last verses of Psalm 130:7-8
O Israel, put your hope in the LORD,
for with the LORD is unfailing love and
with him is full redemption.
He himself will redeem Israel
from all their sins.
They weren't alone as they entered Jerusalem. Roman soldiers were garrisoned in the city because of an increased threat during Passover. Jewish leaders also were nearby as Jesus enters and tells Jesus to keep the crowd quiet. They are upset by the praise being given to Jesus .
Many entering Jerusalem never noticed a parade. Some were caught up in this young Rabbi's entrance. They would have laid palms at the feet of the donkey while others sang like Jesus' disciples. Among this group were those who worshiped Jesus and knew something important was occurring. But there were others just caught up in how cool it was to see Jesus.
The Jewish leaders, those looking for the Messiah are openly hostile to Jesus. They can't get beyond their understanding. They can't perceive what their own Scripture clearly taught. So they're reaction is that Jesus can't be the one, because he's not what we expected. Jesus is a rabble-rouser not a savior and all he's going to do is upset Pilate and we don't want that to happen. Why hasn't he destroyed the Romans if he's Messiah?
Here's how to keep the parade from passing us by. First, don't go home. Don’t be suckered into thinking that you don't have to be with God's people to worship God. Don't think that watching a church service on TV is the same as experiencing it with others who are struggling to follow Jesus. Phyllis family had a cabin at Lake Tahoe and they thought it was nice to go up to a lookout and watch fireworks on the fourth of July. Do you know how impressive fireworks are from five to six miles away, let alone across Lake Tahoe? Not very. Don't draw away but instead draw in closer to the parade. Crowd the line. Get where the music rumbles your chest and where you can smell the odors.
Second, don't get preoccupied with important things so that you miss it. It's easy to end up being a Martha who is so busy that she misses out on being with Jesus. It's easy to be doing so much that we just don't spend time with our Lord. Some of you are thinking, I mean to read my bible in the morning but I, get up late, don't get to bed early enough, have email to check, can't find my glasses or whatever. Say no to the excuses around you. Look for places where Jesus is involved and get involve with Him. By the way, that isn't just church. It's loaves and fishes, the rescue mission, praying for the concerns in the bulletin, visiting neighbors and friends, fixing lunch for the kids who play with your kids as long as you're doing it with an awareness that it is service to Jesus.
Third, remember that God is all about transformation. The Bible talks about a "new thing"; "new creations"; "new heaven and new earth". Some rejected Jesus and His claims simply because he didn't do things their way. They were waiting for military victory not victory over sin. But Jesus' new thing was really the old thing we read in Psalm 130:8 He will redeem Israel from all their sins.
If you're waiting for Jesus to give you your old life back, don't waste your time. The life you lived 10, 20 or 50 years ago is gone forever and good riddance. Is that too harsh? Why? Do you want to live out the same mistakes, suffering the same loss and go through the pain again? Quit staring into the rearview mirror of your life, start looking out through the windscreen at the life you have to live. Look forward to the place God has for you in the next week, the next year or the next life. That's where the parade really kicks into high gear.
This table with the bread and cup is here every month and there is no better place to start being involved in the parade itself. For it is in the act of eating and drinking we have an opportunity to let God grab our attention with the hope, freedom, future and salvation that Jesus offers to those who seek Him. May we find him today as we journey to this table.