You Gotta Have a Parade

Palm Sunday
Lk. 19:29-40

My father loved a parade. He remembered the parades at Camp Grant during WWI, where soldiers marched before soaking Flanders Fields with their blood. He remembered General Pershing riding in his open car following the end of the War to End all Wars. Thus it was that he brought me to see the victory parade on Wacker Drive in Chicago on VJ Day, the end of WWII. I stood on the window sill of his office, ten stories up, and watched the Fifth Army pass by and the F-80 Shooting Star jets fly in formation. Later there were fire works at Soldiers? Field. During the darkest days of WWII my father remembered Camp Grant and Pershing. He remembered my grandfather, a Methodist preacher, and he remembered his Old Testament courses at the University of Chicago. During those dark days my father often said, “Evil will not prevail. God holds history in His hands, shapes and changes it. His goodness will prevail.” My father knew that God is not mocked. He knew that it is good to rejoice and to sing praises, to rally and to cheer, to affirm that you are part of something in which you can find dignity and be proud. He dismissed the Greek view of history, in which we are playthings in the hands of jealous and petty gods, where man lives in a Sisyphusian routine ofconstantly trying to push the good back up to the top of the hill.

My father knew that the soul needs to cry, “Hosanna!” The soul needs for us to fling confetti, to sing a triumphant song, to give praise and to give thanks. We need our moments of fun, of triumph and of enthusiasm. He knew that without those moments the iron curtain of ennui, of despair, falls down deadly. Without our moments of imagination, hope and expectation we live lives of religious clinical depression. My father knew that just as you cannot have Easter without Good Friday, so too you cannot have the Passion without first having Palm Sunday.

Our Book of Common Prayer conflates Palm Sunday and the Passion. We start with the readings for the blessing of the palms. Often we process as they did in Jerusalem at Jesus’ “triumphant entry.” We are then led into the readings of Holy Week and of the Passion. We should, however, pause at least for a moment and pay attention to the context in which the Passion is set. That context is Palm Sunday?s triumphal entry. To switch metaphors, Palm Sunday functions as an overture to a great piece, and then it runs as a counter punctual theme until the climatic conclusion on Easter. We need to note the strains of Palm Sunday and to remember them throughout the body of the work of Holy Week and the Passion.

In the life and faith of Israel there were dominant themes. One of those themes was Israel’s longing for a messiah. The prophets, such as Isaiah, Malachi, or Elijah called for a new beginning, a reordering of disorder, a new creation of an old people. Israel looked for leaders similar to Moses and David who would establish a new living relationship to God ? a relationship which embodied the messages of the prophets and the Law. Hence there were times of celebration, of rejoicing in the accomplishments of others. Wisdom literature exclaimed, “Let us now praise famous men, our ancestors in their generations — There were those who ruled — made a name for themselves, gave counsel — those who spoke in prophetic oracles — those who led the people.”(1) Oft times Israel turned to the Judges, or to the Maccabees or even to a brigand like Barabbas in her longing for a new life, new possibilities. Old men dreamed dreams and young men saw visions. (2)

In Jesus there arose a new kind of rabbi, a new kind of teacher, a new kind of prophet, a new kind of healer — one who did not break with the old but turned the old into new. Were Jesus a whining complainer, a disillusioned psychotic, a shaman or a wanderer with a suicidal martyr complex would He have been followed. Rather, when the people heard the Beatitudes, the Sermon on the Mount, saw the lame walk and the blind see, then there was a swelling of response — a gladness in the hearts of the people. They could not help but lay their garments before him, cut branches and cry, “Hosanna. Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord!”(3) At the time of His entrance into Jerusalem there was a coalescence of hope and desire, of epiphanic insights and latent premonitions. The longings of the soul for hope, affirmation, actualization, order and justice, mercy, restitution and vindication burst forth. Their hopes and longings were not displaced. Their yearnings, the rising of the yeast of anticipation, burst forth in praise. The results of their desire and anticipation were refined in the events of history. They were shaped by the hand of God through the Passion. Through pain their longings and the cries of their souls were affirmed, not dismissed, by the events which followed Good Friday. The followers of Jesus would not have been able to be open to and to receive the Living Lord had they not first been awakened to the possibility of joy and triumph.

This morning, allow your sense of joy, your desire to shout, “Hosanna,” to emerge. Allow your aspirations and hopes to well up. During this pause between Lent and Holy Week let your soul breathe and sing and rejoice. Such a desire, such a longing as Israel had, such as my father had, defines our humanity. It reflects the image of God within us ? that force which is positive and creative, which makes things new and which renews and reorders. It is our genetic memory of Eden. It is our anticipation of eternal life; i is our desire to be part of the Kingdom of God.

You and I anticipate the Passion. It is coming. But for a moment, let us cleanse our hearts and minds by saying, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” “Lift up your hearts! We lift them up onto the Lord!”(4) Amen.
(1) Ecclesiasticus 44:1-4
(2) Joel 2:28
(3) Matthew 21:19
(4) BCP. p. 333