Reflection for Passion/Palm Sunday, April 17, 2011
A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in highest heaven! When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking “Who is this?” Matthew 21:8-10
Everybody loves a parade, right? From the televised wonder of the Macy’s Day Thanksgiving Parade to every small town celebration of the Fourth of July, parades bring us together to honor, to celebrate, to share.
I remember vividly a chilly morning in 1968. I sat on the wide, cool marble window ledge of my father’s office in the Nashville Federal Building, fidgeting impatiently and looking down on the crowds gathered for the annual Christmas parade. I was not happy and longed to be on the sidewalk in the thick of the action instead of trapped in climate-controlled agony. I wanted to see Santa up close and personal, to catch some candy thrown from his elaborate float. My father, of course, thought he was doing us both a grand favor by providing me with an eagle’s eye view, warmth, and a Coke from the vending machine. I thought he was being a huge party-pooper by not jostling “super-hero-style” for a spot at the edge of the crowd.
I don’t remember much else about that particular parade. I’m sure it was a fine affair with majorettes and marching bands, a host of themed floats, Shriners in red fezzes on motorbikes and funny cars, prancing horses, and, of course, Santa. The impression I have carried all these years was that I watched it from afar, not from street’s edge amidst the magic and wonder where I longed to be.
It never occurred to me then to wonder about the preparation and clean up necessary to stage the event. Who cleaned up the stray popcorn, paper hotdog trays, broken candy not collected by scrambling children, confetti, cigarette butts, and horse offal never crossed my childish mind. By Sunday morning, however, virtually every trace of the parade was swept away, leaving downtown Nashville clean and ready for the new week’s traffic. Yes, we love parades, we love to be part of the action, but we think not on the mess that’s left behind.
For those of us in the liturgical tradition, this Sunday marks the beginning of “Parade Season” in the church. Palms will wave as congregants sing “All Glory, Laud, and Honor.” It is a triumphant and fun moment. Some will fold their palms into crosses, others will tickle their siblings’ ears with the palm tips, and all will leave at the end of the service to go back into the world and “real life.” Then the big daddy of all parades–Easter Sunday–will draw us back again on April 24. There will not be as many new frocks, bonnets and gloves, and white patents as there were in the 1960s, but pews will be packed and the heady scent of lilies will swirl through the air amidst the clarion notes of brass and organ swell. Again, it is a triumphant day–a feel good day. We will celebrate our Lord’s triumph over death, our salvation, and our identity as resurrection people. Yes, everybody loves a parade.
But wait a minute! What about the six days between those two Sundays? What of Holy Week? What happens between the festive flair of Passion/Palm Sunday and the joyous holy commotion of Easter and the empty tomb? Who cleans up the mess in between?
The answer, of course, is God the Son. We are invited to walk along, to shoulder our “trash bag” and pick up the pieces in the footsteps of our Lord. The question is will we take the time and effort to walk amidst the dirt and refuse of our lives and those of our sisters and brothers? Are we able to open our eyes and see beyond the last marcher, the last reveler?
Jesus picked up the trash, cleaning up the scum and stain of our sins and brokenness once and for all. Yes, dear friends, there is a story between the parades that we do well not to miss. The work and witness of Holy Week beckons. Without fully experiencing Holy Week, we lose something valuable–a behind the scenes look at the real cost of our salvation and the dirty work it took to accomplish it. Do we, like my father did with me so many years ago, bring ourselves and our family to window of Holy Week to gaze out dispassionately on a distant story, safe and secure on our marble window ledges and smooth wooden pews?
What if, dear friends, what if we truly enter into Holy Week and the story of Jesus’ walk to the cross? We have a unique opportunity to experience these days in word, in Sacrament, in deed, and in solidarity with our sisters and brothers, with every molecule and atom of this beautiful broken world. Yes, everybody loves a parade, but to truly appreciate one we must go behind the scenes, we must encounter the trash and the smelly, messy lives. We must walk with Jesus.
May this week bring you new revelations, deeper faith, and a holy discomfort on your way to the empty tomb. Blessings on your journey.
Here are three very different options for music and images. The first one is a Palm Sunday visual collage set to U2’s song “Peace on Earth.” The second on is a Palm Sunday collage set to Chris Tomlin’s “All Bow Down.” The final one is a lovely rendition of “Ride On! Ride on in Majesty!” sung by the King’s College Choir, Cambridge.
Consider using this clip from the film version of Jesus Christ Superstar featuring the songs “This Jesus Must Die” and “Hosanna.” It will give you some excellent opportunities for talking points and discussion questions, especially once they get past the costuming of the religious leaders.
For a children’s sermon, consider talking about the history of parades. An elementary curriculum that may prove useful is found here.