Pastor Nelson Bonilla: 3-24-24  “Two Parades”

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Mark 11:1-11

          Our nation loves parades. We begin every year with the Roses Parade in Pasadena, CA and then different states have their own, St Patrick in Chicago, New York, Massachusetts; Winter Carnival in Minnesota, July fourth Parades in different states and Thanksgiving Parade in NY, are only some of many through the whole year. 

Our scripture this morning is about parades. One is an unplanned parade as Jesus makes his way into Jerusalem. We now know this parade as Palm Sunday. However, even when the gospels do not mention it, according to some scholars, Jesus’s parade wasn’t the only one that was taking place in Jerusalem that day.

During Passover Jewish people came to the Holy city to celebrate the ways their God had delivered them from the oppressive Egyptian empire long ago. Every year on Passover, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims or millions, according to others, came to Jerusalem from different parts of the empire to worship and remember. 

The Romans knew what the Passover celebration meant for the Jews, that is why the Roman governor of Judea would come to Jerusalem with his army just in case they decide to rebel against Rome. Pontius Pilate was the leader of the other parade taking place that day. Pontios Pilate marched into Jerusalem at the beginning of the festival to keep the peace—and to make sure that the citizens didn’t get any ideas about liberating themselves from Rome. So, making his way from Caesarea from the West, Pilate processed into Jerusalem through the largest gate, the Western Gate, riding on a war horse with calvary, soldiers, banners and troops marching behind him.

Large crowds -as we do in our parades- gathered to watch the display of power. And none of the pilgrims who had gathered to worship in Jerusalem could miss the point being made: their celebration of Passover was only to remember, to enjoy their memories, and that’s it.

The parade described by Mark took place on the other side of town. Jesus rode a colt, down Mount of Olives on the East side of the city, surrounded by a crowd of followers. They spread their cloaks and palm branches ahead of Jesus. Small children were perhaps lifted onto the shoulders of their parents as they greeted Jesus with shouts of “Hosanna” and the chant, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor, David!”

Pilate, the Roman representative rode a war horse through the largest gate into the city, he and his soldiers wore armor and displayed banners. Jesus rode a donkey colt, through a small Eastern gate. He wore no armor and was followed even by small children waving palm branches instead of banners and swords. There were two parades that day marching into the city. But they could not have been more different. One was a military display of imperial force. The other one was a small band of women, children and men dreaming to be free crying out Hosanna. Or, as we can translated from the Hebrew, “Save us! Save us now!” You see, “Hosanna” in Hebrew is not a simple cheer. It is a prayer and a plea. All these shouts prepare the way for what will come later in the week, in Jerusalem.  

What we know now as Palm Sunday -as we see- is a day that confronted the people in Jesus’ time with the choice to follow the parade of the kingdom of God represented by Jesus, and the parade of the kingdom of Caesar, represented by Pilate. During Palm Sunday two processions made their way into Jerusalem and both had followers. Today, as those who seek to be faithful to Jesus, we have the same choices before us, especially now that we are in presidential election year, and we are forced to ask ourselves: Which parade are we going to be a part of? Ceasar’ parade or Jesus’ parade?

If we follow Ceasar’s parade we will join those displaying might and at the end we will part of those who got rid of Jesus, who was a threat to the establishment and the security of the Jewish nation. At the end we will shout “crucify him.” if we follow Jesus’ parade and try to commit ourselves to the way of Jesus and try to join the group of women, children and men with their palms and their cloaks, their pleas, and prayers of liberation, let us be aware that this will not be an easy road. This will lead us to the cross and later to persecution, jail, martyrdom, and death as happened with the early followers.

If we decide to follow Jesus in his procession, we will join him in an upper room as he talks about betrayal and denial, and we will watch him wash his disciples’ feet and he will invite us to do the same with others. We will watch as he breaks bread and pours out a cup and tells us that they will be reminders for us of his broken body and his shed blood, physical reminders of his suffering love. And as he breaks the bread, he will tell us, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” Do what? Just to come together and break bread, drink wine and remember? or break our bodies and give them for others as he gave his body for us?

If we continue to follow Jesus in this procession, be aware that we will watch as he is led away, arrested, and betrayed by his friends and we will be forced to confront the many times we have betrayed him. If we continue to follow Jesus in this procession, we will follow him all the way to a trial as the cries of Hosanna are changed by shouts of “Crucify Him!” If we continue to follow Jesus in this procession, we will follow him all the way to the cross as crowds who had once gathered to watch a parade now watch an execution.

If we follow Jesus through the end of this week be aware, we will recognize how we, like his first followers and friends, have also denied him, betrayed him, or turned away when the path became too difficult or too dangerous for us to walk. If we continue following Jesus, we will be forced to recognize that when we have been asked to make a choice, we so often have chosen the side of the powerful and have abandoned the humbles and needy. We have, so often, chosen to be part of the wrong parade.

If we continue being part of Jesus’ parade, we will align ourselves with a God whose power is made perfect, not in might, but in the vulnerability of love and whose greatest victory is found not on a battlefield but in the cross and the empty tomb. However, if we continue walking with Jesus through this week, at the end we will part of the Risen People and part of those to whom Jesus says, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.”

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