"(Un)Triumphal Entry" - Sermon for Palm Sunday, Year B

"(Un)Triumphal Entry" - Sermon for Palm Sunday, Year B

Mar 28, 2021

Passage:Mark 11:1-11

Preacher: The Rev. Jared Houze

Series: Lent




In order for me to tell you why it’s taken me a long time to like parades I first have to tell you about the first band I was ever in. It began my freshman year of high school with three of my friends in a garage. I was the drummer and we played (or tried to play) all the music we loved at the time – Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Bush, Pearl Jam…if you were a morose yet sensitive adolescent in the mid-90’s you know this music – if not, no worries. But I loved being in a band and we called ourselves, you ready? The Screaming Mimes. Provocative right? Well…we thought so. You might have heard of us if you attended Maddy Henderson’s 16th birthday party – but we broke up promptly after that embarrassing debut. So not too long after that another friend asked me to be part of another band – the high school marching band. He told me there were girls and I’d get to play drums. What he didn’t tell me was I’d have to get to school early and get yelled at by adults and sometimes by people my own age, and that the mint-green polyester suit I’d have to wear was really hot, and that I’d look like a mechanical monkey beating a bass drum as we walked for hours in endless parades in the Dallas heat. So I quit that band after a year swearing off parades for the rest of my life. 


Do yall know what we just had? A parade. Isn’t God funny.


It is strange though…isn’t it? That we begin this journey through the Passion of Jesus with a parade. In the life of the Church this is often called Jesus’ Triumphal Entry. Was it that? Was it this big triumphant welcoming parade for Jesus, or is something else going on? 


It was the beginning of Passover Week there in Jerusalem – a festival that celebrated God delivering the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt. If there was ever a time for the Roman politicos to be concerned, it was Passover, as the festival had all the right ingredients to incite the kind of fervor and frenzy that led to riots and rebellion. Tensions ran high – and then enters Jesus. His reputation had been growing, he was a concern to the Jewish religious authorities because some people had taken to calling him a prophet and others even called him Messiah, or Anointed One. 


This Palm Sunday passage, many times, is used to point to the masses welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem as a way to discuss the fickleness of the human person. One minute the people praise him, the next they’re screaming “crucify him.” But what if there’s something else going on here? Because although Jesus was welcomed and indeed had many followers, many of the things we interpret as the crowds praising him would have already been occurring in some form whether Jesus was there or not. 

You see, it was customary at the beginning of a festival to recite Psalms – they were called the Hallel Psalms, which are Psalms 113-118, and were sung to mark the beginning of a festival. And the word “Hosanna” is not a confession of Messiahship, it means “God deliver us.” So what we have here is this large group of people, some followers of Jesus others probably not at all. But everyone is caught up in the intensity of the moment at the beginning of this festival in the holy city of Jerusalem. 


And…while this parade is occurring on the east side of the city, something else is occurring on the west side of Jerusalem. Pontius Pilate is making his entrance into Jerusalem for this Passover week too. Riding atop of a noble warhorse, followed by procession of Roman Centurions with the tips of their spears shining in the sun, loyal officials and subjects lining the streets, waving royal banners, shouting devotion to Caesar. This is what Rome did…this is what men like Pilate did – grand entries, soldiers, pomp and power, flexing all the political muscles to solidify control. 


Can we begin to grasp what is happening now? On one side of the city Rome makes her triumphal entry and on the other side of the city Jesus is making his….


But instead of a war horse, Jesus is riding a humble donkey; instead of glorious banners waving in the wind, people shake their hacked palm branches; instead of a pristine and organized army following behind him, it’s a mass of ragamuffins – unemployed fisherman, poor farmers, women and children, widows, limping beggars, stumbling drunks, tax collectors, notorious sinners; and guess what? There are no shouts of devotion to Caesar – No. All these people beneath Roman occupation are crying out Hosanna!     “God deliver us!” 


This isn’t just a welcome parade for Jesus…this is political theatre, it’s sacred performance art, it’s non-violent resistance, it is parade and protest. Because anyone who is on the east side of the city that day IS NOT on the west side swearing allegiance to Rome…including Jesus. 


And the beauty of this moment, this (un)triumphal entry of Jesus is the depth of its origin. Where did Jesus get the idea to do such a thing? He is enacting the prophetic and poetic words of Zechariah. Listen to this…


Rejoice O daughter of Zion

Shout aloud Jerusalem, Lo your king comes to you; 

Triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey

He will cut off the chariot, and the warhorse, and the battle-bow

And he shall command peace to the nations. 


Two men entered Jerusalem that day proclaiming a kingdom. One a kingdom rooted in arrogance and violence, the other rooted in something different. Because in the kingdom of God LOVE not power lays at the center – and to be great means to love the last, the least, and the lost. There could be no greater contrast between Pilate’s parade and Jesus’ parade. 


And guess which parade you and I just enacted. Because we belong to the kingdom of God. We will continue this procession into Holy Week, we will immerse ourselves in the narrative of the Passion, and witness what happens when the kingdom of God disturbs the kingdoms of our making. It means confusion, ambiguity, tension, and death – and it will look and feel like loss. 


But maybe it’s all those things that help us see the kingdom in the first place…maybe that’s why for over two thousand years we’ve been shaking our palm branches on this day for a man we know will be dead six days later….


Maybe that’s why we remember and reenact this protest and parade, this defiant act, this (un)triumphal entry of Jesus…and we keep following him.