Everybody loves a parade – or so it is said. The music, the flags waving, the crowds cheering, the different groups marching, the fire trucks, and floats, and antique cars, and bicycles, and parents pushing babies in strollers – the whole community on display. The sights and sounds pull us in, and take us to a place where we are engulfed in community identity. And we come away from the parade feeling more connected to our town, our country, perhaps our own heritage (depending on the theme and purpose), more connected to something greater than ourselves alone.
Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was a parade, formed of his disciples, his followers, some of those who were dancing around the edges, as well as the travelers and pilgrims who were headed to Jerusalem for Passover – the High Holy Days. But it was unlike the Roman military parades – with legions of soldiers wearing breastplates and helmets, with chariots and heralds. Nor was it like the arrival of God’s Messiah that the people had so long hoped and prayed for; one who would come like King David of old – a royal warrior returning at last to claim his throne. What sort of a parade was this?
Jesus rode on a donkey, a work animal, a creature used by peasants and tradesmen, depended upon, but unremarkable. His saddle was make-shift – just a few traveling cloaks flung on the donkey’s back. And riding on the donkey would barely raise Jesus above the heads of the people in the crowd – no height of a battle charger here. There were no honor guards, no bands, no state trumpets, just the crowds calling out: Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven!
Where have we heard words like that before? From the angels, announcing Jesus’ birth to the shepherds: Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors! Heaven and earth cries out, voices of angels and humans, at the arrival of Jesus – first, his entry into human life, our created sphere, and then his entry into Jerusalem, the holy city, and to the Temple, the place where earth and heaven met and where God’s presence was understood to burn most brightly.
The look, and fell, and details of this parade tell us that God comes among us, but not on our own terms. God came into human life in the person of a vulnerable child, born on the road, born into an ordinary family without wealth or power or influence – not what we would have planned if we were writing the script. God came to us on God’s own terms, coming to us in a way that we needed, but we weren’t sure we wanted. And in coming to Jerusalem for the final show-down with the forces of evil, Jesus was not making an especially impressive display – other than causing a commotion in a city tinder-dry with tension. In this parade into Jerusalem, God was coming into his own, in the person of Jesus on his own terms: what we needed, but not what we wanted. We, the people, wanted someone who would free us from Roman oppression. Instead we were set free from sin and death; and then given the charge and mission to not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, to fight bravely under his banner against sin, the world, and the devil, and to join in the work to bring peace, justice, and wholeness to God’s creation. Not what we want, but what we need. God comes among us on God’s terms, not our own.
And yet, these are words of joy, and of hope. God has indeed come among us. God has not left us to fend for ourselves, nor does God judge us from afar – a distant and cold deity. Instead, God lives with us, works with us, breaks bread with us, weeps and rejoices with us, and - most of all – loves us. And that is why we are here. We claim and proclaim the love of God in Christ for ourselves, for our neighbors, for the broken and the lost, for the whole world. We are the ones for whom Jesus lived, and loved, and prayed, and died – and rose again.
No wonder the crowd sang out: Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven! It was true then, even if the crowds did not understand. It is true now, even when we can see and understand only dimly.
God has come among us, on God’s own terms, for our good and for the good of the world. To God be the glory. Amen.
Victoria Geer McGrath
All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Millington, NJ
March 20, 2016