April 17, 2011

Palm/Passion Sunday

Matthew 21:1-11 & Isaiah 50:4-9

“Is Justice A Parade Or A March?” (1)

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Rev. Allen V. Harris

Hear this sermon Podcast HERE:  110417SermonPodcast

Contemporary Testimony read by Jada Eccleston

“As one of our professors in graduate school said about forty years ago, this looks like a planned political demonstration.  The meaning of this demonstration is clear, for it uses symbolism from the prophet Zechariah, a king would be coming to Jerusalem (Zion)…  Matthew… makes the connection explicating by quoting (Zechariah 9:9)… The rest of the Zechariah passage details what kind of king he will be:

“He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war-horse from Jeursalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations.”

The king, riding on a donkey, will banish war from the land – no more chariots, war-horses, or bows.  Commanding peace to the nations, he will be a king of peace.  Jesus’s procession deliberately countered what was happening on the other side of the city.  Pilate’s procession embodied an alternative vision, the kingdom of God.

This contrast – between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Caesar – is central… to the story of Jesus and early Christianity.  The confrontation between these two kingdoms continues through the last week of Jesus’s life.  As we all know, the week ends with Jesus’s execution by the powers who ruled his world.  Holy Week is the story of this confrontation.”

~ Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan, The Last Week: What The Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’s Final Days In Jerusalem,” (HarperCollins, 2006), pp. 4-5


Sadly, throughout history and across the spans of culture, creed, or country – humanity has had the need to cry out because of oppression, domination, tyranny, and cruelty.  From the exquisite lyrics of the Psalms comes the quintessential plaintive cry:

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion. 

On the willows there we hung up our harps.

For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”

How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?


And it is to the cities that such oppressed peoples come, for it is the city that represents both the greatest hopes for relief and liberation and the greatest possibilities for change.  Here in the city those who have the wealth gather, those who have the power converge, those who play the games assemble.  Thus, those who long for relief, those whose pain is utmost, those whose cries are loudest also come.  They come seeking a change.  They come, desperate for change.

It was to the great city of Jerusalem that Pontius Pilate came, in a procession replete with imperial power: “cavalry on horses, foot soldiers, leather armor, helmets, weapons, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, sun glinting on metal and gold.” (2)

It was to the great city of Jerusalem that Jesus came, in a procession abounding with subversive hope and radical joy: riding a young, untrained colt down from the Mount of Olives, surrounded by a crowd of enthusiastic followers and sympathizers, who spread their cloaks, strew leafy branches on the road, and shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!  Blessed is the coming Kingdom of our ancestor David!  Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (3)

Pilate came, as all Roman governors did, to remind the crowds of religious faithful who came to Passover to remember the story of their forbearers who overthrew their oppressive monarch and escaped into freedom that he, Pilate, and all of Rome to boot, would not be similarly mocked, would not be deposed, would not listen to such plaintive cries.

Jesus came that day to complete what had begun long ago, when God created humanity as that which was “good” and part and parcel of a good and complete creation.  Jesus came to fulfill what the prophets had foretold long before his birth and prophets would continue to proclaim long after his death: the hungry shall be filled, the widow and orphan shall be safe, and that the nations shall live in peace.

Throughout all of history, when God’s people cry out in oppression, when the plaintive cries of those in distress fill the heart and mind of our Creator, Jesus comes to remind us and the powers that be that might does not make right, that the least among us shall be the greatest, and that from those who have much, much will be expected.

 [READERS NOTE: This section was used as part of the Prayers Of The People earlier in the service so is only referenced briefly in the preached sermon.]

“The Troubles” refers to a period of ethno-political conflict in Northern Ireland which spilled over at times into the Republic of Ireland and even mainland Europe. The conflict was the result of discrimination against the Catholic/nationalist minority by the Protestant/unionist majority and the question of Northern Ireland’s status within the United Kingdom.  Between 1969 and 2001, 3,526 people were killed and almost 50,000 people injured as a result of The Troubles. (4)

War broke out in Bosnia and Herzegoviana following the breakup of Soviet-era nation of Yugoslavia, from 1992 and 1995.  The fighting was between Serbs and Croats who lived throughout the region, sometimes next door to one another.  Between 100,000 – 110,000 people were killed and over 2.2 million people were displaced in those three years. (5)

In the small East African nation of Rwanda a genocide took place.  Over a period of 100 days in 1994, ethnic warfare raged across the countryside between the majority Hutus and the minority Tutsis, who had ruled with a harsh hand for centuries until 1962.  Over 800,000 people were killed in 100 days. (6)

The Israeli–Palestinian conflict is the ongoing struggle between Israelis and Palestinians. The key issues in the conflict are: mutual recognition, borders, safety and security, water rights, shared control of Jerusalem, Israeli settlements, Palestinian freedom of movement and legalities concerning refugees.  A hallmark of the conflict has been the level of violence witnessed for virtually its entire duration.  Almost 8,000 Palestinians and over 1,500 Israelis have lost their lives in the conflict. (7)

On that fateful day in 30 C.E. Jesus chose not to attend the parade of power that Pilate led.  Instead, Jesus chose a different route, one that acknowledged that he had, in fact, heard the plaintive cries of the people.  Rather, Jesus led a march of mercy that, though pitiful by human standards, had more influence and meaning than imperial processions could ever hope to have, for Jesus was on the side of justice.

What event will you attend?  Whose voice will you hear?  It does not matter whether you are a person of means or a person living on the edge, whether you have never known freedom or have never experienced oppression in your life.  It doesn’t matter, for the choice is still yours: Will you be wowed by the glitz and glamour of principal players, be enamored with the strength and capacity of those at the top, listen only to the resounding oratory of those in the halls of power?  Or will you hear the soft but persistent cries, across town or across the street, of those whose necks are under the heal of the oppressor, those who are the weakest, the faintest, the saddest, the farthest away?  Will you attend the parade of power or the march of mercy?  Will you follow the parade’s Grand Marshall or the march’s chief organizer?  And whomever you follow, will you be willing to follow that one to the ultimate end?  Crown or cross?  You decide.


(1) ~This sermon is completely inspired by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan’s book,“The Last Week: What The Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’s Final Days In Jerusalem,” (HarperCollins, 2006), Chapter One.  I have come to believe that there is no way to fully understand Jesus and the Gospels without understanding the dynamics of that region of the country, and Jerusalem in particular, as Bord and Crossan outline in this chapter.  Which is to say:  READ IT!  AVH

(2) Ibid, page 3.

(3) Ibid, page 4.

(4) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Troubles

(5) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rwandan_Genocide

(6) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rwandan_Genocide

(7) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Israeli–Palestinian_conflict