Everybody Loves a Parade
In this Palm Sunday text, Jesus is going to Jerusalem with his disciples to celebrate the passover. This was a festival celebrating when the Israelites were saved from slavery in Egypt. What was the symbolic message of Jesus’ entrance? How did the expectations of the crowd express themselves on this day?
Scripture: Matthew 21:1-11
When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”Read More
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Additional Background Information
Everybody Loves a Parade
In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus’ presence in the city of Jerusalem causes turmoil. It did at his birth with the coming of the magi and the slaughter of innocent life by the political leaders of the day. It does in today’s story as Jesus rides his donkey in a one-man parade, and it will in a few days from this story with Jesus’ trial and crucifixion. There is no way to get around it — Jesus’ presence creates political turmoil and makes those with the political power nervous. It is important for us to remember that Jerusalem was Jesus’ city. No, he didn’t grow up there, but Jerusalem represented everything Jesus was about. It represented his Jewish faith, it represented what was important to his people, and it even represented his culture. By choosing to ride this donkey into Jerusalem he is not confronting some foreign power that he is removed from. No, Jesus is confronting the oppression of his own religion, his own people, his own culture, and the oppressive government that is ruling that culture. Sometimes we have to take a good long look at ourselves, our religious practice, and our culture to find the ways that it needs to be confronted. If we pretend like there is nothing wrong with these things, we are in denial. Jesus calls us to protest that which is unjust in our own systems and that which is harmful to ourselves and to others. Looking for more insight on this session? Check out our podcast.
Nikki’s Video Script
Everybody Loves a Parade
It is Palm Sunday. This is such a fun day in church. Chances are, all the children and usually some fun loving adults will process in your church service waving palm branches as the congregation sings something like, All Glory, Laud, and Honor. This Sunday also serves as the gateway to what is probably the busiest week of the church year — Holy Week.
Our text for today is, in fact, the story of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a baby donkey as it is told in Matthew 21:1-11. It was a parade with cheering and delight and pomp – who doesn’t love a parade….right? Let us remember the context of this story for a moment. Jesus is going to Jerusalem with his disciples to celebrate the passover. This was a festival celebrating when the Israelites were saved from slavery in Egypt. Now, while the Israelites may not have been enslaved to Rome in Jesus’ time as they were to Egypt so many centuries before, they certainly did feel the oppression and exploitation of the Roman government. One way Rome demonstrated its dominance each year was to have Pilate or some similar official ride into Jerusalem on a war horse a few days before Passover. This was used to remind the Jewish people that while they may have been saved from Egyptian enslavement, Rome was in charge now and they better remember it. As we think about that, it becomes clear that Jesus’ act was not simply about demonstrating his own leadership or even his Lordship. Jesus’ ride on that donkey was a subversive and political demonstration meant to send the message that Rome was in fact the new Egypt and the Emperor was the new Pharaoh. I think it is often difficult for us to think about Jesus as being a political activist, but there is really no way to deny that this is what Jesus is doing as he rides in on this non-military donkey. By doing so, he is saying that Pilate and Rome and the Emperor do not have the real power, but rather that the ways of peace and service are the real power. Jesus is also speaking out against the oppression of the Roman government. Did the Roman government know what Jesus was doing? We really don’t know. But we do know that the people who were cheering him on in the streets understood the subversiveness of Jesus’ donkey ride into Jerusalem. And they would have been encouraged and emboldened by the hope his ride stirred in them—hope for a system that was oppressive and broken to be fixed, hope for dignity, hope for peace. Plenty of people through time have followed in the way of Jesus as they have made their own protests against oppressive governments and systems—Henry David Thoreau, Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., Cesar Chavez, the Dalai Lama. Palm Sunday is a celebratory day in the life of the church, but it is more than that. It is a subversive day. It is a day to speak out against oppression. It is a day to get political. After all, when we think about what Jesus would do, he would, at least in some instances, be a political activist.