March, Parade or Cortége?
Based on Psalm 118, Isaiah 50:4-9, Philippians 2:5-11, Mark 11:1-11
I grew up in a house where the monthly arrival of the National Geographic magazine was a big deal. My dad, like lots of other people, had collected every edition going back to the early 1900’s. What was most compelling to me in each issue (still to this day) are the photographs of animals, people and places far from my home. National Geographic photographers traveled the world recording people and places that I would probably never see. Artists, especially those who are photographers, intrigue and thus engage me with their work. The perspectives they bring to their art, the way they see the world is often very different from my perspective. I tend to see things in a very “ordinary” or linear manner – I often don’t spend the time to look at things from different vantage points. Photographic artists, on the other hand, look at a subject from above and below, behind and from the side, close up and very far away. The manipulate the light, shutter and film speeds and use black-and-white technology in addition to color. They allow their minds to fully engage in the present moment to explore completely what is in front of their camera. The ability to mount cameras on drones has allowed new perspectives to be photographed that we have never before viewed. I saw drone footage this week of the Icelandic volcano eruption that was truly mind-opening to me.
This is the power of art. It has the ability to get us out of our everyday viewpoints and show us different perspectives. Photographic artists call to us to see things in a way that highlights their intrinsic beauty and uniqueness. I can still recall the first scanning electron micrographic pictures that I saw which detailed viruses and bacteria that I would never see with my “naked” eyes. Likewise, the photographers who detail aspects of the world and of the United States that I would never see in my daily life, open my mind and heart to show me how much each of us are unique yet connected to each other.
Our start to Holy Week once again brings us to the perspective tension of Palm versus Passion Sunday. In one perspective, we have the joyous celebration of the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem as a savior of the people. In another perspective we have this day as the gateway to the crucifixion on Friday. We also have the tension of the differing perspectives of Jesus, the Disciples and the crowd – some saw the entry as a parade, some as a protest march and maybe Jesus’ perspective that this entry was his funeral cortége. One event, many perspectives…let us go to God now in prayer to ask for God to help us see the fullness of what is happening around us.
The reading from Psalm 118 is reflected in the reaction of the crowd in our reading from the Gospel according to Mark. The Psalmist is singing about being blessed when we come in the name of the LORD, crying out for God to save God’s people (that is shouting Hosanna), and reminding us that God’s hesed endures forever. These themes are picked up by the Palm Sunday crowd whose perspective appears to be one of a parade for a conquering hero, or a protest march in counter measure to the arrival of Pilate at the opposite end of Jerusalem. The crowds do not seem to understand that Jesus is also the stone that the builder’s (i.e., the Temple leadership) has rejected – even though God has designated Him as the chief cornerstone. The perspective of God and of the Temple leadership is now seen to be in direct opposition.
Philippians 2 is one of the loveliest and most challenging portions of the New Testament. It calls us to consider our perspective as members of a privileged class in the world. It calls us to see and attend to the needs of others. It calls those of us with institutional power to admit that we have it, and then learn how to give up our tendency to employ that power inequitably. It insists that we resist the temptation to speak as though what we have to say is all that needs to be said. It calls us to let the mind of Christ be in us – which leads us to reckon with the fact that the Body of Christ and our communities are not made up only of people like us. It means remembering that, while Philippians 2 can be heard by those of us in positions of power as liberating good news, it can be heard by others as a word condemning them to remain oppressed. The real challenge of Philippians 2 is to use it to identify our perspective and then to have it broaden us out to be more Christ-like.
Isaiah 50 sets the stage for the behavior of Jesus later this week. In this “suffering servant” text we hear the messages that Jesus gives us as He goes through the mock trial and derision of the Temple leaders. We hear the words, “…The Lord God helps me; therefore, I have not been disgraced; therefore, I have set my face like flint and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near….” Jesus’ perspective is clear – God is on His side and will not allow Him to be disgraced. Nothing that the human powers can do can remove God’s love from Him or make Him less than He is. Jesus’ perspective is that God’s love always wins.
How is it that you see Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem? Are you like one of the zealots who were expecting that Jesus was coming as a new king to revive the Davidic dynasty and kick out the Romans and other oppressors? If so, then you would see this as a protest march against tyranny and oppression. Jesus has come as God’s representative to put things right and to fulfill what God had promised through the prophets and to David himself. You would be shouting with the crowd, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!” God is about to intervene in the world again after so very long and return Israel to her former glory. Hosanna in the highest heaven, indeed!
Maybe you envision Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem as a parade celebrating the coming Passover and welcoming a popular prophet to town? In this case you might be filled with the joy of the season of the celebration of God’s mighty act of delivery of the people from enslavement in Egypt. You are looking forward to celebrating with friends and family the great story and the feast that accompanies this holy day. You are excited about being in Jerusalem and having some time away from whatever dreary occupation you perform for the good of the Temple and the Roman occupiers. You join in with the crowd because you just need to feel happy and free for a moment.
Maybe, given the fact that we are almost 2000 years removed from Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and you know how the story ends, you are joining in with the crowd to celebrate the life of Jesus? In this way, this is a funeral cortége – a less than somber perspective on a life given in service and sacrifice for others. If you share this view of the events of the day, then this is more like a New Orleans Jazz Funeral – with raucous music, dancing and a procession leading away from the graveside. A celebration of a life well lived and the promises of God fulfilled for yet another believer. The realization that death does not have the final word – only God does.
Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on what we have come to call Palm Sunday…funeral procession, welcoming parade or protest march? How would you have captured this event in pictures and in words? It all depends on your perspective – doesn’t it?! No matter what perspective you bring to this event in the life of Jesus, each of these viewpoints reflect the grace and power of Almighty God. For without God there would have been no Davidic kingdom without end. Without God inspiring the prophetic voice, there would be no expectation that God would continue to act on behalf of God’s people to fulfill God’s promises of salvation. Without God, there would be no celebratory funeral procession, because there would be no life after death. The great good news of this Sunday and every day is that God is very much involved in what happens here on earth. No matter how much or how little we understand, no matter if we support or oppose God’s actions in the world, still God reigns supreme and undefeated. Protest march, parade or funeral cortége, God fulfills God’s plan in the fulness of time – and that is worth celebrating! Thanks be to God, amen!