Dead Man Walking

Who doesn’t love a parade?  I do – I remember when I was a little girl we used to put on a parade just for the sake of having a parade – we have a pictures of me and my sisters and the neighbourhood kids all decked out in our fancy duds with our bikes all decorated to parade down the streets of our subdivision singing and dancing having a wonderful time – a parade just because it was fun – who doesn’t love a parade? …

…The people of Jesus time certainly do – Jesus comes into the city right at the height of the Passover festival season – and riding a donkey – the excitement of Jesus coming into town creates this wondrous spontaneous joyful parade experience– and the crowds gather and shout and sing and celebrate – hosanna in the highest – blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

David Lose wonders if:  “that’s what it was like for the first crowds who welcomed Jesus. Actually, I’m fairly certain it was far more exciting (for them), as many had probably heard Jesus teach or watched him heal or feed or comfort. Those who had no firsthand experience of Jesus had probably heard the stories of others and came with excitement. What did they look for on that day so long ago? A prophet? Yes, but more than a prophet. A king? Perhaps, though they had no idea what kind of king.

I think they wanted a taste of heaven, a palpable feeling of the kingdom of God they’d heard him talk about. A break from the dismal routine, a sense that life mattered and that there was something beyond what they could see and hear, a relief to misery, healing for what was broken, hope to replace discouragement…and more.”[1]

A taste of heaven is the potential of what we can experience when we encounter the Christ – so this palm parade is packed with potential and possibility.   Who doesn’t love a parade?

The procession into Jerusalem according to Mark, ends at the close of the day when Jesus withdraws to Bethany, a small village outside of the city, but the next morning –he returns to the city and heads the temple – what I find remarkable about Mark’s story is that Jesus returns each night to Bethany to restore as the intensity of this week increases. So on Monday,  Jesus goes in and witnessing the chaos and disarray of the sellers and moneychangers doing their business in the temple grounds – Jesus reacts – reacts in a physical way and pushes tables over – throws out the money changes and the sellers and in the process angers even deeper the temple authorities.

He then goes into the same temple and teaches – he tells stories and parables and offers other interpretations about how to see the world.  The people are captivated and the Temple authorities are threatened. Some of Jesus most remembered words and stories are spoken in this three days of temple teaching.

It is here that we learn that the widow’s mite is more valuable to God than all the gold the rich man left –

it is here we listen the parable about wicked tenants that killed the landlord’s son when he came to collect the rent –

It was here that Jesus authority was directly questioned by the Pharisees and here we witness him sidestepping the questions with questions of his own that the Temple Authorities could not answer.

And when they asked him about what was really important to God – Jesus dismissed all the 623 rules /the laws that the temple upheld about food and cleanliness and how to handle dead bodies and divorce and the proper way to sacrifice a goat and said –come on folks – there is only a couple of these rules that really matter to God and it is pretty simple-  love God completely – with all your heart, and all your mind and all your soul and after that love yourself and love your neighbour.   And all the rest will take care of itself.   And the people start to wonder about the rest of the laws – are they not important too?

Over the course of these three days – words are spoken, stories told, ideas are given a voice and the tension rises!

And so when Jesus indicated that quite possibly that the physical presence of the great and glorious temple would be destroyed – what was heard was sedition

– and parables about dying fig trees sounded to some like threats and accusations,  – and trick questions around the resurrection and marriage –became words of treason and treachery

And on and on it went – ‘is it lawful to pay taxes to the Emperor?  Which is the first commandment? Who then is the husband of the wife that married the seven brothers?  And no matter what Jesus said, no matter how he responded to the questions – these ideas, these words these stories they were seen by some to be dangerous – dangerous enough to be called subversion – dangerous enough to be called treason – dangerous enough to challenge the authorities – dangerous weapons of destruction – these words, these ideas these stories were enough for a crowd of ordinary folks – the Hosanna singers – enough for them to become the crowds calling for crucifixion.

But maybe all was not as it seemed on Sunday during the Palm Parade – and the expectations of the people who came out to sing praise where more than they appear.  Maybe they had expectations that Jesus could not live up to.

Hosanna is a tricky word…. Hosanna is a Hebrew word so when the people in the streets used a Hebrew word to welcome Jesus, the Roman soldiers who are standing around keeping order in the streets don’t understand what is being said.

Hosanna is a subversive word – so when the crowds call out:

“Hosanna to the son of David!

blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

What the crowds of people are doing is asking for change – calling out for transformation – Hosanna is a plea to God asking God to come and save them. The people are crying out for God to save them from Roman oppression. In Jesus time for the people to ask anyone other than the Roman Emperor to save them was an act of treason, so calling out to God to come and help them was done in a language that most of the Romans would not have understood. While the Romans would have realised that this was a different language they would not have sensed the potential for revolution that comes in that word: Hosanna!”  The crowds are calling out for a change in government.  Hosanna is a provocative word.  Rev. Crumlish of the church of Scotland wrote a poem/prayer liturgy called:

Hold on to the Hosannas

Let us stay with the Hosannas for a while
Let us let them keep on ringing in our ears
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord
Instead of rushing on to hear the cries
that came later in the week
Let us stay with the Hosannas
Maybe once we have heard those
in a new way
we will be ready
to make the rest of the journey
A journey that was hastened
and given new purpose
by those Hosannas
For those Hosannas were not
simply the innocent cries
of palm branch waving children
Those Hosannas were the war cries of adults
tired of the oppression
of occupying forces
Those hosannas
were the hopeful cries
of a nation seeking liberation.
Those Hosannas
were an investment of hope
in one they thought would deliver.
Those Hosannas
that we have sanitized over the years
rang out in clear insurrection
sealing the fate
of one who rode on a donkey.
so, let us stay with the Hosannas
Let us wrest them from the lips of children
and allow them to ring in our ears
and spew from our mouths
as a call to action
a call to justice
a call to love.
Let us stay with the Hosannas
even as we journey
with the Christ
who carried those Hosannas
all the way to the cross
and ensured their fulfillment
as the justice and love of God.
Let us stay with the Hosannas.[2]

Are we ready to hear the hosannas and then follow Jesus parade through the streets of Jerusalem – do we stand beside him in the temple – do we share a meal at the Passover feast – do we stay and watch in the garden – and then witness the arrest, and subsequent trials where justice and mercy get lost or do we go inside our homes and shut our doors and ignore what is going on around us – and show up Easter morning to celebrate when all the difficult stuff –all the hard and painful stuff is finished?  We have choices  – do we hear this story as an interesting event that happened a couple of thousands of years ago to a group of people of another time and another place or do we hear this story as something that is relevant and timely to us here at St James in 2015.

Have you had of enough parades? – There is still one more to go. This parade is not so much a celebration as a witness to an execution.   This next parade is a perilous journey.  The parade to Golgotha processes through our Holy week rituals.  It is a risky parade to participate in – because you do not know what you will encounter on the journey.

Each and every step we choose to take during this week we call Holy gives us the opportunity to witness anew that even though we walk sometimes in darkness, even though the road is littered in deceit and sorrow and betrayal and denial – even though, it seems as if despair and death might win – it doesn’t!  and God is with us and God gets in and life is transformed and God has the last word!  Will we allow this story to touch our hearts, to challenge our minds, to confront our demons, to follow Jesus no matter how difficult the path becomes? Before you say yes, beware– we are about to be challenged, we are about to encounter some difficult truths and some ugly circumstances.  Because this parade is not about palms and rejoicing – no this parade, this – this is a parade because we called out “crucify him” – this is a parade that leads to an execution.

Dead man walking – who doesn’t love a parade?…..

[1] David Lose:  In the Meantime – “The Kingdom”, email newsletter – April 12/2014

[2] Rev. E. Crumlish of Castlehill Church, Ayr. Posted on the Church of Scotland’s Starters for Sunday



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