Our text is about a parade. Have you attended a parade? Have you marched in a parade? For me the answers are yes and yes. But all of these parade experiences come from my childhood. You see my mother once presided over all of the majorette groups in Halifax. Some of you likely have never heard of majorettes but at one time almost ever girl and young woman would have participated in the majorette experience. My mother had been a highly skilled majorette herself and then later in life became a teacher, then a leader and then one of the most recognized majorette leaders in North America. One of her roles was to coordinate the participation of her majorette groups in the many parades held in Nova Scotia and some well-known parades across Canada.
Growing up there were so many parade trophies in our house there was not room for all of them in our living room. When my mother had her first child she would take me with her to the parades. One way to keep an eye on me was to place me at the front of the marching majorettes in a uniform carrying a flag. It was quite something to march in a parade, hear the cheers and see all the smiling faces along the route. It remains one of my lasting childhood memories.
I remember my mother telling me about the majorettes and the challenges of presiding over such a large organization. Back then activities for children like minor sports and majorettes brought families together whom otherwise would never meet in Halifax. Sitting in the stands at Larry O’Connell ball field my Dad would be talking to the local judge, the sanitation engineer, the teacher. And the majorettes were just like that. And thus my mother would receive calls from parents who would be represented in every demographic to be found in Halifax. Typically parents with limited incomes would call to say they could not afford the costume or the registration or the cost of the trip to the valley. My mother would listen, telling them not to worry, that she would look after it. And she did. And just as often she would receive calls from wealthier parents and they would ask, “I see my daughter is marching near the back of the formation, is there any way she could be closer to the front, more visible and be given more of a prominent role?” My mother would be very diplomatic but firm that she made the call as to whom would march where and assess the talent and abilities from her own experience.
My mother would often say that these parades were wonderful as they brought these young girls together: rich and poor, black and white, people from Jewish, Roman Catholic and Protestant families, all marching as one. My mother would say, “It’s the way we are supposed to be.”
Which brings me to the parade that Jesus assembled in Jerusalem, it being the week in which Passover would be celebrated. Passover is one of the festivals in which all of Israel was expected to make a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem. So the crowds were large. Now Jerusalem is not a geographically large city. And what the authors of the Bible take for granted and fail to mention is that while Jesus is parading in on a donkey through one of the back gates, on the other side of the city Pilate is parading in on a war horse accompanied by a squadron or two of battle-hardened Roman soldiers. (See Borg & Crossan, The Last Week, pages 1-30.) You see Jesus was parading into the city from the east end on a donkey with his motley crew of disciples from all sectors of society; Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, women and men, and they were parading as a witness to what the Kingdom of God could be, what the Kingdom of God is. This is not a predictor of what the Kingdom might become, this was the Kingdom, here, now, right in front of us. On the west of this city there was Pilate and his Roman soldiers offering a show of force. The background to this parade was Jewish revolt, constant uprisings from the Jews against the Roman Empire. With each revolt the Empire would strike back with more force, more brutality, and thus we have the crucifixion, where enemies of the state would be hung on a cross at the highest point in the city so everyone would see the outcome of insurrection.
When I was growing up in the church, when most everyone still went to church, we really didn’t know what to do with Palm Sunday. The week before Easter, days before Good Friday, we have a story of a parade. When I was first ordained a Minister the common practice was to decorate a child’s wagon as a donkey, which usually looked like a horse, and a child was placed on top, with a beard. The cute child, the adorable wagon/donkey, all made the congregation emote with sentimentality. We had come a long way from the time when being a Christian really carried a cost or demand.
Interestingly now that the church does not attract large crowds those who do come have questions. They want to kick the tires. What is this parade about? So how do we react to these two parades, one a show of force and intimidation and the other a witness to a new way of being? Which parade are we drawn to?
In our culture, which values winners, success, a sense of importance and strength, the parade of power is one that has certain appeal. But imagine being in a parade that shows the world what the Kingdom of God really looks like, how that Kingdom lives out its mission?
When my mother died in 2004 I stood at the funeral home receiving condolences and care. What I remember most are the stories, in particular the stories from the majorettes who loved her. She was a mentor, a teacher and a friend to them. In her eyes these girls became the Kingdom of God and her type of shepherding was all about making this Kingdom real, here, now.
Imagine that you and I in this church are the Kingdom of God, are part of this worldwide movement, and that we are not just here to preach but to live in community, to be the Kingdom of God. We might be nostalgic for a time when the church looked more like Pilate and his soldiers, not because we want to scare anyone but merely because we are drawn to power and strength. The church has had that. Today we are marching into the world from the west end of town and we have access only to the donkey, not the horse. My friends don’t look back, look ahead and dream and live as if the Kingdom of God were here, because it is. It’s you, it’s me, and it’s all of us. Amen.