The Rev. Jake Miles Joseph
Plymouth Congregational UCC
Fort Collins, Colorado
Will you pray with me? O God, today, as you call us on a new processional journey, I ask that the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts will be good, pleasing, and humble in your sight. Amen.
Thinking back on my childhood, growing-up at an evangelical church across town, I don’t remember a distinction between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday. If anything, perhaps if I think hard enough, Palm Sunday was when the adults filled the Easter Eggs, and it was Easter when we got to eat all the candy!
In any event, Palm Sunday was a lead-into Easter. It was a joyous parade, a jubilant celebration that all has already been accomplished for us in Christ. Palm Sunday always reminded me of the Greeley Stampede or the CSU Homecoming Parade. The idea was this: “There is no more work for us to do theologically but to welcome the victor, the hero, the triumphant one into our hearts.” Then we can sit back, enjoy life, get rich, and sing songs of praise for the rest of our days. Sound familiar?
Our Scripture passage today is known by many names and is observed by many customs—most of which reinforce this parade-like feeling. It isn’t just the Evangelical Church, but also many in the Mainline Church (and culture itself) that reinforce this notion that Christianity is a fait accompli—a done deal. This is especially true with how we experience Palm Sunday. Lament, ongoing journey, and care for the other… not really included.
The most well-known of these traditions is the joyous waving of palm fronds in churches around the world and the most common Biblical title for this passage, assigned to it by more recent editors is, “Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem.” Triumphal means an event carried out to celebrate a great victory or achievement. Typically, triumph means a parade.
The neoclassical L’Arc de Triomphe in Paris is the center of L’Axe historique is at the center Paris and of French national pride. It is a triumphant gate, replicated and re-imagined by many states around the world, including Mexico and North Korea, as a symbol of war victory and military pride. It represents a colonial urge to control and conquer. In France, of course, it is also a symbol of pride in the national soccer team, “Les Bleus,” but that is another sermon! “Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem” typically is interpreted as a victory parade, an eternal win, and achievement. Fait accompli.
Now, understanding this Psalm Sunday story as a victory parade isn’t at all outside of a superficial reading of the passage. In fact, the authorship of the Gospel of Luke wants a triumphal parade to be your first impression. One scholar writes, “[Luke 19] incorporates phrases from Palm 118, [‘Blessed is the king, who comes in the name of the Lord,’] This scene depicts a royal entry, naming Jesus as king, a title that will be used in the charges against Jesus before Pilate in Luke 23:2.”
On the surface, we have a great royal victory parade, the deed is done, all is accomplished, and it’s time to break out the Easter Ham (with or without pineapple), but we know there is more to the story. The Gospel of Luke is showing us that Jesus, even as he walks literally/ knowingly towards his death, is inverting the norm of the king, of what is royal, or what victory means. Luke is arguably the most literarily sophisticated of the Gospels and is also the one most rooted in Social Justice and community need.
Here are three important ways that this is not a normal triumphant parade (like what we imagine with Charles de Gaulle after WWII):
The Gospel writers are intentionally offering a paradox. We act like this is the final scene in a fairy tale where Jesus enters the gates of the city and then lives happily ever after. In reality, it is anything but a Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty story once inside the gates. Especially with how we handle Palm Sunday, we absolve ourselves from further work. We have symbolically arrived at the gates. We abruptly stop the story at the gates of the city and declare: Happily, Ever After! How we handle Palm Sunday dictates how we handle and perceive our whole Christian lives. By saying that this is the victory parade, we miss that it isn’t a parade to be watched but a procession which we are called to join.
This isn’t a parade at all, as it turns out, but it is a procession of life and transformation.
Tom Long was a professor at Emory when I was a student, and he wrote an amazing book on the Christian Funeral called, Accompany Them with Singing. In it he writes, “The key marks of a Christian funeral: simplicity, majesty, and the gathering of people…For Christians, Jesus is not the founder of some new religion or separate sect, but rather a revelation of what it means to live a fully human life, a life that truly embodies the image of God. To follow Jesus, then, is to walk the royal road intended for all humanity…One of the earliest descriptions of the Christian movement was ‘people of the way.’ For Christians, baptism is the starting point of this Way, a journey along a road Jesus himself traveled. Christians travel this road in faith, not knowing where it will lead and sometimes seeing only one step ahead. But they keep putting one foot in front of the other, traveling in faith to the end…”
Friends, the word parade, as we often imagine the triumph of Palm Sunday, comes from an etymology meaning “a showing” or a “spectacle.” It means something to be observed and witnessed from the outside. It is neutral, it is passive, and it doesn’t call us to real lives of grace for each other.
On the other hand, what this story is really about is the word procession. A procession means “a moving forward” always and forever. We are called to be people of the way, walking with Christ into, not cheap grace, but deeply lived lives of Christian experience and hope for each other. Christianity is a processional moving forward—one foot in front of the other.
Christianity isn’t meant to be a triumphant spectacle, but it is meant to be lived in motion… a moving forward together.
We are lulled into thinking that we have an easy theological and ethical “out” here. We imagine that Jesus has done all the work already. Isn’t it time to open the Easter Eggs and eat all the peeps yet? All we need to do is accept the victor of war over evil into our lives and all is accomplished, right? Consciously or unconsciously, Evangelical or Mainline Progressive, that is what happens when we think of Palm Sunday as a victory parade. We miss that it is only the start of the journey and we are all called to the donkey, to the road, to the way.
This isn’t a parade at all, as it turns out, but it is a procession of life.
“For Christians, baptism is the starting point of this Way, a journey along a road Jesus himself traveled. Christians travel this road in faith, not knowing where it will lead and sometimes seeing only one step ahead. But they keep putting one foot in front of the other, traveling in faith to the end…”
I took last Sunday through Tuesday as vacation days to go on what I consider an annual Pilgrimage to Washington, D.C. to meet with Congress about housing affordability funding and policy. I always start by taking a moment to sit and pray on my own somewhere on the National Mall. This year, with the Cherry Blossoms and bright blue skies, I found myself inspired by democracy and what is possible in our country if we work together. In our National Mall, even today, the feeling isn’t of triumph over others, but it is a feeling of what is possible if we walk together. As a country, despite current rhetoric inside the buildings in D.C., the symbols we have chosen for our National Mall and capitol aren’t symbols and arcs of triumph over others, even our WWII memorial, but signs of togetherness and hope. We are not about triumph over but democracy with others.
I went into the meetings with a sense of confidence in my place in the Christian procession of justice, of diversity, of equity, and inclusion that Jesus starts with this procession story today. This isn’t easy, solo, selfish grace, but it is a grace to be shared through living lived on the path and way of transformation.
We are called to put the one step in front of the other way of Christ, to the path of hope, to the procession of transformation.
We are called into the procession of Christ to find shelter for those without housing.
We are called into the procession of Christ to help create new homes for those who are priced out of the market.
We are called into the procession of Christ to support those who believe themselves to not be living lives of worth or value.
We are called into the procession of Christ to stand-up for services that enable mental healthcare.
We are called into the procession of Christ to work for compassion and safety for the refugee.
We are called into the procession not the parade of Christ to seek peace in our world.
We are called into the procession of Christ to stop conversion therapies wherever it is still taking place.
We are called into the procession of Christ to fund scientific research and cures for diseases.
We are called into the procession of Christ to build affordable housing.
We are called into the procession of Christ, not as observers, but as activists for the ways of God in this world.
Procession isn’t a run. It is one step in front of the other, working for change, living in hope, experiencing grace. We may never see the results of our work, but we are in a long line, and we know that Jesus leads onward. Never stop walking and trying and remembering this calling.
Palm Sunday isn’t a parade. It is a farcical flipping over of our universe and a reminder of our calling to again become People of the Way. Come, friends, it is time to rejoin the procession of transformation. There is no time to lose.
 Marion Lloyd Soards, “Luke,” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible: NRSV (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 134NT.
 Tomas G. Long, Accompany Them With Singing: The Christian Funeral (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), xii-xiii.
 Tomas G. Long, Accompany Them With Singing: The Christian Funeral (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), xii-xiii.
The Rev. Jake Miles Joseph ("just Jake"), Associate Minister, came to Plymouth in 2014 having served in the national setting of the UCC on the board of Justice & Witness Ministries, the Coalition for LGBT Concerns, and the Chairperson of the Council for Youth and Young Adult Ministries (CYYAM). Jake has a passion for ecumenical work and has worked in a wide variety of churches and traditions. Read more about him on our staff page.
Poem Response to Sermon 4/14/19
by Anne Thompson
with palm-waving "Hosannas"
through Arc de Triomphe.
A great victory!
Cloaks of peasants on the ground
outside city walls.
A farcical scene
on a working animal --
filled with irony.
The language of "King!"
seals the fate of coming death --
A Funeral March
Join the procession!
We should not be here to watch,
People of the Way!
This is not parade,
not a spectacle to see --
but moving forward.
Called to the donkey --
not knowing where it will lead --
with hope for justice.
Working for this change,
one foot before the other
Procession of love
Journeys of love and justice
Today I invite you to hear with me stories of Jesus’ last week according to the Gospel of Luke. The seven or so days before the last supper with his friends and disciples on Thursday evening, his arrest in the garden, his trial and crucifixion. Days of journey to Jerusalem. And days of ministry in that great multi-ethnic city where Roman soldiers, representatives of the conquering empire, watched warily as conquered Jews ironically gathered to celebrate their festival of deliverance and freedom, Passover. The oppressor keeping a tight reign on the oppressed lest there be subversion and rebellion. Hear the trajectory and strategy of Jesus’ resistance to injustice. And ponder with me how it might be instructive to ours?
As Jesus traveled the back roads of Galilee, through the dusty, little towns, people gathered in crowds to hear him teach and preach, to be present when he healed the sick.
15 People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it. 16 But Jesus called for them and said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 17 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it."
And people continually brought him their questions. One day... 18 A certain ruler asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" 19 Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 20 You know the commandments: 'You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother.'" 21 He replied, "I have kept all these since my this, he said to him, "There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." 23 But when he heard this, he became sad; for he was very rich. 24 Jesus looked at him and said, "How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 25 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." 26 Those who heard it said, "Then who can be saved?" 27 He replied, "What is impossible for mortals is possible for God."
As Jesus and his disciples traveled, Jesus would teach them. One day he said to them for the third time... "See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. 32 For he will be handed over to the Gentiles; and he will be mocked and insulted and spat upon. 33 After they have flogged him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise again." 34 But they understood nothing about all these things; in fact, what he said was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.
Jesus and his disciples approached that famous city, Jericho, and there was .... 35 a blind man... sitting by the roadside begging. 36 When he heard a crowd going by, he asked what was happening. 37 They told him, "Jesus of Nazareth is passing by." 38 Then he shouted, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" 39 Those who were in front sternly ordered him to be quiet; but he shouted even more loudly, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" 40 Jesus stood still and ordered the man to be
brought to him; and when he came near, he asked him, 41 "What do you want me to do for you?" He said, "Lord, let me see again." 42 Jesus said to him, "Receive your sight; your faith has saved you." 43 Immediately he regained his sight and followed him, glorifying God;
and all the people, when they saw it, praised God.
Jesus ... 1 entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2 A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 5 When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today." 6 So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7 All who saw it began to grumble and said, "He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner." 8 Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, "Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much." 9 Then Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost."
28 After ... this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
29 When Jesus had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30 saying, "Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, 'Why are you untying it?' just say this, 'The Lord needs it.'" 32 So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, "Why are you untying the colt?" 34 They said, "The Lord needs it." 35 Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36 As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37 As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38 saying
"Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!"
39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, order your disciples to stop." 40 He answered, "I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out."
41 As he came near and saw the city, he looked at the great city on the hill and saw the temple mount, and he wept over it, 42 saying, "If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. 44 They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God."
Entering Jerusalem Jesus went straight to the temple....
45 ... he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; 46 and he said, "It is written, 'My house shall be a house of prayer'; but you have made it a den of robbers."
47 Every day he was teaching in the temple. The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him; 48 but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were spellbound by what they heard. 1 One day, as he was teaching the people in the temple and telling the good news, the chief priests and the scribes came with the elders 2 and said to him, "Tell us, by what authority are you doing these things? Who is it who gave you this authority?" 3 He answered them, "I will also ask you a question, and you tell me: 4 Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?" 5 They discussed it with one another, saying, "If we say, 'From heaven,' he will say, 'Why did you not believe him?' 6 But if we say, 'Of human origin,' all the people will stone us; for they are convinced that John was a prophet." 7 So they answered that they did not know where it came from. 8 Then Jesus said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things."
As he continued to teach in the temple, Jesus told the people stories of masters who went on long journeys and entrusted their estates, their vineyards, to servants. Some of these servants were very faithful and others not so much. One day the chief priests and scribes and elders of the temple, who were always watching Jesus,
20 .... sent spies who pretended to be honest, in order to trap him by what he said, so as to hand him over to the jurisdiction and authority of the governor. 21 So they asked him, "Teacher, we know that you are right in what you say and teach, and you show deference to no one, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. 22 Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?" 23 But he perceived their craftiness and said to them, 24 "Show me a denarius. Whose head and whose title does it bear?" They said, "The emperor's." 25 He said to them, "Then give to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's." 26 And they were not able in the presence of the people to trap him by what he said; and being amazed by his answer, they became silent.
Another day ....
45 In the hearing of all the people Jesus said to the disciples, 46 "Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets. 47 They devour widows' houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation." 1 He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; 2 he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. 3 He said, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; 4 for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on."
He continued to teach about resurrection and the Messiah, son of David, about end times. And most importantly he told the people to pay attention! Stay alert! Keep watching for all the surprising things that God was doing in unexpected ways.
37 Every day he was teaching in the temple, and at night he would go out and spend the night on the Mount of Olives, as it was called. 38 And all the people would get up early in the morning to listen to him in the temple.
1 Now the festival of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was near. 2 The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to put Jesus to death, for they were afraid of the people. 3 Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was one of the twelve; 4 he went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers of the temple police about how he might betray him to them. 5 They were greatly pleased and agreed to give him money. 6 So he consented and began to look for an opportunity to betray him to them when no crowd was present.
Hear the stories, my friends. Ponder them. Question them. Let them lead you into Holy Week. And may they lead us on our journey seeking God’s justice and love. Amen.
©The Rev. Jane Anne Ferguson, 2018. All rights reserved.
The Rev. Jane Anne Ferguson, Associate, Minister, is a writer, storyteller, and contributor to Feasting on the Word, a popular biblical commentary. She is also the writer of sermon-stories.com, a lectionary-based story-commentary series. Learn more about Jane Ann here.
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