03/25/18 – Who’s Leading Your Parade?


March 25, 2018
Palm Sunday
Mark 11:1-11
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones


Yesterday, most of us were huddled indoors protected from what we hope is March’s last roar like a lion. But, for others yesterday was a day to rally in protest of gun violence and to promote gun law reforms. Like the Women’s March of 2017, the March for Our Lives events were held in all 50 states and some foreign countries. The term, “march,” was really a misnomer in Washington, D.C., since the events were held in one location. With 800,000 in attendance, it was a significant demonstration of peaceful political resistance. The wonder of it all is that the march was envisioned by a small group of teenagers, recently victimized by a terrorist, a young white male, like most mass murderers we have seen in the past few decades. However, he was not called a terrorist, he was called “disturbed.”

We’ve also heard a lot about parades recently, not the entertaining type of parades like the Macy’s Christmas parade or the New Year’s Day Rose Parade, but the military parade ordered by the Commander-in-Chief of this country. With spending projections up to 50 million dollars, this parade, scheduled for November should be quite a show. A spectacular display of military air power is promised to conclude the parade. Like the military parades of the Roman Empire, this will be a state-sponsored event. Those engaged will be demonstrating civil obedience while events, such as the March for Our Lives events, engage in civil disobedience. As Jesus proclaimed, it is all about to what authority you bend your will.

While the President’s planned parade is said to honor veterans, it is intended to be a display of U.S. military strength. Weaponry, military vehicles and soldiers in uniform will be paraded through the streets of Washington, D.C. Historically, military parades are put on after a war is won; although, totalitarian regimes often use them to boast of their strength and intimidate the opposition.

The leaders of the Roman empire revealed in military parades. As the Roman Army extended its borders by laying siege to one city and region after another, its victorious generals would march into town parading its soldiers and military hardware, as well as its captives and loot. The Pax Romani, the peace of Rome, was achieved by violent conflict. Rome kept the peace by threats and intimidation.

Some historians claim there was a military parade into Jerusalem before the Passover to demonstrate to the conquered, the Jews, who was boss. It is certainly possible because military parades were carried out frequently in the occupied provinces and territories. The week of Passover would have been an anxious time for the Roman government. All tyrants, dictators, and the like, fear large gatherings of people they have oppressed. Neither Jesus nor his Jewish brothers and sisters in the Judean province were friends of the Empire. The Jewish leaders, who opposed Jesus, were believed to have promoted adaptation and accommodation to the empire to avoid conflict. This was a way to maintain their positions of leadership within the Jewish community by assuring the Romans they were not a threat.

Passover did have political overtones in that it was both a religious and patriotic observance. At this time, the Jews remembered and celebrated their liberation from slavery by the Egyptians and the beginning of the journey to the Promised Land that would become their nation, Israel. Once again, they were marginalized by a foreign government. The people who threw palms in Jesus’ path were making a statement of political resistance. The word “Hosanna” literally means “save us.” The crowd was more interested in being saved from political domination by the Roman empire than spiritual salvation.

There was a marked dichotomy between a Roman military parade and Jesus’ parade through the palm-strewn streets from the Mount of Olives to the Jerusalem temple. Though there were similar elements to highlight that dichotomy, the two parades would have been as day and night. The Roman cavalry would have ridden upon magnificent stallions decked out as gloriously as their riders. Jesus wore his simple peasant tunic. While Roman generals would have ridden in four-horse chariots, flanked by cavalry and foot soldiers, Mark tells us Jesus entered Jerusalem alone, riding on a colt. The Roman soldiers would have been wearing armor and carrying spears, sending their message of physical intimidation. Jesus came with no protection and no weapon, delivering a message of peace. These two parades would have been as different as the planned military parade in November and the March for Our Lives rally yesterday.

It was noted on a news program yesterday that the participants in the March for Our Lives gathered at the same place as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s Peoples March on Washington during the civil rights movement in the 1960’s. In fact, one of his granddaughters spoke at the rally. That thought had already occurred to me and had prompted me to re-read King’s letters to moderate white clergy while a prisoner in the Birmingham, Alabama jail. Like the marchers yesterday, King organized peaceful protest marches. Like Jesus, King claimed to bow to a higher power than the laws of the state. He, rightfully, called the laws that prohibited blacks from having equal civil rights unjust. Therefore, the will of God, who loves justice, superseded the laws of the state that were unjust and oppressive. King quoted St. Augustine, writing:  “An unjust law is no law at all.”

King was disappointed with the so-called “moderate” white clergy in Birmingham who, while admitting black citizens had cause to object to discrimination, made a public statement calling the civil rights march through Birmingham “unwise and untimely.” We continue to hear that excuse: ‘Now is not the time to talk about it,’ when those in power do not want to change the status quo. When Jesus told his disciples of his plans to enter Jerusalem to meet his fate, he assured them, “Now the time has come.” For Pontius Pilate and the Jewish temple leaders, there would never be a time for change.

King countered the white clergy’s criticism that King was an outsider and should be marching in Atlanta, where he served a congregation, rather than travel to Birmingham. King explained:

“I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the eighth-century prophets
left their little villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boun-
daries of their hometowns; and just as the Apostle Paul left his little village of
Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to practically every hamlet and city
of the Greco-Roman world, I too am compelled to carry the gospel of freedom
beyond my hometown. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Mace-
donian call for aid.”

But, the so-called “moderate” white clergy and churches in Birmingham, and in most other cities and towns did not answer Rev. King’s plea for help. King warned:

“But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If the church of
today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its
authentic ring, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant
social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. I meet young people
every day whose disappointment with the church has risen to outright disgust.”

Here we are in the 21stcentury and King’s prophecy has come true. The membership of mainline Christian churches has been in a free fall for decades. Afraid of offending, most churches shy away from following Christ on the rocky road of social injustice. And, Evangelical white churches have continued the legacy of those churches in the 1960’s that claimed the divine right of white supremacy by becoming a church of nationalism rather than a church of Christ.

It was not the clergy or churches that strongly disagreed with the civil rights movement that disappointed King, it was the ones who claimed to agree, in principle; but, would not demonstrate support with action. King warned:

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence
of our friends.”

The crowds that cheered Jesus at the beginning of Holy Week remained silent at his trial in his defense on Good Friday; and, some May have even joined the chorus chanting: “Crucify Him!”

The March for Our Lives was instigated by a relatively small group of teenagers whose vulnerability to gun violence made them angry and empowered them to change the status quo. Time will tell if their passion will persist and their efforts will be successful in making change. The power of the Holy Spirit is inestimable. Look what Christ’s disciples did for the spread of Christ’s message and the proliferations of churches throughout the world. The Jewish peasants’ march with Jesus through the streets of Jerusalem did not achieve its aim to end Roman oppression in Judea, but on Easter, a higher authority took over and a different, more powerful kind of freedom was won.

Today we will stand up and move forward to Christ’s table. When we do this, we remember that Christ always accepted his dinner invitations. When he sat down at a table, no one was excluded who wanted to sit at the table with him. When we come to his Table, we acknowledge that we are all hungry for righteousness and thirsty for justice. By his hand, all are fed. At this table, Christ is the host. He calls us to be the hosts at the tables of the world, inviting the hungry and thirsty to share from the abundance God has given us. Let us not be silent when we hear their cries of “Hosanna,” save us.

All power, honor and glory to our Triune God.



© Rev. Denise Clark-Jones, 2018, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church – Peoria, Illinois