When I was a little girl, I looked forward to the Fourth of July parade Colchester had. It was always on a Sunday. I would go to church sitting in the choir loft with some of my church friends singing to the hymn sing and sometimes zoning out to the sermons. Rev. Dole would always end the service early so we could all get to the parade with enough time to participate or watch. My brother always marched with his soccer team. I watched from the side lines eagerly awaiting the candy that would fly from the floats. I excitedly anticipated my uncle and cousins on the fire engines.
Then when the fire engines finally came by we would all cheer and I felt a sense of elation, joy and happiness. That was the feeling of utter joy that I waited for all week, and it was a joy that could not be squashed. It was an innocent childhood joy. Just think how much more joy, the people of Israel felt at the coming of the Messiah. The joy they must have felt when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on that donkey. Jesus came into town giving hope to a troubled people, a people who lived under the heavy hand of Roman Rule. They experienced extortion from the Roman tax collectors, extortion from the temple tax and experienced famine and hardships generally typical of the ancient world in that time.
Jesus’ entrance would not have been as impressive as one of our parades. The people would have seen a raggedy group of men, which had spent nearly three years wandering the roads of ancient Israel, and Jesus riding not triumphantly into the city of Jerusalem but humbly on the back of a donkey. Jesus could have made a grander entrance. He could have had his disciples clean themselves up buying new clothing, wearing armor and carrying swords prepared for battle and ridden into Jerusalem like a King as everyone expected of the Messiah. But he didn’t. He chose to fulfill the prophecies by riding in on a donkey in a humble non-militant peaceful manner.
By coming humbly, he would not have appeared to be all that threatening. But he had a reputation by the time he entered Jerusalem. Many people knew of his miracles and healings and already had the hope that he might be the chosen one to liberate them from Roman bondage. So they crowded around from the streets and they sang their Hosannas laying down sacred palms and cloaks to honor Jesus. It was peaceful yes, but it was a clear message to all who read and knew the scriptures that Jesus was trying to awaken a new hope. He was alerting the masses that he had come and God was answering their prayers. Those in charge reacted to this in the only way to be expected. Jerusalem was teaming with activity. The population soared as people came from far and wide to celebrate the Passover in the holy city giving sacrifices at the temple. The Roman presence would have been elevated for this occasion and Pontius Pilate would have traveled to Jerusalem specifically to oversee the Holiday and ensure that no one attempted to rebell. Something the Jewish people of the time were already famous for.
The Pharisees feared Jesus’ statement through his entrance into the city and the way he allowed for the onlookers to loudly proclaim their honor and allegiance to him. They saw in this moment that Jesus was becoming a threat to the safety of the temple, a threat to the safety of their fragile control gifted to them by their Roman occupiers. So they tried to control what they feared not seeing the new gift given to them. They acted like many of us do when faced with something new that makes us uncomfortable; they tried to control it and when that failed they would try to tear it down.
But Jesus encouraged people to show their allegiance and celebration because he knew that people needed new life, needed hope for tomorrow, needed to feel God’s presence for themselves. This gave them just that. We hit those times in life when we really need to feel that unabated joy that we felt as children at the parade. We all need to be reminded that we are not alone, and that there is hope for tomorrow.
Life gets hard. And I know this is an understatement to many of you. But I think it is worth repeating, life gets hard. We all need to feel God more closely. We all need to feel like God has heard our prayers and has something special in store for us. Last year, I had a child in my classroom who was particularly challenging in his behavior. He was three years old and stood about chest high to me. He acted like a toddler though, hitting, kicking and tackling when he was angry or upset. I was exhausted at the end of most days, my coworkers were exhausted at the end of most days. And when his parents would come into the classroom, you could already see how dejected and beaten down they were. They would look at us and in a depressed way ask, “what did he do today?” And after the report they would take him home kicking and screaming all the way down the hallway trying to hide their eyes from the looks of other parents in the building.
They needed hope for something good. They needed, like the teachers, for those good days to start coming. We were tired and beaten down. We needed to feel the promise, the hope that comes with our triumphal entry in the scriptures this morning. We needed to feel that our communal prayers were going to be answered and were at least heard. And they were. By the time he turned four he began calming down, learned to use words to express himself and showed just how sweet he could be.
No matter how bad our years, months, weeks or days have been in the past year. No matter how tired or how often we say, “Hey God are you listening to me?” We need to remember what our scriptures for this morning said because they speak to the promise and hope that soon God will come to lift us up above the challenges of this life. Today, we are challenged to once more feel the joy of Christ’s parade into Jerusalem, to join in the joy, to feel the excitement and to sign our names on to his new world order by proclaiming Hosanna with all of our brothers and sisters of faith this day. God has heard our prayers for supplication and he has answered them. So as we prepare for Holy week let us remember the words of our scriptures, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! … Hosanna in the highest heaven!” Christ is coming to us once more and today, today he rides into our hearts to inspire hope, joy and peace for tomorrow, especially in those times when we struggle to find hope and joy in life.
(Sermon based on Mark 11: 1-11)