"Parade and Counter Parade"
Scripture – Mark 11:1-11
Sermon Preached by Randall T. Clayton
Sunday, March 29, 2015

The first church I served as an ordained minister was located in a small farming community in the Mississippi River delta. It was a place where farms were still called "plantations," and where even though well more than a century had passed since the end of the War Between the States, there was no parade or procession or fireworks on the 4th of July because, well, they said, "We lost the war." While the church I served there was a pretty special and incredible congregation, the community itself was full of divisions. The most basic, entrenched, and pervasive division was based on race.

White people shopped on one end of Main Street and sent their kids to private schools; African Americans shopped at the other end of Main Street and sent their children to the public schools. The color of your skin determined where you would go to church, who would be your friends, what neighborhood you would live in, and really even what type of job you could get. These deeply entrenched divisions in that town bred mistrust, tension, and poverty, as well as led to a palpable sense of anxiety and unrest throughout the community.

But despite deeply entrenched divisions based on race, there was one event during the year when these divisions got blurred and an alternate kind of realty emerged – a reality in which color of skin didn't seem to matter; a reality in which people of all races came together for a common purpose. That event was the town's Christmas parade. The town was committed to making sure that blacks and whites were represented fairly equally in that parade, and so for example, if there was a white baby as baby Jesus in the "Birth of Jesus" float, there would be a black person taking the part of Santa in the "Here Comes Santa Claus float." Black and white together in one parade, marching and dancing together along the streets of the town. Black and white standing together side-by-side along the sidewalks, watching and cheering the parade on. And as that happened laughter, smiles, music, and a sense of hope emerged. For at least a little while it was possible to get just a glimpse of what could be: opportunity for all, equal treatment for everyone, each person respected and valued, a community not divided but united in love and common purpose.

In that parade through the streets of a little town called Tallulah it was possible to glimpse an alternative reality for the community. In a similar manner, in Jesus' parade into Jerusalem on the day we call Palm Sunday, some caught a glimpse of an alternative reality too. But Jesus' parade into Jerusalem wasn't the only parade into town that Passover; in fact, in many ways his procession would not have been thought of as the real parade that day. The real parade in the eyes of the leaders of the town would have been on the other side of town and it would have been orchestrated by the empire.1

It's been estimated that at that time of Jesus' life, Jerusalem was a city of perhaps 40,000 people, a town with roughly the same census as Dover Delaware. But during the high holy days of Passover, pilgrims from all over flocked to the city, swelling the town's population overnight maybe to 200,000 people.2 That kind of sudden increase in the numbers of people in the town could easily lead to tension in any town, but given that the pilgrims had come to celebrate a festival that commemorated the people's liberation from another power, the Roman government realized Passover created the conditions ripe for a rebellion. As a result they would probably have orchestrated a huge show of force as they moved troops into town to keep their version of the peace.

Wanting to quell any thought of rebellion, the Romans would have rumbled into town with an impressive parade designed to instill awe and fear in the people. That show of force would have also reminded the people that Rome's position was that the emperor was the Son of God, to obeyed and revered as the Son of God, and that the rulers of the temple were actually beholden to the emperor for everything and responsible for insuring that everything due to the emperor from the people came to the emperor.

Imagine what you would have seen if you were standing along the road as that parade rumbled by....It would have been, as one scholar notes, "A visual panoply of imperial power cavalry on horses, foot soldiers, leather armor, helmets, weapons, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, sun glinting on metal and gold."3 And imagine what you would have heard as horse after horse, warrior after warrior passed in front of you... "the marching of feet, the creaking of leather, the clinking of bridles, the beating of drums. The swirling of dust."4

Watching that parade, if you were among the powerful perhaps you'd be filled with pride at the show of force by your government. But if you weren't among the powerful, well, watching that parade the message would be clear: Don't mess with things. Things as they are, are meant to remain as they are.

This was not a parade in which people watching on the sides of the roads would have danced, or clapped, or laughed or sang. They would have cowered in fear.

But over on the other side of the town was a very different parade, really a counter parade. It was a parade which may have almost seemed carnival-esque by comparison.5 It was a parade marked by giddiness and excitement and joy. It was a parade where branches not guns were waved, and coats not armor were worn. It was a parade with no bandstand and no dignitaries giving flowery speeches, and instead of the rumble of horses and soldiers you could hear the joyous and hopeful shouts: Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.

Unlike the real parade across town, Jesus' counter parade didn't require that he secure canon and gun and spear. Nor did it require finding a chariot or powerful stallion. Instead, his procession needed a donkey, the type of animal whose ride was bumpy, slow, and plodding. You don't get much more humble than a donkey, the source of transportation for the oppressed and the poor.

Jesus needed a donkey for his counter parade but he needed one that no one had ridden before. Perhaps he needed that special donkey because only kings get to ride the royal horse, or maybe because only rulers get to conscript property, or maybe because holy things are to be used for holy purposes.6 Whatever the reason, needing a special kind of donkey, Jesus carefully arranged for the animal to be waiting when the 2 unnamed disciples arrived to fetch the colt. And when they brought the colt to Jesus, they made a saddle out of their coats and Jesus climbed on. A saddle of coats, not a saddle of leather and metal as the riders had in the real parade across town had and a donkey, not a war horse as the real parade had. If you listened closely, you could hear the sounds of leafy branches being waved in the wind as Jesus passed by.

Now if the Romans knew of this counter parade, they weren't worried at all. In their eyes it was just a peasant, riding into town on a donkey, being greeted by other peasants as he passed by. They didn't get it that Jesus was mocking their parade with his donkey and the coats and the branches. They didn't get it that love is far more powerful than weapons. They didn't get it that this Jesus was the Son of God, not the emperor. Accompanied by none of the traditional symbols of power and might, Jesus' counter parade seemed so insignificant to the Romans that they didn't even bother to try to stop it.

But as his counter parade passed by, the peasants lining the road saw something in Jesus, and they found hope in his actions, and they greeted this humble king shouting: Hosanna! Save us! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.

There were actually 2 parades that Passover. One was an imperial parade designed to show the power and might of the empire. It would have instilled fear and sent a clear message that the oppressed would remain oppressed, that the empire was not to be trifled with. Force, might, fear, retaliation, division, all served this parade well.

But the other parade—the counter parade—showed the world the kingdom of God: a world where the poor are welcomed, the outcasts are invited in, the marginalized are lifted up. It depicted a world where the power of weapons was replaced by the power of love, where the might of the empire was replaced with loving service to neighbor and to God, where there is an openness to whatever new thing God is up to. This counter parade heralded new possibilities; it offered a new future; it provided a new hope; and depicted the new reality of the Gospel. In this counter parade humility, love, service, and joy were the sounds to which the procession moved through the world. Two very different parades moving into and through the town. Which one will we join?

Choosing one parade, and our energies will be focused on making sure that no one's feathers get ruffled, that we remain comfortable, and that our actions are unchallenged by anyone. Division, racism, discrimination, and laws such as the newly enacted one in Indiana, the so called, Religious Freedom Restoration Act which writes the explicit ability to discriminate against me and pretty much anyone, these are threads in the fabric of the banners carried in empire's parade.

But there is a counter parade that's moving in our midst, and if we choose to join this procession, all sorts of possibilities are on the horizon for our own lives, for our church and for the world around us. The threads woven into the banners carried in this parade create community rather than division, invite respect to trump bigotry and prejudice, and prizes Jesus' vision of service to all rather than baptizing some people's desire to refuse to serve some.

This counter parade is not necessarily a flashy or showy parade, but it finds its direction in the humble peasant Savior sitting on the back of a donkey riding into Jerusalem.

Despite what the empire, or perhaps you and I sometimes, might think about this counter parade when it's clear that the marginalized are dancing in its procession and the only real weapon in its service is love, in the end this counter parade turns out to be the real parade; because, you see, the humble peasant riding into Jerusalem on a donkey really is the king of Calvary's hill and he really is the king of the empty tomb as well. The new reality we glimpse in him and his life is in fact God's realty and also God's gift to us.

Two parades. One with horses and spears and armor and rumbling drums. The other with donkeys and hosannas, branches and saviors. One that seeks to keep, to hold onto what is, and if necessary, to push down, lock out and drive away those it fears. The other gives up, shares, and is really open to whatever new things God is doing in this world. Two very different parades. We get to choose one or the other each and every day. The parade of the empire. The imperial parade. Or Jesus' parade. God's parade. The kingdom parade.

Which parade? The imperial parade which is out there which huffs and puffs and loves a show of force; or the parade of the Savior, which starts from inside here and moves out to serve our neighbors? Which parade? The parade of the empire that says might makes right; or the parade of the Gospel that says love those the world does not?

Which parade? The parade that builds walls between people; or the parade that builds bridges among us? Which parade? The parade that seeks to keep life; or the parade that seeks to give life? Which parade? The parade where people cower; or the parade where people shout, "Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord"?

I'll tell you this...I want to join the procession that's shouting "Hosanna". Who wants to join me? Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna!

Prayers of the People ~ Greg Jones

Loving God, our Lenten journey is winding down as we remember the final week in the life of Jesus. On the back of a humble donkey, he rode into the Holy City to confront the religious leaders who had twisted the faith entrusted to them by the prophets. Rather than extending compassion to those who suffered and seeking justice for the downtrodden, the Pharisees, Sadducees and chief priest used their positions to magnify their power and to expand their privileges.

But, your Son, by remaining obedient to you, exposed their arrogance by his humility, their callousness by his compassion, and their injustice by caring for the least and the lost.

The procession of palms began a week so promising. The enthusiasm of his followers was contagious as more and more recognized Jesus as the reliable way, the treasured truth and the precious life. Yet, the confident cries of support lasted but a few days. The exuberant waving of palms, the joyful songs of "Hosanna," and the commitments to stand by your son no matter the opposition all melted away. Some fled in fear; some denied any connection to Jesus and some even switched sides to his adversaries and screamed, "Crucify him!"

God, as we remember and relive our Lord's final days, may his obedience to you, his struggle against corruption and the injustice of his suffering and death, not leave us unchanged.

Arouse us from our daydreams, so that we do not crucify Jesus again by neglecting the poor and ignoring the ill. Shatter our deadly routines, so that we do not betray Jesus again by focusing inward and trusting in wealth. Jar us from our complacency, so that we do not desert Jesus again by forgetting the oppressed and avoiding the grieving.

Eternal energy of the universe, fill us with courage to stand against abusive power; fill us with compassion so that we may give ourselves away in love; and fill us with righteousness so that we may work for justice and peace: in our homes, in our communities, and in our world.

We pray in the name of the one who taught us how to pray, saying, "Our Father...


  1. See Borg, Marcus J & John Dominic Crossan, "Palm Sunday" in The Last Week: A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus' Final Week in Jerusalem, HarperCollins, 2006, p. 2 – 30.
  2. Borg & Crossan, p. 18.
  3. Borg & Crossan, p. 3.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Campbell, Charles, Feasting on the Word, Year B., vol 2, Westminster JohnKnox- 2008, p. 155.
  6. Stricklen, Teresa Lockhart, Peaching God's Transforming Justice: A Lectionary Commentary, Year B, Ronald J. Allen, Dale Andrews, and Dawn Ottoni Wilhelm, editors, Westminster JohnKnox, 2011, p. 180.
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