A Humble Procession for the King

Mark 11: 1-10 (Palm Sunday - 2018)

“A Humble Procession for the King”

Wagons and floats; music and beverage; flags and colors of cultural pride, presented by many of whom are not even Irish. I have never been to the St. Pattie’s Day Parade in Erin, but I have seen drone videos. Usually processions and parades are reserved for celebrations, for honoring heroes, for exalting special things. Processions for kings are anything but humble ... normally.  

Is Palm Sunday a procession of honor and exaltation? Is this a parade of royal honor? What about the week yet to come? The week of teaching, watching, praying, the cleansing of the temple courts; the upper room, the Passover, the prayers, the washing of feet, and the weightiness of dark Gethsemane; the betrayal and denial of friends. There is the all-nighter of courtrooms and beatings and crowds. There is yet the blackness of death on Good Friday. Should there really be a royal procession on the Sunday before? Should Palm Sunday seem so brilliant and bright? Is there an ounce of joy that robs Easter of all its fullness? These children’s voices, these green branches of victory, these festive songs by choirs and congregation; it all seems too early, doesn’t it?

Our King Shows Signs of Humility

Look at accounts of the story. Jesus is still dressed in his humble clothes. He is still the man who was born in the poverty of a barn.

  • He is dressed in his own humanity. He is a man. He travels to and from real places – from Bethpage to Bethany to the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem. He speaks with real people and has human conversations. He has made human friends. He makes use of roads, doorways and houses. As real as the cloak on his back - the cloak they will steal and cast lots for - he is dressed for humility rather than royalty.
  • He rides a borrowed donkey. He owns nothing. “The Lord needs it!” Can we grasp the paradox in that statement? The Lord of heaven and earth needs? And what does he need? Rubies and diamonds? Trumpets and banners? Confetti and dancing? No, the Lord needs a donkey! He needs it to go with his humility. Foxes have holes and the Son of Man has no place to lay his head (Matthew 8:20).
  • He is received by fair-weather friends – strangers really. He has no band. He has no army of soldiers. He has no court jesters. His praise is ordained by his Father from those who may not have turned their heads; from children, from passersby, and if necessary from stones. This is not a procession for a highly prized king. It is the humble entrance of the Sacrificial Lamb about to die.
  • He receives a path of humbling gifts. If they truly knew who he was they would have laid their prized possessions at his feet. They would have strewn his path with gold and purple linens. Instead they threw branches and coats. These tokens - only hinting at his victory - are signs of humanity
  • He listens to shouts for mercy, not praise! “Hosanna, they cry, Lord, have mercy on us!” There are no ALLELUIAS during lent. This is not a time for praise. The words that are spoken to him are not words of adoration. They the words of our liturgies: Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy, Lord, have mercy!

This cry for mercy is true because the lips that speak them are sinful lips. They are unclean lips that beg for his salvation. They are not singing his praises. They are thirsting for his mercy. They are begging for his compassion. They are confession words. With the crowds we beg for his mercy, too. When our lips speak sinful things we dress him up with more humility.  Since our hearts and attitudes are tainted with sin, we, too, place less than desirable offerings at his feet. Our sins have us down at that humble entrance crying, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!”

But we know there is one more procession to be had in Jerusalem. This procession would take him out of town another way; not back to Olives, but to Golgotha, not on the back of donkey, but with a cross on his own back. God had ordained its purpose from eternity. Four days after Palm Sunday, Jesus was left with a few frightened friends in the darkness. To them he will say: “Look, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners … Here comes my betrayer” (Mark 14: 41-42). His enemies, lurking in the shadows, even during the Palm Sunday procession, were bent on the procession to Golgotha, too!

His Enemies Came to the Procession

His enemies were at both processions. They planned for the second event. Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” Enemies had come to this humble procession of Palms. If there was any glory to be had it was short-lived. The shouts of the crowds were interrupted by something Jesus faced the rest of the week: mockers and skeptics. Those who hated him and most wanted him dead were never far away. He was to see them in the Temple where he overturned their money lending tables. He was to greet them in the public courts where they interrupt his instructions with disrespectful questions and accusations. They were there, taking notes of his words in hopes to use them against him. They were drafting testimonies against him. They were sewing their lies together with half-truths.

The Palm Sunday procession reminds me of something Jesus said to them earlier: “You blind guides! You strain out a gnat to swallow a camel” (Matthew 23:24). In other words, they were so blind to the meaning of the Law that they were so intent on following their own little outward interpretations. They failed to see Christ as the fulfillment of Prophecy. How foolish of these same men to think that telling the crowds to be quiet would solve all their other problems! They so badly wanted to think that their neat little routine had everyone fooled. But Jesus was not fooled. He had spoken to them in such a way no one had before. He had upset their consciences. In true form he was doing it again: “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes.”

They were always so afraid of the crowds, yet not so squeamish when it came to voicing their opinions to the Son of God. In their minds the Temple activities centered on themselves. They wanted no part of giving glory to this Carpenter’s son. The procession on Palm Sunday  is less about pomp and circumstance, and more about humility. This is yet one more noticeable stepping stone on his path to the cross, where his enemies will only appear to have gotten what they wanted. Palm Sunday is the continuation of his paradox: enemies of God, repentance, conflict between Holy God and sinful man, ending in the bloody procession to Golgotha that would pay for the sins of the world; that would pay for your sins and mine.

Palm Sunday is another sign post on our Lenten journey. The Palm Sunday procession reminds us that Holy Week is the week of God’s Son. Don’t resist your desire to see victory today. Don’t withhold praise from your hearts and voices. Let the songs of the children ring out. Let the green branches symbolize heaven’s victory. Let Palm Sunday ring out the peace of God’s mercy for sinners like us. Let our HOSANNAS be humble, but confident, shouts for mercy. Remember that Palm Sunday still belongs as the last Sunday of Lent even as it is the first day of Holy Week. He is still dressed in the humility of the dying Lamb. But that Lamb will accomplish mercy. He has finished the payment for sins. He will stand in victory next Sunday. Next Sunday “Crucify Him!” will be turned to “He is risen!” Next Sunday our procession will include a cross lifted high in victory and our HOSANNAS will be replaced with ALLELUIAS! Amen.