Collision: Two Parades Enter Jerusalem

Our First Reading is Matthew 21:1-11.

Broken branches. Dirty cloaks. A road covered with whatever is at hand. Today is Palm & Passion Sunday. We are beginning our journey through the center of the church year. We will spend this week re-experiencing Jesus’ final journey into Jerusalem. Jerusalem is flooded with visitors and tourists. The festival of Passover is about to begin. We can imagine every home, hotel, motel, and campground is bursting at the seams with guests. People can barely move through marketplaces jammed with merchants selling souvenirs, knick-knacks, food and more. Jerusalem is full.

And then Jesus comes. A crowd celebrated his arrival by putting cloaks and branches on the ground. By covering the road, dust and dirt stay on the roadway. Jesus’ donkey stays clean. The crowd treats Jesus like a king returning home from a victorious military campaign. He should have gold banners, soldiers carrying swords and shields, and prisoners of war and booty to show off. The entire city should be in their Sunday best to welcome him home. But, instead, we have a crowd full of tourists, the poor, and the sick. The crowd gathered at the last minute so they cut down palm branches from trees in the city. The crowd of almost inconsequential people meets a king who comes with “an army” of only a handful of disciples.

According to Matthew, the crowd that welcomes Jesus was large. But there’s a larger crowd that did not know who Jesus was. It’s probable that, at the same time Jesus is entering the city, another procession is entering Jerusalem from the other side. With so many people in the city, the Roman Empire needed to make an appearance. The Roman Governor Pontius Pilate arrived in the city at the head of his legion. His soldiers would keep an eye on the crowds during Passover and serve as a reminder that Rome is in charge. Rome’s procession would have banners with gold eagles on top. Every soldier would have their swords and spears ready to use. Pilate’s procession would inspire awe and fear, reminding Jerusalem that the mightiest empire in the world is in control.

Jesus and Rome are on a collision course. The might of the world is about to meet the might of God. Even 2000 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, we still place our trust in our ability to force others to do our will. We still celebrate power. Our power is about to encounter God. And, for a moment, we’re going to think we’ve won.

Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for Palm Sunday, 4/9/2017.