David A. Davis
April 9, 2017
I bet that parade wasn’t as big as we remember it. No one remembers it, but a whole lot of nostalgia surrounds it. No one remembers it, but there is a picture in your mind. A sense of what it looked like. Your biblical imagination. A lifetime of Palm Sundays all squished together. “Hosanna in the highest!” Maybe it wasn’t quite the deal we “remember.”
Not all parades are barn-burners. We sat along the curb in Laporte, Pennsylvania, for a Fourth of July Parade. Our kids were young at the time. We showed up early to get a spot and that wasn’t quite necessary. The parade consisted of a car with the grand marshal, a marching band of sorts, a car with the country dairy princess, and one firetruck. It was quaint but “quaint” isn’t that great of a description for a parade. The parade was so short that it actually came around twice. Every parade can’t be a winner.
The volunteer fire department organized a Christmas parade a few years after I had arrived at my first congregation. The youth group and Sunday School decorated a float. The pickup truck had Christmas lights, and a sign on the front grill that read “First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood.” An artificial Christmas tree was in the bed of the truck. The trailer being pulled was turned into a manger scene with a few spot lights shining on the hand-crafted animals, and the elementary-school-aged Mary and Joseph. I said a prayer of invocation that night in the firehouse over a megaphone. It was frigid cold and blustery. We waited at the church near the end of the route for the parade to pass by. When our float arrived, no one was prepared for the sight to behold. The generator had stopped, so no string of lights, no spot lights. The Christmas tree had blown over as had all the hand-crafted animals. They were strewn around the manger like some sort of plague had struck. And Mary and Joseph? Well, they were too cold and were riding in the cab of the truck next to the driver who was just shaking his head and smiling. Not every parade is a hit.
The four gospel accounts of Jesus riding into Jerusalem give varied reports on the size of the crowd. John describes “the great crowd that had come to the festival” in Jerusalem. They heard Jesus was coming and went out to meet him. Mark and Luke don’t use the word “crowd.” Mark tells of many who spread their garments and those who went before and those who followed crying out “Hosanna.” In Luke it is “the whole multitude of the disciples” who began to shout. That’s so Luke; like the “multitude of the heavenly host” that joined the angel that holy night to sing “Gloria.” Matthew tells of “a very large crowd” spreading cloaks on the road. But a footnote suggests another translation could be “most of the crowd spread their cloaks and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.”
Despite what we see when we close our eyes, this parade couldn’t have been “all that” when compared to real parades of the day. Parades for kings. Parades for military leaders. The kind of procession that has troops and horses and banners and big, strapping, armor-decked-out guards, and a horn section announcing royalty all along the way. This Jesus parade wasn’t all that much. It wasn’t much of a winner. He was riding a donkey or a baby horse for goodness sake! Triumphal Entry? The “crowds,” they were trying. With shouts and palms and garments, they were giving it their best shot. But for the Messiah, for the Savior, for the Son of God, for the Son of Man, for the Son of David, for the One who taught with such authority, would a few horns be too much to ask? That parade scene can actually seem a bit absurd. Riding a donkey.
And he had such authority. “For he taught as one having authority.” That’s how Matthew the narrator wraps up the Sermon on the Mount. “Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.” All of that sermon, from the Beatitudes to the wise man who built his house on a rock, Jesus taught with such authority. Mark writes about his authority right off the bat in the first chapter. Before Mark quotes any teaching of Jesus, he tells of how those in the synagogue in Capernaum were astounded by his teaching. He taught as one having authority. Such authority. You would think he could have had a better ride that day. That maybe someone would have said, “No, he deserves a bigger horse than that.” He had such authority.
Authority, not like that of their scribes. Scribes by definition work with someone else’s material. Scribes ruminate on another’s teaching, not their own. This authority of Jesus. One writer suggested Jesus’ teaching was more declarative than deliberative. Another described Jesus teaching without footnotes (because the material was all his). Thus, authority. The crowds were astounded. That’s a pretty strong word. Astounded. The New Jerusalem Bible puts it a different way: “his teaching made a deep impression on people.” Ich! That makes it all sound so bland. When trying to pinpoint Jesus and his authority, others talk about his presence, his countenance, his being. One reads terms like moral gravity and weightiness and substance. But that sort of makes it sound like something David Brooks would write about in the New York Times. His authority; it must be more like this: They are astounded because he is what he is teaching. He embodies in their presence what the sermon is all about. He came preaching the kingdom of God and he is the kingdom of God. He doesn’t just practice what he preaches. He is what he preaches. That’s astounding.
During my research on Jesus, authority, and the end of the Sermon on the Mount this week, I came upon a typo in an essay that made me laugh out loud. The writer was addressing this very matter of the uniqueness of Jesus’ authority. The text read: “What Christ taught in word, he fulfilled in dead.” Now, the correction one assumes, would be “deed,” not dead but deed. “What Christ taught in word, he fulfilled in deed.” Given the content and nature of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ actions, his healing, his care, the company he kept, his miracles, all should be considered a fulfillment of his word. His deeds. Perhaps the typo was both a wrong letter and an added space between in and dead. Maybe the sentence should read as an acclamation. “What Christ taught in word, he fulfilled INDEED!” Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
What if the writer was offering a theological twist on Jesus’ authority that takes “astounding” to a whole other level. That word, “dead.” Still a typo. But the correction could be “th.” “Death.” “What Christ taught in word, he fulfilled in death.” His authority in full view, on display, fulfilled in death. The Messiah, the Savior, the Son of God, the Son of Man, the Son of David, the One who taught with such authority emptied himself in death. Authority poured out.
For though he was in the form of God,
he did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form, he humbled himself
And became obedient to the point of death – even death on the cross.
Therefore, God has highly exalted him…. (Phil.)
That parade, it wasn’t absurd. It was tragic. The crowds were astounded at his teaching. Then to watch someone one with such authority and power and honor and glory riding into town on a donkey. And then watch that same One being hung on a tree to die, astounding doesn’t begin to describe it. Authority (in teaching), authority (on the donkey), authority on the cross. It is all the same authority. It is the authority of Jesus and his cross. Christ Jesus and him crucified
Authority, power, honor, glory, all redefined. What makes for a parade that rocks turned upside down. What qualifies a Friday as good, forever transformed. A kingdom established not by weapons and might and conquest but by selflessness, compassion, humility, and love. A kingdom marked not by wealth or achievement or privilege but by the care of another, and the comfort of the sick, and the welcome of all. In his kingdom, victory comes when all are fed, when dividing walls come down, when the father embraces the lost son, when saints and sinners march together, when they no longer hurt or destroy on all of God’s holy mountain. When you find yourself longing for that kingdom, that world, Christ’s world, when you find yourself longing for that one and all but fed up with this one, it’s never too late to shout “Hosanna.” Save. Save. Save us. Shouting Hosanna never gets old.
The final hymn that is sending us out this morning is “Ride on! Ride On in Majesty!” Majesty. Ride on in majesty. The phrase ought to come in the hymn text with a question mark. Ride on in majesty? That’s majestic? I checked the hymnbook. No question mark. Actually, an exclamation point. Every time. Every verse. Ride on! Ride on in majesty! Ride on! Ride on in majesty! In lowly pomp ride on to die. Every verse starts with majesty and every verse tells why this parade is so tragic. The 19th-century writer of the text wanted the church to sing it until you got it, until you really, really get it. Majesty! Majesty! Majesty! Majesty! Jesus there on that donkey… is so majestic.
Calling it “ironic” isn’t quite right. Maybe a paradox some would suggest. But a literary term isn’t enough. Really, it just changes everything. Christ and him crucified. It changes everything. Authority and power and honor and glory, all poured out in his death on the cross. And authority, power, honor, glory? Never the same again. The world will never get it. The world will never get the kingdom of God. But you can. Sing it til you get it. The Messiah, the Savior, the Son of God, the Son of Man, the Son of David, the One who taught with such authority riding a donkey to his death. For you and for the salvation of the world. “Making peace by the blood of his cross” (Eph).
It’s so majestic.
© 2017 Nassau Presbyterian Church
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