A Living Procession


Mark 11:1-11

. . . Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
   Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’. . .

It was a tremendous procession.

Shouts of praise were erupting everywhere. Multi-colored layers of clothing were splattering the ground. There were two miles of stretched-out garments. Green, leafy branches swirling about them. This tremendous procession was wrapped up in the frenzy of this one who was coming – this Jesus, who was now entering Jerusalem.

And it seems he was entering more than a city. Jesus was stepping into an identity, a public one. And more than that, he was entering the hopes and dreams of these people. The people were invested, wrapped up in this honor parade.

It was a tremendous procession.

It was a political procession.

“Hosanna!” they cried. Hosanna – meaning ‘Save us.’ They shouted, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!” This was turning out to be much more than an honor parade. . . To anyone, it could have easily appeared to be insurrection. Under the occupation of the Roman Empire, this procession was making claims of a new kingdom, an alternative kingdom, a new order to things. And this new kingdom was connected to the ancient kingdom of David. That was part of the political nature of it all.

Jesus descended from the Mount of Olives, a piece of land connected with Biblical prophecy and laden with hopes of the people. It was a place where God’s redemption of Israel would be visible. He descended on a colt, an animal that represented peace. He wasn’t riding down on a large horse with sword in hand, but even this colt had political implications. Certainly, an image like this one would call to mind ancient prophesy from the book of Zechariah which paints a picture coming king of humility:

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

It was a political procession.

It was a revealing procession.

Revealing. It was a revelation. It was an unveiling and an uncovering of what is ultimately true, a proclamation of the central truth of Mark’s Gospel. Jesus is publicly revealed to be he one he is – the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Coming One. And this is interesting because so often in the Gospel of Mark, people are completely botching who Jesus is. Even his disciples seem to be clueless. In Mark’s Gospel, only the outsiders seem to really grasp who Jesus is.

But now Jesus intentionally sets out to be publicly revealed. The first seven verses of our scripture passage are all about the intentional preparations of what is to occur. Something was to be revealed – something, someone – was to be made known.

It was a revealing procession.

It was an ironic procession.

The people were marching and cheering. They people were shouting praise, offering cloaks and palm branches. Jesus is ushering in the kingdom. It is the true, promised kingdom, a new reality. One can only begin to wonder what’s coming next. What new, amazing things are on the horizon?

I bet those questions must have lived and breathed inside the minds and hearts of those people. But let’s not kid ourselves here. . . We know how this procession to Jerusalem ends. Perhaps we’ve been taught the entire story, and it’s hard to hear “Hosanna!” as anything more than a cheap prelude to “Crucify him!” These are the words that some of the people with power will cry in a few days time. We can’t deny it. Though this tremendous, political, revealing procession is stunning and incredible, we must remember that it is a procession that will lead to a horrible, unjust death.

It was an ironic procession.

So what do we do with a procession like this one? Is it a farce? Is it a mockery? What do we do with it, knowing where it leads next? Perhaps we hear this story, sympathizing with those people. We know that some may are praising a type of Messiah they will never actually experience. Some believe this Messiah will step into a concrete monarchy, overthrowing the Romans who oppress the people. We know they will be disappointed.

And what about Jesus’ intentions here? His actions to organize this procession are very intentional. Are they a farce? Are they a mockery? Why did he do it, knowing where it would lead next?

The Jesus that Mark portrays isn’t ignorant about what awaits him in Jerusalem. Three times earlier in the Gospel, Jesus tries to make it plain to the disciples. In the chapter that precedes this one, he makes it pretty clear: “See, we are going up to Jerusalem,” he says, “and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.” The Jesus Mark presents knows exactly what he’s walking into, and he does it anyway. And he does it with intention. He deliberately enters the city as a King of Peace, who is ushering in a new reality, a reality of what is most true, a reality that fulfills God’s dreams for this world. It’s so true and so worth processing for, that he will choose to march to death if that is what it takes.

This is Palm Sunday, and this is Passion Sunday. We worship with palms and shouts of “Hosanna!” and we see the passion unfold with shouts that cry, “Crucify Him!” These come together for one Sunday every year in the Christian calendar. This day is full of irony, and perhaps it seems kind of grim. But there is good news – gospel – to be found in the difficult, tragic news that will come before us as we walk through Holy Week.

And here it is:

The things worth dying for
are the very things worth living for.

Yes, the things for which we would die are the very things for which we should live. Jesus believed in his message so strongly, loved humanity so deeply, and honored God so fervently, that the message was worth preaching, humanity was worth loving, and God was worth honoring – even if it would lead to a horribly unjust death.

Perhaps the best truth of the gospel is that we have been loved purposefully and intentionally to the end. Not even the threat of death can deter that love from reaching us. Even in death, the lowest moment of the low, love was found and reigned supreme. It has found us.

Friends, God loves you. God loves us. You are so worth it, that you are not only loved in death but in life. The things worth dying for are worth living for.

G.K. Chesterton was a 20th century British writer, who was particularly known for turning popular sayings, proverbs, and allegories on their head to find greater meaning in them. Maybe you’ve heard the phrase, “If a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.” i.e. If it’s worth doing, you should do all you can to do it well.

But instead, Chesterton said this: “If a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.”

That sounds strange to our ears. But the point isn’t to do it badly. The point is that if something is really worth doing, it’s worth doing – no matter the result! Even if it fails or appears to fail, it’s worth doing. It’s intrinsically worth it. It must be done no matter the result.

What do you believe and who do you love so much that if you had to, you would even die? No one wants to send themselves to their own death, and I’m not saying we should go seek martyrdom in something. But what do you believe and love so strongly that you would die for it, rather than see it end, rather than see it die? Well, if you know the answer to that, here is the invitation for us today:

Live for the things you would die for.

And the second we do that, we’re going to find ourselves swept up in a procession, and it will take us places that we never dreamed. And those saving places, those saving moments, will be worth it. Other things will suddenly become less important.

For instance. . .

Most people wouldn’t die for their bank accounts.
So why do so many people live for them?

Most people wouldn’t die for their forms of entertainment.
So why do so many people live for them?

Most people wouldn’t die for awards and achievements.
So why do so many people live for them?

There’s nothing inherently wrong with money, entertainment, or achievements.
But are they worth the totality of our lives?
No, of course not.

But what is worth the totality of our lives?
Love? Justice? Service?
Compassion? Community? Inclusion?
Health? Wholeness? Wellness?
Companionship? Family? Friendship?
Truth? Knowledge? Kindness?
Freedom? Mercy? Peace?

These are worth our lives. When we live this way, we join the kind of procession Jesus was ushering in. We are living in and through the Kingdom of God. That reality is worth our lives. That reality is worth every breath we take, even to the end, whenever that end should come.

So what are we waiting for?

Renee Roederer

This is a sermon I preached on Palm Sunday at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Dearborn Heights, MI.

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