Palm Sunday – Saint Cecilia Catholic Community
March 25, 2018 – 10:30 AM
Rev. David Justin Lynch
Mark 11:1-10 Isaiah 50:4-7 Psalm 22:8-9,17-20, 23-24
Philippians 2:6-11 Mark 15:1-47
       + In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, AMEN.
       Everyone loves a parade. It’s a time to march around to be seen by others for a purpose. Yesterday, my wife, Sharon, and others from our parish and I participated in a parade in Palm Springs demonstrating against guns. In church, we call a parade a procession.  The significance of any procession, is that it involves an action rather than just words.  Today we engage in an action to commemorate the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.
People parade in the streets, or process in or around a church, to demonstrate something, to send a message. Today is  no exception. The journey of Jesus that we recognize today would ultimately end in his death, but more importantly, his resurrection, in which his death trampled down death, and restored us to the communion of new life with God.
But on the day Jesus rode through the streets of Jerusalem down the hill of the Mount of Olives from the East on a donkey, cheered on by peasants, his procession was notthe only one. Pontius Pilate, the cowardly politician who would ultimately facilitate the death of Jesus, was having a procession of his own. He started out in Caesarea, a Roman military base on the West Coast of Palestine, and headed towards Jerusalem. Pilate’s procession showed off the weaponry of the Roman Empire: cavalry on horses, armor, helmets, banners, and weapons. The events of what we call Holy Week transpired around the time of the Jewish Passover, when Jews from outlying areas could be expected to be in Jerusalem. Military parades to intimidate the Jews at that time could well be expected.
Pilate’s procession displayed not only military might, but imperial theology: the Roman Empire believed that its emperors were divine figures to enact the will of their gods on earth. Allegiance to the government was seen as a spiritual duty, something that went beyond casual participation in politics.
The contrasting messages and purposes of those two processions are starkly clear.  Pilate’s procession was very different from that of Jesus, who came among us and emptied himself in great humility to proclaim the Kingdom of God.
Unlike Caesar, of whom Pilate was the local representative, Jesus was a peasant, born of peasants. The procession of Jesus was foretold by the prophet Zechariah, whom the author of Matthew quotes explicitly: your king is coming to you, humble and mounted on a donkey. His choice of a donkey symbolized peace and proclaimed that Jesus was the king foretold in Zechariah who would do away with war, and bring peace. The palms strewn before him spoke a powerful symbolic meaning in the Judaism of the days of Jesus. Palms represented people associated with the renewal and purification of the Temple after the Maccabean war against the Syrians a century and a half before the birth of Jesus.  Palm branches were understood as the overthrow of pagan powers and re-establishment of Jewish self-rule. Those who greeted Jesus saw him as one who brought them peace and a renewal of their relationship with God. That’s why the supporters of Jesus cried, “Hosanna”, which means in Hebrew, “Save Us.” They wanted to be saved from the dual oppression of the Romans and their Jewish puppet kings, who saw Jesus as a threat to their power, someone who might stir up the peasants to rebel.
The question for today’s Christians is, which procession do you want to join? In the days of Jesus, you could join Pilate’s procession and be among those who loudly clamored, “Crucify him.” Or you could be in the crowd that welcomed him to Jerusalem as the King of Glory and King of Peace, as savior and Messiah. In contemporary terms, would you rather attend the military parade of weapons and soldiers planned by the current White House occupant, a demonstration of military power to maintain our ruling social and political establishment, or would you rather participate in a march against gun violence?  The Trumpian military parade we will see in Washington later this year  plays to the same kind of folks who turned out to cheer Pilate’s parade and cry out for the crucifixion of Jesus. How different were the massive anti-gun demonstrations we experienced yesterday, put on by the same kind of people who paid homage to Jesus as he rode on his donkey into Jerusalem on a path of palm branches.
We can see many parallels between the Roman Empire and the United States. The Roman Empire was a militaristic operation focused on territorial expansion. It began in what is now Italy and spread both east and west by armies conquering land from rival regimes.  Like Rome, the United States is also a militaristic power. In fact, without violence, it would not have existed. It began with a war, that is, the Revolutionary War. The thirteen colonies on the East Coast then expanded westward by forcibly conquering Native Americans who had harmlessly gone about their lives for thousands of years. Why did that happen? Because the founders of the United States thought theirway of life was superior to that of the Native Americans. Their subsequent followers opined that the United States was specially blessed by God to lead the world. Its economic success is supposedly proof thereof. That’s called, “American Exceptionalism.”
The philosophy behind so-called “American Exceptionalism” originated not with Ronald Reagan, or Puritan philosopher John Winthrop, as is commonly believed.  Talk of a so-called ”Shining City on the Hill” in the Reagan speeches originated from ancient Rome, in the works of Cicero written during the zenith of the Roman Empire. In his Cataline Orations,  Cicero spoke of Rome as “a light to the whole world.” Archaeologists have found artifacts throughout the Mediterranean region that referred to the Roman emperors as, \”Son of God,\” \”Savior of the World,\” \”God from God,\” and similar titles. Such representations of Rome\’s leaders became to continue the Roman Empire. We hear the same kind of talk from our conservative sisters and brothers, who insist that that the United States is divinely blessed as the chosen people of God and is therefore, entitled to a privileged status in relation to the rest of humanity.
Again, which procession will you join when you leave here today? Will you march in step with those degrade women, dump all over LGBTQ persons, and insult people of color. Will you march with those who oppress the poor with a survival-of-the-fittest mentality? Will you march in step with those who promote an armed citizenry, whose idea of justice is punishment rather than forgiveness, and who consider immigrants as unwelcome intruders? Or will you join the procession of those who do the polar opposite of all that, and respect the dignity of every person, as we promise in our Baptismal Covenant. Yesterday, we saw what that looks like: a march against gun violence.
Your choice is clear: to degrade or respect human dignity.   Thatis the key fact that will determine which procession you will join. Your choice of procession is far more important that your choice of doctrine.  What you do communicates more about who you are than what you say or think.
Let’s look at the actions of the Roman and Jewish authorities in today’s passion Gospel. Neither the Jewish leaders nor Pilate respected human dignity. The killing of Jesus, in and of itself, demonstrated that.  Crucifixion, in the Roman Empire, was the most degrading form of punishment for crimes. It was most often performed to dissuade its witnesses from perpetrating similar crimes. Crucifixion meant a death that was slow, painful, gruesome, humiliating, and public. It was patent human degradation, on full display.
But what made it truly degrading as to Jesus was that he was crucified even though he violated no law of the Roman Empire. Pilate, the ruler who sent Jesus to the cross, even said so dramatically in the passion accounts of Matthew, Luke and John. The Jewish leaders wanted Jesus killed because he threatened their power, so they and enlisted Pilate’s help, who reluctantly complied to avoid social unrest.  Jesus was killed in a degrading and painful way because the powers-that-be in his religious community didn’t like him. When you put those two facts together, Jesus suffered the penultimate in human degradation, a scapegoat put to a degrading death.
Therefore, when we think of the experience of Jesus, it’s not hard to see why, for Christians, human dignity should be the main focus of the Church, both for out affairs inside the walls of the church and how we live outside it.
Jesus was a convenient scapegoat for the power structure of his day. Our contemporary life has its share of scapegoats that are seen by our conservative sisters and brothers as threats, like immigrants, the LGBTQ community, people of color, and the indigent.  Driven by fear, our conservative sisters and brothers are willing to protect their own sensibilities, safety and economic well-being at the expense of the dignity of others. Those people have joined the wrong procession. And in particular, the guns about which our conservative friends feel so strongly are the penultimate statement against the dignity of the human person. Why? They have no other purpose than to destroy human life. A march against guns is a march in favor of human dignity. A military parade, whether in the first century or the twenty first, is definitely not.
The procession of which you should be part welcomes immigrants. It affirms people of all genders and sexual orientations. It honors all races, skin colors, nationalities, and ethnicities. It proclaims good news for the poor.  It frees captives. It opens the eyes of those blinded by ignorance. It wants to rid us of the cancer of guns. The procession you should want to join shows the world what love looks like.
What is missing from most churches today is action. They are all about words, not actions. They preach doctrines rather than focus on living in the world as Christians. Again, being in a procession is taking action. So when you walk outside this church today, take action! Get behind Jesus in hisprocession, not that of Pilate. Be like the people who greeted Jesus today. Demonstrate against the status quo. Don’t be like many Christians who just talk the talk. Walk the walk. Walk behind Jesus in his procession. Walk behind Jesus against violence. Walk behind Jesus against hate. Walk behind Jesus against fear. Walk the walk of Jesus, the walk of compassion, the walk of peace, and the walk of justice. AMEN.

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