Which procession will you go to?
It’s a very special day today. Of course, I’m talking about April Fool’s Day. We don’t know much about the origins of April Fool’s Day, but we all know about it. Perhaps some of you have been fooled already.
This year, Palm Sunday and April Fool’s Day come together. And the way Jesus entered Jerusalem does look a little foolish, when you compare it to the other parade happening that day.
This other parade came into Jerusalem through the western gate of the city. This parade was the entrance of the governor, Pontius Pilate. He was accompanied by row upon row of armed soldiers in their leather armour. There were horses and battle standards and shiny brass. It was an impressive show.
Every time there was a major feast in the Jewish calendar, Pilate came in from the place he lived in, Caesarea Maritima, and he stayed in Jerusalem. Just in case of trouble. The population of Jerusalem was normally around 40 000, but there could be an extra 200 000 in pilgrims and visitors at Passover. So Pilate made sure there was a show of Roman might, just to deter troublemakers.
The Gospels have nothing at all to say about this parade, the parade everyone in Jerusalem knew about. The Gospels tell of another parade that entered from the north side of the city, a ragtag affair with no weapons, no armour, nothing splendid at all. It must have looked pretty foolish. Yet while most people were coming to Jerusalem as pilgrims, Jesus was riding into the lion’s den. (For any Lord of the Rings fans, it’s like he’s riding straight into Mordor.)
So on one side of the city is glitz, glamour and naked power; on another is Jesus. But Jesus isn’t playing some April Fool trick. There’s a message, and the people would have got it.
They would remember a great hero of Israel, the warrior Simon Maccabeus, who had liberated Jerusalem from oppression over 250 years before the days of Jesus. Listen to this account of the entry of the Jews into the city after their victory, and hear how familiar it is (1 Maccabees 13.51):
…the Jews entered it with praise and palm branches, and with harps and cymbals and stringed instruments, and with hymns and songs, because a great enemy had been crushed and removed from Israel.
People remembered Simon proudly. He was a hero more like Robin Hood than Ned Kelly. Yet now, they had another conquering power with its foot on their throat. Rome was invincible. Here comes Jesus, mounting a counter-entry to Pilate, so they wave their palms and shout their praise. But Jesus is bringing not the way of the sword but the way of peace.
When Jesus comes the people shout,
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!
Soon, we shall say,
Blessed is he who comes
in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.
These words that we say at our Communion services are taken straight from the story of Palm Sunday. Jesus is coming to town, to us, to our hearts, to stay. Something is happening here. But we know how the week ends. It ends on Friday, with a darkened sky. It ends with Jesus crying
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
It seems to be a foolish dream.
Which parade would you go to? The one with the swords and the spears and the power, or the one with a man on a donkey who was riding to his death?
You know which one to go to.