a different kind of parade

African Palmyra Palm by Atamari

First, go read this poem by David LaMotte. It’s fantastic. And the thoughts on Palm Sunday that follow depend on it. Also, did I mention that it’s fantastic? It will be a children’s book soon. I can’t wait. (Hat tip to Maryann McKibben Dana for the suggestion to consider this poem in a Palm Sunday context. Brilliance.)

Okay – now that you’ve read David’s great poem, there’s audio of thoughts from Sunday below and then text after the jump.

Our story today is about a strange parade.

I want to share the story of another parade with you. It’s in the form of a long poem written by David LaMotte, a folk singer, peace activist and son of a presbyterian pastor. David’s poem, White Flour, tells the true story of a Ku Klux Klan rally in Knoxville, TN in 2007. The klansmen had a parade, but then another parade came to town that day.

[If you haven’t already, go read the poem, now. Seriously.]

The klansmen thought they would define the day—whether people cheered them, or responded in anger, their hatred would define how the day went.

But the people dressed up as clowns, ordinary people like you and me, in their silliness and joking, in their parade of a different sort, changed the day completely.

A world away, and long ago, there were people who lived in an occupied land.

Many, many years before God had promised to their ancestors that one day justice would roll through the land like a river, and righteousness like a mighty stream, that peace would reign, and each person would be able to sit under their own vine and fig tree and none would be afraid.

But these people, living many years later, looked at those promises and looked at the world in which they lived, and wondered if God would ever keep those promises.

At that time everywhere you turned someone new was claiming to be God’s chosen one, who would set everyone free. Some said that if only they prayed right, God would turn and restore them to glory. Some said for real holiness they should retreat to the desert, drop off the grid. Others said God helps those who help themselves, and counseled armed revolt. They all longed for a leader who would show them the way. They longed for wonders and marvels, for the kind of glory that gleams.

We still long for the kind of glory that gleams, don’t we? Even with our flush toilets and good medicine, with our democratic society and basic economic freedom—we still long for better and brighter and easier and fairer and prettier.

And at every turn there are folks who claim to be able to give us what we want. There are some who say if you buy this pretty thing then life will get better. There are others who say if we  arm ourselves, then we need never fear. There are many who say if you believe right, then God will make life smoother for you. And there are countless who say, if you work really hard then you will find that life is easier and simpler and at long last you will have what you seek. Our prophets and would-be-kings are new, but the promises are the same.

Some of those people, long ago, met this man Jesus. He fed the hungry, healed the sick, caused the blind to see, made the lame to walk. He forgave sins and said the kingdom of God was near, very near, and coming.

Then Jesus stopped wandering the countryside and turned toward Jerusalem. It’s time, he said. And they wondered, what kind of king is this Jesus? Will he be like Moses? Or Caesar? Or King David? Is he going to tell us to get armed and ready for a fight? Will there be an apocalypse and God will come in power and might? What kind of king is this Jesus?

We still wonder: what kind of king is this Jesus? Is he the kind who will make life easier? If I am loyal to him will he bless me with all that glitters? Will he save me from suffering? Will he protect me from harm? Is he that kind of king?

But Jesus was an entirely different kind of king.

He didn’t enter Jerusalem on a mighty warhorse like a Roman emperor or old King David, clothed in symbols of power, strength, and wealth.

Instead of riding high above the crowd on an expensive warhorse, his feet dragged the ground, seated as he was on a borrowed young donkey—the ride for common people.

Instead of carrying sword and shield, he just had his old sandals and cloak—no armor to defend him, no tools for waging war.

Instead of being surrounded by a mighty army, he was just accompanied by the ragtag group of sinners, tax collectors, and ordinary folks who had been with him all along.

Even without the warhorse and the fancy clothes, it was a joyful day, and this motley crew loved him. When they saw him getting on the donkey and realized he meant to arrive in style—even if it was a strange style, they joined in. The day took on a carnival feel. They threw off their coats, made a makeshift red carpet, waved branches they found along the way. There was laughter and shouting. Cries of praise and adoration for this one who would be king.

When it was all said and done, I wonder if they looked back at this day and laughed out loud.

That strange parade was just right. Like the clowns many, many years later, the absurd, odd pageantry of that day—with palm branches and an impromptu carnival, told the truth about Jesus even as it mocked Roman rulers with all their pomp. In its strangeness Jesus’ parade shed light on how things really stood. Because he was a different kind of king—not the one they wanted, or expected, but the one they needed.

The true king, then and now, is not marked by finery, mighty weapons, and glittering gold. The true king is not the one who through might makes right.

The true king of our world, of our lives, is the One we meet in Jesus, the One who stills the storms, and feeds the hungry, and forgives our sins, and sets us free from all the demons and disease that threaten life abundant, that One comes to us as a fragile child, born in poverty and humility. He lives on the fringes, in the out of the way places, far from the centers of power. He has no place to lay his head, and depends on the hospitality of others for food to eat. He is no stranger to hardship, pain, suffering, and yes, even death. This Son of Man, Son of God is not one who puffs himself up, but empties himself, gives his all for a world that did not know him, following the low road all the way to the cross.

This is our king. Do we have eyes to see him? In the midst of all that glitters and shines and would claim our allegiance, are we looking for the one riding a donkey in a strange parade, feet dragging the ground, surrounded by a crew of misfits, poor folk, and sinners?

He comes to us, still, invites us to join the parade. He does not claim to make our lives easier, to save us from suffering, and hardship, to make us rich or make us safe. He’s not that kind of king.

No, no, this One, who rode a donkey, laid down his life, and leapt up high, this One comes to give us life. Life abundant. Life that is deeper and more real than anything we’ve ever known. Life that is marked by love, that opens to us the doors of the kingdom. Life that is available here and now. Life that endures, that makes us whole and sets us free. Life that even death cannot swallow up. For this, thanks be to God!

by Sarah W. Wiles
April 1, 2012
Bethany Presbyterian Church
Tacoma, WA 
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One Response to a different kind of parade

  1. elderdeacon says:

    That poem was wonderful. I can just picture the clowns with the flour and flowers. A good lesson for us that we don’t answer hate with hate.

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