beyond palm sunday

Beyond Palm Sunday, Mark 11:1-11
(video below)

Today is Palm Sunday, the day people of faith in Jesus remember our Savior’s parade into Jerusalem.  To consider the full message of what the parade of Palm Sunday means, I invite us to hear about another parade that was held in the time of Jesus.

The name of this parade was the “Roman triumph” parade.  It was held in the city of Rome for a military commander who had won an important victory on the battlefield killing at least 5,000 of the enemy and gaining new territory for Rome.  The Roman triumph was the equivalent of the American ticker-tape parade with much more splendor

Unlike Jesus’ spontaneous parade into Jerusalem, the Roman triumph parade was planned with great detail that often took up a whole day with its festivities.  Some of the details of this day included speeches with the victorious commander putting on special purple-colored robes and speaking before government leaders, his army, and the public. There would be prayers and sacrifices to the gods as captives from the battlefield were led through the streets to emphasize the two purposes of this parade:  remind people of the glory of Rome and of its military superiority above all other nations

The parade of Roman triumph would enter the city of Rome through the Porta Triumphalis, a gate used only for this parade.  There were musicians, torch-bearers, flag wavers, examples of exotic flowers and animals from the conquered region, and war booty.  The victorious commander or “victor” would ride a spectacular gold-colored tall-sided chariot pulled by four white horses, a symbol of a warrior.  The general would display the trophies he had won.  The enemy leaders he had captured would be paraded in chains down the street behind the general.  Some would be put to death.  He wore a laurel crown and carried a laurel branch in his right hand. In his left hand, he carried an ivory scepter with an eagle at the top, symbolic of the triumph. He was accompanied by a slave whose job was to hold above his head a gold crown and continuously whisper in his ear that, amongst all this adoration, he should remember that he was only a mortal and not actually a god. For this reason, he would repeat respice or ‘look behind’.  After the chariot came the commander’s children and officers on horseback.  Finally came the troops, who usually sang songs to ward off the jealousy of the gods, and, if there had been any, a crowd of grateful civilians who had won their freedom by the defeat of their enemy in the battle.

The whole procession would lead to the temple of Jupiter, the supreme god of Rome where the victor might free a prisoner or two before sacrificing a bull and offering some of the war-booty in honor of Jupiter.  Finally, the VIP guests would sit down to a banquet inside the temple of Jupiter.

According to the Roman historian Orosius there were 320 Roman triumph parades in Rome up to the 1st century CE.  Over time, with the growing emphasis of the Caesars, a Roman triumph parade was reserved for the emperor only.  Augustus, the first emperor of Rome whom the Gospel of Luke reports was the ruler of the Roman Empire when Jesus was born, was the emperor who ensured that only the imperial family could bask in the public glory of a triumph as the emperor sought to keep public affection for himself. World History Encyclopedia,

Keeping the grandeur of the Roman triumph parade in mind, listen to the description of the Palm Sunday parade from the 11th chapter of the gospel of Mark from verses 1-11.

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it.  If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it.  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,

“Hosanna!  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!”

Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Throughout the first ten chapters of the Gospel of Mark, Jesus has been leading his disciples to Jerusalem and the parade of Palm Sunday.   Mark tells us of Jesus’ preparation for Palm Sunday as he instructs two of his disciples to get a colt for him to ride as he enters Jerusalem.  According to the 4th verse of the 14th chapter of the Old Testament book of Zechariah, the Mount of Olives was the traditional location for the Jewish Messiah.  It is here that Mark records the beginning of the Palm Sunday parade.

On the parade route, the people of Israel will shout for Jesus and wave leafy branches as they announce their hopes for the coming kingdom of David.  Like the parade of Roman Triumph, the parade of Palm Sunday was a statement about power as the people cried out, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!  Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!”

In contrast to the Roman Triumph parade where four white horses pulled the chariot of the conquering hero through the streets of Rome, Jesus rode a young colt on the Palm Sunday parade.  In contrast to the Jewish hopes for a conquering Messiah, Jesus rode a young colt on the Palm Sunday parade as a statement about where true power may be found.

Did you notice that Mark’s account of Palm Sunday did not end with Jesus riding on the young colt?  Mark records Jesus walking beyond the parade of Palm Sunday as he went into the temple and went out to Bethany with the twelve.

I think the reason Mark records the conclusion of Palm Sunday this way is because Mark wants us to realize that Jesus’ ministry did not end with the parade of Palm Sunday.  Mark wants us to realize that Jesus will remain faithful to God even as he walks beyond the parade of Palm Sunday.  Mark wants us to realize that Jesus will remain faithful to God even when the shouts of Hosanna on Palm Sunday become shouts of crucifixion on Good Friday.  In the coming days of this holy week, Jesus will witness to the power of the conquered servant of God as he lives, dies, and trusts in the power of God that is seen in the cross of Good Friday and the empty tomb of Easter.

May God bless us as we walk with Jesus beyond Palm Sunday.

March 28, 2021

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