Sunday, April 05, 2009

I Love a Parade! (Mark 11:1-11)

A parade or processional in the ancient world was a big deal. Nobody had invented television or basketball yet, so it was hard to waste time talking about your NCAA tournament bracket. That meant you had to work when you were at work, and we all know how boring that is.

So when things loosened up to check out the big spectacle happening over on Main Street, everybody showed up.

Usually, these processionals followed big victories in battle. Processionals followed big defeats, too, but those tended to be held at night and featured everyone grabbing what they could carry and heading for the hills.

Leading the parade and sometimes even clearing the way for it were trumpeters and soldiers. The trumpeters’ fanfare announced the coming parade, and it was followed by the rhythmic stamp of soldiers marching in neat rows. Most of them were probably in their best armor and had spent a lot of time polishing it under the loving care and guidance of their sergeants. Their weapons, too, were clean and shining, showing none of the nicks and stains they picked up in battle.

The officers might follow, mounted on fine horses that were specially harnessed and decorated for the occasion. They too wore their most splendid armor and trappings, giving a picture of strength and authority.

Royal officials might be a part of the display as well. The king might want to do them a special honor and feature them in his processional. All of them would have put on their best clothes and picked their best horses or chariots for the occasion. They too were projecting an image. In their case, they wanted to show not only the power of the king but also the dignity and competence of his government.

Generals and high officers of the army would be present as well. Like the civilian officials, they might be on horseback or in chariots. You might not even be able to look directly at their armor in the sunlight, and their harnesses and trappings might cost more than any of their soldiers might make in a year.

Scattered throughout the processional would be young people who had the job of dancing and scattering flowers and petals along the parade route. Chosen for their good looks and skill, their work also brought a pleasing scent to the whole affair. They would have been in front of the trumpeters and then groups of them at strategic places in the parade. And by “strategic places,” I mean, “behind the horses.”

Now we see the king’s family approach. If his children are young, they will be riding in chariots, but his older sons might be on horseback and wearing military-styled uniforms themselves. The older daughters will have on the finest clothes made of the best fabric, perhaps made just for this occasion. They too demonstrate the king’s power. Safety and security for the realm will last beyond his death.

The king’s wife outdoes them all in the finery of her clothing and appearance. What she wears today will be duplicated on the dressmaker’s forms of all the realm’s high ladies tomorrow morning.

Then we might see the king himself, or the person the king has designated for the honor of this processional. That person might be a visiting dignitary or a great general.

If the parade marks a specific victory, then the losers might be marched along as well. They might be in chains to show their complete defeat and humiliation. Or they might be well-dressed and shown the honor owed to a worthy foe, just to demonstrate how important the victory was.

And Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey. No flower petals, just people’s robes. No trumpeters, just people shouting “Hosanna!” and waving palm leaves. No soldiers or defeated foes, just a mob of common folk and worse led by a bunch of fishermen. No great and powerful war-horse, just a borrowed donkey.

I can see a couple of different reactions to this scene. On the one hand, people would make fun of those silly Galilean hillbillies and their make-believe royal processional. On the other, people might be intrigued by a man whose kingship and status stem from some other source than soldiers and officials and all of the trappings of power. They might be curious as to what kind of a person he was and what he had come here to do, and they might want to learn what the source of his authority might be.

Was this guy a nut, or was he a Savior?

Don’t decide just yet. Wait and see what happens next week.

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