One of my favourite childhood memories was the annual natal day parade in Halifax. The parade route started so close to my house you could hear the bands warming up. In my memory it was always a warm sunny summer’s day. My brother and I would sit on our front step waiting listening and then run down to the end of the street to watch the floats and my favourite pipe and drum bands march past us. There is so much joy in a parade – the music, the laughter, the children.
Do you suppose that this is what the very first Palm Sunday parade was like? This parade didn’t have an organizing committee with a date set in advance – it was a spur of the moment kind of parade. By the time we arrive at our reading for today the stage has been set. There’s been miracles, the feeding of the 5000 and Lazarus was raised. The Pharisees and the high priest Caiphas sent out the word that they wanted Jesus arrested and they will pay for information. But the crowds who heard that Jesus was going to Jerusalem for the festival had something else in mind.
They took branches from the palm trees and went out to meet him. In Jesus’ day Palms were a universal sign of victory whether it was athletic or in battle. Jesus finds a donkey which all the kings of the Old Testament rode. Horses were used for war. Jesus rides the donkey as the crowds yell, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—the King of Israel.” (John 12:13)
It’s a parade with a whole lot of expectations of a world and lives changed. You can hear it in the cries of the crowds who gathered there that day. Hosanna quite literally means “save us.” As Jesus rides on the donkey, they cry out, “Save us the one who comes in the name of the lord. Save us king of Israel.” The expectation rings out in every word and with every wave of the palm branch. The crowds expect Jesus is the one who will save them from the Romans and save them from their lives.
The disciples hoped? knew that Jesus was the one to save their people from the heavy hand of the Romans who ruled the land. They hoped Jesus was the one who would end their misery. The same is true for us today. Scott Black Johnson writes: “When we wave our palms and boldly cry out, "Hosanna," do we dare imagine what we really want God to save us from? Save me from anger. Save me from cancer. Save me from depression. Save me from debt. Save me from the strife in my family. Save me from boredom... Save me from the endless cycle of violence. Save me from humiliation. Save me from staring at the ceiling at three a.m. wondering why I exist. Save me from bitterness. Save me from arrogance. Save me from loneliness. Save me, God, save me from my fears. Please God take the broken places that will tear us apart and make them whole. We beseech you, God, jump into the water and drag our almost-drowned selves to shore. "Save us." "Hosanna." (www.sermons.com)
Palm Sunday is more than the sweet band of children waving palm branches. It is an invitation to let Jesus come into the broken places in our lives. The disciples did that – they were people on the margins. Tax collectors that no one wanted to socialize with and people with demons that needed to be cast out and fishermen and people longing for something new. Peter followed Jesus from the start. He loved Jesus and he probably waved the palm branch harder than anyone else. Peter is at once the disciple who is closest to Jesus – who gets what Jesus is all about and the one who understands least.
After the parade, Jesus takes his disciples aside and begins to teach them about what is to come next – how to live when he is no longer with them. Jesus washes their feet. Reminds that they are called to serve others. Gives them the commandment to love one another just as he has loved them. Peter asks “Lord, where are you going?” (John 13:36) But it is nowhere the disciples can follow. Peter jumps in, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay my life down for you.” (John 13: 37) Jesus looks at Peter and says, “Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.” (John 13:38)
We know the story – the painful cries of holy week. It is the ones like Peter who would follow him the ends of the earth who cry crucify and deny. In Peter’s story we find our own. Most of us long for that saving power to fall on us, to pick us up, to heal us and at the same time when it gets hard we say good bye. It is easier to go back to familiar ways. Peter is the rock upon which the church is built and the one who denies Jesus three times.
The days between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday are sobering days. It is in going through the pain and sorrow of this time that we arrive at the good news of Easter. There are no short cuts only the promise that the hope will come. I’m about play you song. I’d heard it many times but one day as I pulled into the parking lot on Bannerman Street I heard something new. I heard Peter as he followed Jesus in the shadow of the cross. I heard my story. I heard our story as we wait in the shadows for the joy of Easter Sunday.
Say something, I'm giving up on you I'll be the one, if you want me to Anywhere, I would've followed you Say something, I'm giving up on you
And I am feeling so small It was over my head I know nothing at all
And I will stumble and fall I'm still learning to love Just starting to crawl
Say something, I'm giving up on you I'm sorry that I couldn't get to you Anywhere, I would've followed you Say something, I'm giving up on you
And I will swallow my pride You're the one that I love And I'm saying goodbye
Say something, I'm giving up on you And I'm sorry that I couldn't get to you And anywhere, I would have followed you Oh-oh-oh-oh say something, I'm giving up on you
Say something, I'm giving up on you Say something. (A Great Big World)