This parade is nothing like the parades I have seen,
And I love parades.
I go down to the Thanksgiving Day Parade in Detroit every year,
And I stand in the cold, and I eat it up.
I love the monkeys jumping on the bed, I love the briefcase drill team, I love the distinguished clown corps, and I love to see all of the important people who show up for the parade.
I love the big balloons, and the confetti…
I remember, when I lived on the South Side of Chicago,
When the White Sox won the pennant, and there was a glorious parade to celebrate with black and white confetti everywhere,
Or the parades after the Red Wings win the Stanley Cup.
Wish we could go back to those days.
But this parade we heard about today is nothing like those parades.
There’s only one float, after all.
What are they even celebrating?
What is the victory?
What kind of parade was this, they must have wondered, because it was nothing like the parades they knew, either.
There were parades in ancient times.
The ancient Greeks had a tradition of a parade called a triumph celebrating a military victory.
In a triumph, the king would dress up as the god Dionysus, or later, Zeus,
And he would be carried by a litter of slaves
As the people cried out for the appearance of the god.
At the end of the parade, the king would appear, in costume,
And sacrifice a bull to the god in thanksgiving for the military conquest.
The Romans took over the tradition of the triumph parade,
But in the Roman tradition, the parade became even more tied to military might.
The Romans carried graphic representations of battle that had been won,
Demonstrating the bloodshed in elaborate pictures.
The king would ride in a golden chariot,
And for the occasion, he would borrow the purple robe and golden crown from the statue of the god Jupiter.
The king would wear the purple robe, but he wouldn’t wear the crown. A slave would carry the crown over his head, so he wouldn’t have to be inconvenienced by the weight of all that gold.
They would carry the spoils of the battle too.
The most famous picture we have of a triumph shows them carrying the menorah from the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem.
The troops would march next, triumphantly upholding their bloodstained swords,
And behind them, the ultimate display of conquest:
The captured slaves were dragged along, in chains.
Eventually, only the emperor, by law, was allowed to hold a triumph,
Because it was such an important representation of the emperor’s divinity, which had won them the battle.
Perhaps this was the reason, scholars speculate,
That Jesus was killed so quickly after holding his own little parade.
What kind of parade was this, they must have wondered?
The Jews must have wondered,
After all they expected their Messiah to conquer the Roman overlords,
Great crowds to hail his kingly greatness.
Which brings us to the question--
How big was the crowd watching this parade?
Luke only mentions the disciples, over and over again,
He says, the whole multitude of the disciples was praising God.
Well, how big was that “multitude”? Twelve? Twenty?
Not much to write home about.
And who were the people in this crowd?
Were they the big wigs of society?
No! They’re society’s rejects!
They’re nobodies, the people who flunked out of Torah class!
Not the people of note.
There aren’t even any children shouting “Hosanna to the king!” In Luke.
There aren’t even any palms mentioned.
If this was all we had to go on, we’d call it Cloak Sunday, or maybe Donkey Sunday.
While this donkey technically fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah calling for the Messiah to ride in on a donkey,
The next few days won’t fulfill anyone’s Messianic expectations.
As they watch the Messiah, the man coming to restore the Davidic line, bring back the institutions of the righteous worship of Yahweh, conquer the Roman heathens,
As they watch him die at the hands of those Romans, nailed to a cross.
But what kind of parade was this, they must have wondered, the Jews and the Romans, watching,
Just as we wonder, what kind of parade has only one float?
Not even sponsored by Macy’s?
What kind of parade has no bands, not even a little trumpeter out front, only the cries of society’s rejects for its soundtrack?
Where are the balloons?
Where is the confetti?
What kind of king is this, riding not on a litter of slaves, not on a golden chariot, not even on a stately war horse, but on a borrowed donkey?
And as if that’s not humiliating enough, it’s a young donkey. It’s a colt!
A borrowed young donkey!
What kind of king, for that matter, wears as his mantle a bloody, tattered robe?
What kind of king is coronated with a crown of thorns?
What kind of king has no bull to sacrifice at the end of his parade, this king is sacrificed himself?
What kind of a savior won’t march in to conquer the badguys, do what God said he would do, bring the powerful down from their thrones and lift up the lowly, make a crooked way straight and a rough place smooth?
God could have done it up, couldn’t he?
Don’t we want him to?
Don’t we want him to put on the parade to beat the band, ending with the conquest of those evil Roman warlords?
Why do we have instead this unlikely parade, this anti-parade parade, this dinky little parade that appears to be going nowhere and accomplishing nothing?
This parade that seems to underline its own humble understatement?
What kind of parade is this?
What kind of king could this be?
Could this be a different kind of king than the world has ever seen?
A king whose power comes not from armies, not from bodyguards, not from military or political power, not from his capacity to dominate, but from his capacity to love?
I believe that that is so.
I believe that the message of the little parade we celebrate this day is that his power, the power of love, is greater than the power of power itself.
Because we know the truth.
We know that this poor, uneducated, backwoods carpenter’s son happens to be the incarnation of God himself.
We know that in the moment of his greatest defeat, as he hangs broken and bleeding from a cross, the execution so humiliating it was reserved for slaves, at that moment he is a conqueror greater than any mayor or king or emperor because the great power he wields is the power of love.
That love, which sacrifices itself, bleeds itself out for another, it is the strongest force in the universe, strong enough to conquer any king, any army, strong enough to conquer death itself.
It’s not logical. It doesn’t make sense. But somehow, we see it. Love keeps winning.
How else did a bishop stand in the way of Hitler’s army?
Without assembling troops, without firing a single shot, the people and the church of Bulgaria stood up to Hitler during World War II.
As they watched their Jewish friends and neighbors asked to wear yellow stars, a public outcry began in Bulgaria.
In late 1942, when the Jews began to be packed into sealed boxcars, members of Parliament rallied.
When the proclamation came in early 1943 that all 50,000 of Bulgaria’s Jews were to be shipped away, the people protested, led by Metropolitan Stefan and Bishop Kyril of the Orthodox Church.
On March 10th, 1943, many of the Jews of Kyril’s city of Plovdiv reported to a school building while the Nazis sealed the doors of their homes.
They carried suitcases filled with hastily gathered food and clothing, the few possessions they could assemble.
Their destination, the concentration camp at Treblinka.
On that day, Bishop Kyril held a parade.
He marched with three hundred members of his church to that school.
He publicly stated that if the Nazis tried to pull that boxcar out of town, he and his entire congregation would lay down in front of it, on the railroad tracks.
Faced with this public outcry, and the real possibility of international attention, the Nazi government balked.
Without firing a single shot, the only power greater than power had shown itself to be the power of love.
Not one of Bulgaria’s Jews perished in the Holocaust.
Bulgaria is the only nation in Europe whose Jewish population actually increased during World War II.
Just imagine if the nations of the world had relied on the power of love like Bishop Kyril.
In the place where Bishop Kyril stood that day, a plaque now stands, engraved with a few simple words, his message to the Jews of Plovdiv:
I will not leave you.
I will not leave you.
Those could be the words of God himself.
I will not leave you.
The words of a God born with us in a feeding trough.
I will not leave you.
The words of a God riding in his humble parade on his borrowed little donkey.
I will not leave you.
The words of a God hanging from a cross in his tattered robe with his crown of thorns.
I will not leave you in your weakness.
I will not leave you in your pain.
I will not leave you in your death.
This is the God we worship today.
This is the king to whom we shout, “Hosanna!”
The king who shows his power not with troops or trumpets, not with chariots or confetti, not with bodyguards or balloons, but with an unyielding, unquenchable, unstoppable, love!
That love will never leave us, brothers and sisters.
That love will defeat every power that is seeking to destroy us.
That love is more powerful than power itself.
And that is why this tiny, humble parade,
With its one float, its borrowed young donkey,
Its crowd of rejects,
Its doomed king,
This dinky little parade,
It is more famous and celebrated than any parade the world has ever known.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen