Preparing the Way of the Lord sounds lofty and poetic, but in reality that preparation can be menial and routine, and seem exhausting and never-ending. Even our Young Disciples get into the act. There’s much to do to prepare for Palm Sunday, Pastor’s Class baptisms, Holy Week, and Easter.
Like those first disciples who had orders to go and fetch that donkey for the Parade into Jerusalem, maybe we thought serving Jesus would be more glamorous. Or if not more glamorous, maybe we thought it would be easier, or at least part-time, and scheduled for our own convenience!
I thank God for the amount of effort put forth by so many people at Disciples Christian Church so we could Prepare the Way of the Lord for three worship services, an Easter Egg Hunt, and an all-church luncheon. It was a wonderful Palm Sunday. We do love a parade!
Were you aware that there were two parades in Jerusalem that day? The Jesus parade that we model each year was approaching Jerusalem from the east.
The other parade came from the west. It was the Roman Army parade. Coming to maintain order during Passover – a time when the population of Jerusalem would swell from around 50,000 to well over 200,000 – and those are probably conservative estimates. In addition to the groundswell of people, Passover was a celebration of liberation, and liberation celebrations made the powers that be in Rome nervous every year. And so from the west, marched the Roman Army. No doubt an imposing sight. Roman flags flying, the Roman eagle prominently displayed, the clank of armor, the stomp of feet, and the beating of drums. A parade designed to be a display of Roman imperial power. A parade whose message was clear: Resist at your own risk!
And yet, there is this counter-demonstration coming from the east with Jesus as parade marshal, riding in on a donkey. Cheering crowds went ahead of him clearing the way and hailing his presence.
As with any parade, there’s planning that goes on behind the scenes. Mark (Read Mark 11:1-11) gives us a glimpse into some of that in his very detailed reporting of securing Jesus’ ride. Just before Jesus makes his final approach to Jerusalem, he sends two of his disciples to a nearby village with explicit instructions to find a particular donkey. And if anyone asked why they were taking that particular donkey that didn’t belong to them, they were to give the secret password code of The Lord needs it.
Who knows that those two disciples were thinking having been given these instructions? We don’t know exactly which disciples these were, but imagine if they were James and John who only hours before had suggested to Jesus that they wanted positions of power – one at his right hand, one at his left – but it really doesn’t matter which two they were. All the disciples had been jockeying for advantage, angling for glory, arguing over who was the greatest. And now here they are mucking around in donkey doo, looking suspiciously like horse thieves. And did you catch that this was a colt that had never been ridden? Can you say feisty??
Why does Mark spend so much time describing the donkey details – remember Mark is often spare with details. Is it to warn us that preparing the way of the Lord is going to be filled with gritty details?
I repeat: Preparing the way of the Lord often sounds more poetic than it really is.
And yet, it was those same disciples on donkey dispatch who were also sent out to proclaim the good news of the gospel. They cast out demons. They healed the sick. They exercised authority in Jesus’ name. They figured out how to be like Jesus – even after Jesus was no longer there to show them. They received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. They birthed the church as we know it today – the body of Christ. They endured persecution for their efforts. And they remained faithful. They prepared the way of the Lord – and if they had not, we would not be here.
They had no idea what to expect when they were called away from their fishing nets, what it would mean to follow or how much work would be involved in preparing the way. How exhausted they must have felt at the end of some days. How conflicted they may have been sometimes about what they were being asked to do. But neither did they have any idea of the transformation that would come, the miracles they would see, the justice they would seek, and the mercy they would be shown.
There were two parades that day in Jerusalem. One of power and established authority and a God-less outlook on life. Might and majesty and muscle. The other was a ragtag bunch of Jesus’ supporters operating well under the radar. Persons not in power – persons not even seeking power – rather persons seeking a better life by seeking after the Son of God, The Messiah. They didn’t know exactly what that meant, but they were eager to experience the transformation he promised in a world of justice and peace – so very different from the world in which they lived — with a place at the table for everyone, including them.
Assuming you feel called to follow the Jesus Parade, how are you being called to Prepare the Way of the Lord?
I hope wherever you are this week that you will seek a place to worship on Thursday for a remembrance of the Last Supper and on Friday to reflect on Jesus’ death on the cross. We will meet at Disciples at 7:30 on Thursday evening, and I will participate in a “Seven Last Words of Christ” ecumenical service on Friday from Noon to 3. To be prepared for our roles as disciples, we mustn’t go from the Parade to the Empty Tomb of Easter morning without a stop or two along the way.