Rebecca Heilman
(John 12: 12-19)

Before the pandemic, parades were a weekly business in New York City and they always always fell on a Sunday, which made it difficult for our church members to travel to worship. The streets would fill with hundreds to thousands of people. It’s hard to imagine that now. The police would block off all streets and certain sidewalks so that in any direction you fought through a crowd. I had an especially difficult task of navigating Sadie, my dog, through those streets after worship. The first time we went out during a parade was quite the adventure for the two of us. Her sweet little paws got stepped on and we weaved and turned through people who wanted to hug and love on her. Sadie LOVED it. We finally made it to the other side of the street to go for a long walk in the park when I realized she was being especially good, almost too good. I looked down and there she was, tail wagging big and a full slice of pizza in her mouth. It took much coaxing and pulling, pleading and begging for her to drop only half of it. What can I say, she’s a lab through and through and I developed a love hate relationship with the almost weekly parades. But even with the burden and frustrations of navigating those streets with a happy, food-loving dog, I could not help but be charmed by the joyful and eager spirit that comes with a parade. A parade reminds us that there is something to celebrate, something to be happy about. With the shouts, signs, floats, and candy, one can’t help but enjoy the moment with those around them. One can’t help but embrace the atmosphere of joy and hope. Oh how I wish we could have a parade together today like one of the first Palm Sunday parades.

That’s right, there were actually two parades that day and the one I wish we could celebrate is the parade Steve just read for us, where Jesus is delivered on a donkey to the city of Jerusalem. It must have a been an exciting day for the crowd when they heard that Jesus was coming into town. They picked and waved palm branches, singing and shouting verses from Psalm 118, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord – the King of Israel.”[1] Only the difference between the Psalmist verse and the cheering crowd’s verse is their added line, “blessings on the King of Israel.”[2] They called Jesus their king, a king, who in this version, found his own donkey, a humbled, stinky donkey and rode his way into the city of power with a new presence of peace and hope and a glorious change to come. This parade was a strange sight to see and it certainly wasn’t anything like the parade on the opposite side of the city. According to Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, another parade took place that day. This parade is not found in Scripture but is mentioned in other historical sources.

Jesus entered his parade from the east, while Pontius Pilate entered Jerusalem from the west with much more pomp and circumstance. It was certainly not a parade of hope, but a parade of order and intimidation. This was standard practice for the Roman imperial power. They often came into Jerusalem for the Jewish festivals in case of trouble.[3] And so no wonder they marched in for the festival of Passover, which celebrates the liberation of the Jewish people.

They were making a statement, making sure all knew who really was in charge. Borg and Crossan gives good imagery to the Roman parade. Listen to this and imagine seeing it with your own eyes and what feelings might stir within you. They write, imagine the intimidating display, ”Calvary on horses, foot soldiers, leather armor, helmets, weapons, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, sun glinting on metal and gold. The marching of feet, the creaking of leather, the clinking of bridles, the beating of drums. The swirling of dust. The eyes of the silent onlookers, some curious, some awed, some resentful.”[4] Whatever people thought when they saw the parade, the Roman empire had just made a statement on power. However, Jesus and his followers, they knew all of this was occurring on the other side of the city. It happened at every festival. And so while Pontius Pilate was making a statement of power, so was Jesus to the leaders of that city and to his followers as he rode into town. Jesus was going head-to-head with the powers at be.

At this point in the sermon, you might expect me to give a heroic example of a modern someone standing up against the systems and powers at be and then metaphorically try and tie that to our personal lives. While I was tempted to do that and understand the impactful message it would be to talk about the John Lewis’, the Rosa Parks, and the Greta Thunbergs, I also think for most of us, where we come head-to-head with the powers at is actually in our own heads. Brian McLaren, Jacqui Lewis and Richard Rohr, all church leaders of some shape and fashion, discuss in a new podcast titled, Learning How to See, the different biases we tend to carry and how those biases affect our outlook on the world and humanity.  Brian McLaren names 13 biases, I won’t go through them all, but there are two that stick out to me, especially after these last few weeks and months. First, he names confirmation bias, which is when “the human brain welcomes information that confirms what it already thinks and resists information that disturbs or contradicts what it already thinks.”[5] This is when we resist listening to a person we disagree with or only listen in the bubble of those we agree with. Or when we think this group of people all act, talk, or walk a certain way. Confirmation bias is when we think we know something about God or God’s people and are unwilling to hear anything different. McLaren expresses his fear of this bias in “how easily we can slip into these little whirlpools of where our confirmation bias is protected and [then] reinforced.”[6] He calls this dangerous because it means we only have one perspective and act on that one perspective. That we are not willing to grow, listen, learn, and love others for who they are and who God created them to be.

A second bias is what he calls community bias, where “it is very hard to see something your group doesn’t also see or that your group doesn’t want you to see. This is also called social confirmation bias, that we prefer our tribe over the truth.”[7] This is when we tend to protect our community, instead of speaking the truth and liberating ourselves and others from what they don’t see. We’ve seen this in the Jim Crow laws and we see it in the new voting law in Georgia. We see it in the language and actions leading up and following the shooting against the Asian American community in Georgia. And the language around guns following Boulder, CO and just yesterday, Virginia Beach and let’s not forget all the other mass shootings we’ve watched for years now. We see in the actions taken against one group of protestors compared to the actions taken against another. We see it in social media and the news media on what they chose to report on and what they chose to misshape. We see it around our own family tables when we think we are making a joke, but turns out to be a racial slur, but we’re too fear to call them out on it. These days, language carries power. And that power seeps into our minds, words, and actions that create these biases that tend to intimidate and be hostile instead of carry hope and potential change. Those biases that march through our brain and then out of our mouths and then into the actions of our bodies or lack of action is like the Roman Empire on the west side of Jerusalem, preaching power and fear instead of love and peace.  These days, we are up against our own mind and the racial, economic and class prejudices that make up the systems that keep minorities oppressed. We are up against white supremacy and deep polarization. We are up against violence that is justified and hate that is rewarded. For many of us, we desperately want to be as loud as the crowd shouting Hosanna! But are stuck in our own minds and systems we’ve created and fear.

Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God that Palm Sunday and Pilate announced the power of the empire. It was no mistake that these two parades occurred on the same day in Jerusalem. Jesus was intentionally going up against the systemic nature of the empire, the nature of “we are in charge and no one will stop us.” Jesus was saying otherwise by riding in on a donkey, a humbled, stinky donkey. There is more significance there than you may realize. The Old Testament book of Zechariah says, “a king would be coming to Jerusalem ‘humble, and riding on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”[8] Zechariah goes on to say, “He will cut off the chariot from Ephram and the war-horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations.”[9] Jesus was fulfilling this passage, going up against Pilate’s chariots, war-horses and bows. Jesus entered into Jerusalem with peace, countering all biases, all powers at be, all oppressive systems, all racist slurs, all white supremacy acts, and introducing a new king of peace and kin-dom of God. As this Holy Week continues on, these two messages of hope versus hostility will make their way to the center of the city and center of our story. These two messages of peace and power, hope and intimidation will collide. Not unlike how the polarized groups in our nation collide today. As a friend of mine writes about this passage, “When hope is met with hostility, eventually, something’s gotta give, because the two simply cannot exist together” especially when God has God’s hands in the mix.[10]

There are two parades marching into town this week and so I hope when we experience the in-your-face aggressive biases on the news or the subtle harmless words from a friend, that we think about which parade we would like to speak out at. That we would think about how imperial power and oppressive systems may speak loudly but how the smallest of actions, like riding in on a humbled donkey or speaking the truth that will lead us towards a holy kin-dom on earth as it is in heaven. Those small actions matter, and they carry more weight, more power, and an intentional message that peace is marching into town.

[1] Psalm 118: 26.

[2] John 12:13.

[3] Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan, The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’s Final Days in Jerusalem,(New York: HarperOne, 2007), 3

[4] Ibid.

[5] Brian McLaren, Jackie Lewis, and Richard Rohr, Learning How to See, Podcast,

[6] Ibid.

[7]Brian McLaren, Jackie Lewis, and Richard Rohr, Learning How to See, Podcast,

[8] Zechariah 9:9.

[9] Zechariah 9:10.

[10] Jenny McDevitt, relent: “recreate”, Luke 19:28-40, April 14, 2019,