It is amusing that in an age of high-tech sports that include instant replay, jumbotrons, and on-field communication devices, the celebration for winning a championship is still a parade. A parade! Players ride by in convertibles and flatbed trucks, speeches are barely heard because of terrible acoustics, and the fans stand outside—sometimes in the freezing cold—to greet their winning team.
Ancient victory parades
Very similar parades happened in the ancient world. The victorious army marched home and the people would line the streets and cheer—sometimes because they wanted to, sometimes because they were compelled to.
You may remember, it was the cheers of the crowd that made Saul so jealous of David (see 1 Samuel 18:6-9).
The Roman Empire, who literally thought they were god’s gift to the world, seemed to be especially fond of parades. They enjoyed showing off their military supremacy to the people they had already conquered, making sure the occupied nations were always aware of their power to squash them.
Historians tell us that on the Sunday before Passover, Pontius Pilate would have entered Jerusalem with a military parade. Stallions, chariots, and soldiers led the way. The Empire thought it important to make their powerful presence known as Jerusalem swelled with Hebrew people from all over the region who came to commemorate their release from being enslaved by another empire, Egypt.
The Palm Sunday parade
Jesus’ parade on the other side of town was puny by comparison. He and his followers were holding a victory parade without a victory… at least not yet.
There was this prophecy that one day a new David would come, the one they called the Messiah (Hebrew for “anointed one”), who would restore the peace of Israel. One of those prophets said that the Messiah would arrive with a parade:
Look, your king will come to you.
He is righteous and victorious.
He is humble and riding on an ass,
on a colt, the offspring of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9 CEB)
When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey on Palm Sunday, he was making a statement that the people understood completely. This is God’s Kingdom and he has come to claim it.
Jesus’ followers were already celebrating the victory that would come the following weekend. Love defeats weapons. Submission to God is greater than the power of empire. Life conquers death. Post-Easter we now know the victory is won.
On this Palm Sunday, may we celebrate with Jesus’ first followers, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna!” May we also recommit ourselves to live as citizens of God’s Kingdom as we anticipate and participate in the day when his Kingdom will come “on earth as it is in heaven.”