March 27-28, 2021
“The Grand Procession”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
When I went to bed on Monday evening I knew only a few things about the shooting in Boulder. But when I opened the Internet on Tuesday morning I couldn’t believe how terrible the news got overnight. 10 people killed at King Soopers. The whole community was in pain.
But what stood out in my mind was the miles-long procession when they took the body of Eric Talley, the Boulder police officer who had been killed, from where he was killed to the mortuary. The helicopter that was overhead caught the view of the police lights all flashing before and after the ambulance that carried his body. Those lights seemed to go on forever. A number of people lined the streets in that procession. Some saluted, others covered their hearts with their hand, and everyone was pained.
Such processions this week and next week for Officer Talley and the other 9 who died, will be eventful and painful and memorable – grand processions always are.
When I was a child I remember watching parts of the grand procession after President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. The streets in Washington D.C. were filled with thousands of people but they had a respectful silence as his body passed them. His wife and his children stood together, and their young son, John-John, I believe they called him, saluted his father. It was dignified, respectful and painful.
Today is Palm Sunday. This was a grand procession. Grand processions are usually for our heroes, the greatest who have ever lived – and oftentimes for those who have died. But this procession on Palm Sunday was for the living. This procession was for Jesus, one who had taught amazing truths, had shown acts of mercy and compassion and who had done honest-to-goodness miracles. Palm Sunday was His grand procession. “A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’ ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ‘Hosanna in the highest!’ When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, ‘Who is this?’ The crowds answered, ‘This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.’” (Matthew 21:8-11)
The processions that have happened and will happen in these days will bring many people together. But that procession, the procession of Jesus, was not universally loved. The opponents of Jesus opposed all this fanfare and their words of adoration and praise. Hosanna originally meant, “Save us, now.” By that time it probably was spoken in a way of praise and glory. Jesus was called, “The Son of David”, a word to signify that He was the Christ or Messiah – God’s chosen one. To all this the opponents of Jesus wanted to rain on His parade. “Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples!’ ‘I tell you,’ Jesus replied, ‘if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.’” (Luke 19:39-40)
It was only fitting that all of creation would give praise to God for sending the answer to our dilemma of life and death, of sin and hope. We are in great need. We need a Savior and a Lord and a Master – Jesus is all of that. But the grand procession wasn’t going to be on a Sunday, at least not this one – it was going to head to an upper room on Thursday and then a cross on Friday. Jesus knew He had to head to Jerusalem so that the Grand Procession would happen just as God fully prepared it.
He told those who were His own of what lay ahead, “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Matthew 16:21) Palm branches and hosanna’s weren’t the reason that He headed to Jerusalem. His procession would be when He would carry a cross and watch people wail and weep for Him. In many churches this day the entire passion history is read. It takes the place of the sermon. It indeed is a Grand Procession that brings everything together – Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the news that on Saturday the tomb was sealed so that no one could steal the body of Jesus.
Part of the Holy Week readings contained the words of Jesus about a Grand Procession to the cross so that the sins of the world would be received. Jesus said, “Now my heart is troubled and what should I say, ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ No, it was for this very reason that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a few verses later Jesus says, “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from this earth, will draw all men to myself. He said this to show the kind of death He was going to die.” (John 12:27-28a, 31-33)
What a grand procession Jesus had on that day and then throughout the entire week. But how odd that He chose to come in with such humility. He comes in on a little baby donkey. He had walked miles and then just outside Jerusalem the parade begins on that humble animal. I know the Old Testament, Zechariah 9:9 gives this prophecy, “Do not be afraid, O daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.” But it was more than just having to keep an Old Testament word – it was defining His character. The Grand Procession would be done humbly and a lowly way. When Jesus called all people to come to Him with every burden and worry, He introduces why we are able to come so boldly, “For I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29-30)
But without giving you the rest of the story about the Grand Procession of Jesus – (Ok – I will give it to you – it ends rather nicely – He actually came back from death – and had a wonderful procession into heaven on the Ascension Day), I want to tell you that Jesus gives up a donkey for a stallion. Revelation 19 with great imagery and overwhelming triumph says, “I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike the nations. He will rule them with an iron scepter. He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” (Revelation 19:11-16)
The Grand Procession ends in great glory for Him and also for us. In the early creed of the church it says, “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11)
Grand processions, for us, often mean death and sorrow and loss. In these next days a number of those 10 will have a grand procession from a church or mortuary to a cemetery. Others will join them to honor them and to share their sorrow. As believers in Jesus we are told to weep with those who weep, we are told to bear one another’s sorrows, we are commanded to love each other as we have been loved. Go with them, all of them, in their grief.
I pray that this procession that we make on this Sunday and then throughout the week is a journey with Christ. We experience joy, we learn of humility and suffering. We receive grace and forgiveness and we see His great triumph. This Grand Procession is His and it is yours.
The Palm Sunday hymn, Ride On, Ride On in Majesty, speaks of this Grand Procession like this:
Ride on, ride in majesty!
Hark! All the tribes Hosanna cry,
O Savior meek, pursue Thy road,
With palms and scattered garments strowed.
Ride on, ride on in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die.
Bow Thy meek head to mortal pain,
Then take, O God, Thy pow’r and reign.