When I was a young girl, there was a little boy named Jeter who lived in our neighborhood. He was an only child of well-to-do parents who made sure he received everything his little heart desired. Well, one day his little heart desired the very thing my little heart desired--it was a drum that had appeared in the display window at Penney's. It was white with blue stars and a red, white, and blue strap that went around your neck to hold the drum in place. There were two sticks for beating out the rhythm, and I was certain I would lead the parade if I just owned it--ohhh, that drum.
At dinner that night, I told my dad about the drum and he asked how much it cost. When I told him $20, he said in a kind of sad voice, "We'll see, honey."
Then the very next day I heard a noise out in the front yard, and there stood Jeter with my drum around his neck. And he was beating out a rat-a-tat-tat and hollering for all of us to come join his parade. My heart was broken. I became determined to put Jeter in his place once and for all, so I gathered up all my playmates on C Street and I devised a plan. I told the other kids that we would all fall in line behind Jeter, but when we got in front of Mrs. Hilt's house, we'd duck behind the privet hedge in her yard and leave spoiled little Jeter out in the street by himself. Jeter started strutting down the street, his head thrown back and his knees flying up as he beat out that rat-a-tat-tat on the drum and we all followed in line, strutting as we went. And, then, we got to the privet hedge. I signaled and, one by one, we left the parade and hid, trying not to giggle out loud. Jeter got to the end of the street before he looked back, and when he stopped and turned around, something happened that I wasn't prepared for at the age of eight. His little arms dropped by his side and in a voice I'd never heard come out of Jeter before, he whimpered, "Little Band, where are you?" And then as if to punish me for the rest of my life, Jeter cried.
You know what? I never in my eight years of life intentionally hurt another human being the way I hurt him that day. I had premeditated his downfall as the neighborhood kid who always got everything he wanted. Looking back now as an adult, I do believe that that was a crossroad experience for me.
The moment that Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians, chapter 13, verse 11, when Paul says we put away childish ways, we begin to see clearly as an adult, that's what happened. Jesus wasn't an only child of an overly indulgent father, but he was and is the only begotten Son of God. He was born in a time and place where a lot of the neighborhood kids wanted to lead the parade. So, they became scribes and Pharisees and instead of beating a drum, they drummed the law into people so that they could keep them in line. Then one day, the day we Christians call "Palm Sunday," this young man from Nazareth leads a parade down from the Mt. of Olives and in through the Golden Gate--right into their neighborhood called Jerusalem. When they heard the noise out in their yard and saw that little ragtag band of disciples waving palm branches and shouting, "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!" well, I feel sure they wanted to stomp his drum and break his sticks and show him the real leader of the band.
Like I did when I was eight and jealous of Jeter, they premeditated his demise. Were they jealous? I think so, but it was much deeper than jealousy. This plotting carried the weight of a death sentence. They schemed about his future as a bandleader and they were using the law to trap him.
No wonder Jesus stopped outside the city and wept. He knew that even the disciples who made up his band would run and hide behind the privet hedge when he got to the end of the street. I wonder if the sight of his tears did to them what Jeter's tears did to me....
I believe so, or we wouldn't still be having Palm Sunday parades two thousand years later. How do you get over the feelings that come when you know you have betrayed a friend--when you know in your heart that you love a parade but you're not willing to follow the leader, especially if he's headed toward a hill called Calvary?
A few months ago I was in Jerusalem with a group of ministers from America, and we walked the Via Dolorosa (the way of the cross). I was stunned into silence, and tears ran down my face as I asked myself, "Would I have taken up my cross and followed him through those narrow streets and out to the place of the skull to be crucified?"
If you want to stop the rat-a-tat-tat, you nail down the hand that beats out the cadence for the parade. Right? That's all you have to do. Just plan his demise, misrepresent the truth, stomp his drum, and break his sticks, and scatter the band members. I am fairly convinced that I would have been looking for a place to hide. Peter, James, and John and those first members of the band--where would you have been after the Hosannas were silenced and the palm branches trodden underfoot by the crowds coming for the Passover?
Today begins Holy Week for Protestants and Catholics around the world. This day is also called Passion Sunday, the beginning of the end, a week when the Lord of Life will face death, a week when he will cleanse the temple of the moneychangers and when he will teach those who will listen. A week when he will explain about authority that comes from God and he will admire a widow who puts two pennies into the offering box because it is all she had. A week when he will break bread and offer the cup of forgiveness to his little band, knowing even as he does that one will betray him and another will deny he ever knew him. He will be arrested, tried, beaten, spat upon, convicted, and sentenced to death as a common criminal. His crime? Blasphemy. He dared to say, "The Father and I are one." Who does he think he is?"
The question for us on this Palm Sunday, April 8, 2001, is still the same: "Who do you think he is?" The drum major who foolishly went to Jerusalem, knowing ahead of time the triumphal entry would lead to defeat and death? Or can you and I answer that question with the same affirmation of faith that the Roman officer uttered when the one on the center cross prayed for forgiveness for all the kids in the neighborhood? That officer said, "Surely, this was the Son of God."
At the age of eight, my heart's desire was a red, white, and blue drum, but now that I am an adult, I have put away childish desires and my heart longs for only one thing: to know Christ more clearly, love him more dearly, and follow him more nearly, and to always, always be a member of his band. Yes, even if the Leader of the Band is on his way to Jerusalem and to Calvary!
Let us pray.
Gracious God, on this awesome morning we remember that, long ago, your Son had the courage to go to Jerusalem, leading a parade of small followers who weren't quite sure why they were going, perhaps believing in their heart that this would be the day he would take the government upon his shoulders and become the Kings of Kings. And here we are two thousand years later, realizing that he really wanted to be the Prince of Peace. He did not go to take over; he went so that he could bring others with him, and we know in our hearts that if we really, really understand this day, then we will honestly look inside our own hearts and we will be able to ask ourselves, "Do we know who he is? Do we know where he is going and do we have the courage to follow?" It's easy to shout, "Hosanna!" It's even easy to take off our cloaks and lay them in his path, and some of us even have a palm branch to wave, but it really won't make much difference, if, when the parade is over, we all have run away so that we can find a hiding place. Lord, forgive us, for we still are not as faithful as we should be to the One who comes. Amen.