“An Entrance to Remember”
Rev. Joshua D. Gill
John’s interpretation of the of the triumphal entry is unique and in particular the role of the disciples in this scene. In the other gospels the disciples take a very active role in the triumphant entry. They go ahead of Jesus and find a colt for him preparing the way for his entry. In John’s gospel, the disciples stand back. They don’t even seem to be part of the crowd but instead are in the back wondering what is going on. Obviously, as we read this gospel we have the benefit of knowing the end of the story, but the disciples though are left wondering what is happening.
The crowd that has gathered has just witnessed Lazarus being raised from the dead and there is electricity in the air. This miracle has served as climax in all Jesus’ mighty deeds in John’s gospel. The crowd has sought out Jesus and they move to the city waving palms and testifying to Christ’s entry, shouting “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” In the midst of this, the disciples watch bewildered by the actions. One has to wonder why they the crowd could not hook the disciples with their own enthusiasms?
The crowd is carrying palm branches, a symbol used to welcome kings. Like after the feeding of the 5,000 Jesus is hailed as “the one who is to come,” as the “King who is to come.” At other moments when crowds have wanted to make Jesus King, Jesus has withdrawn, but this day withdrawal is impossible. He has become the King who “rides on in majesty,” who rides on in “lowly pomp” to die.
There would have been another entrance that day — Pontius Pilate would have come into Jerusalem from his home Caesarea. His procession would have been different than that of this Jesus’ parade. It would have been fully of Rome’s military might. The latest, strongest, weapons parading through the streets, with Pilate riding a majestic stallion. Pilate would have displayed his superiority and shared a message of his own. To all those who may have witnessed Pilate that day, his message would have been clear, “I have come to keep my peace, and will control you by force.” Both Jesus and Pilate sent a strong message that day. 
This message echoes throughout time and we are forced to wrestle with these two messages each and every day of our own lives. Whose parade are we even watching? Who will we place our hope and trust in, the man riding the colt or the man on the stallion who has come to conquer? Those would be conquerors have always tried to use Jesus to their own end.
Our own history is full of moments like this when, people were using Jesus. In the 1600s traditional British Policy forbade enslavement of Christians, if a people converted they would often experience some level of freedom. There was a group of missionaries that wanted to teach Christianity to the enslaved Africans. Our Churches and our country debated, they debated if Christianity should be shared with enslaved Africans, they debated if they could understand it, they debated if they were even human, and then they debated the implications of it. Then in September of 1667 the colony of Virginia declared that enslaved Africans could be baptized and no slave master would lose his property and no one would gain their freedom, another step-in permeant hereditary enslavement. The slave masters sought to use this new law to their advantage; they began teaching the enslaved, teaching the that enslaved about heaven that it would be an end to their suffering, teaching about obedience, teaching about humility, emphasizing portions of scripture that taught these values. In some cases, they allowed the enslaved to attend church sitting or standing in a separate segregated section or outside of the church. As time went on they added new laws, forbidding the enslaved from learning to read or gather without permission. Over time when they did gather for religious services white supervision was required.  The slave masters and too many religious leaders of that day tried to keep the enslaved at Pilate’s parade, but they kept seeing a man on colt ride by; they knew there was an alternative, they knew there was hope.
Or a more contemporary example, leading up to most recent election I would hear people saying things like “You can’t be a Christian and vote for a Republican” or “You can’t be a Christian and vote for a Democrat.” People have always tried to use Jesus to their own ends.
No one seems to have understood what they were witnessing that day, as they saw Jesus. The crowds attempted to shape their own narrative, Pilate attempted to shape the narrative, but Jesus would ride alone and would shape his own narrative.
One has to ask, if you were in this story where would you be? Would you be cheering wildly waving the palm branches or would you be off standing to the side? Would you be at Pilates parade? If you were in one of the crowds what would you be thinking? Or would you distance like the disciples off to the distance? Would you be thinking that Pilate will keep the peace? Would you witness the Lazarus miracle, and be ready to believe Jesus is the King of Israel, the King of the World? We read these stories not simply to get to an end, but to be invited to the story, to see the details so that story can transform you, whether you are an enthusiast or a skeptic. At Jesus’ parade or Pilates, the goal is always transformation.
What we are witnessing at Jesus parade is the word made flesh in his glory. God came down not as some sort of 33-year experiment, but God came down as fully human entering our suffering, and fully divine, loving the whole world. Jesus, who in a few days will rise from the dead fully human and fully divine; Jesus who in this moment is riding as a king on a donkey; Jesus who came to free the enslaved and the oppressors from around the world. This is the good news that John insists upon, the good news for both the confused, the good news for the enthusiast, the good news for the disciples, the good news for oppressed and the oppressor that God love this whole crowded world. That God loves us enough, to come down and suffer so that we might all have life.