On November 15, 1969, the largest political protest in American history marched on the capital mall, and seemed to take over the city. President Richard Nixon sat comfortably in the White House, reportedly watching college football, as a “vast throng of Americans, predominantly youthful” called for the swift withdrawal of troops from Vietnam within earshot of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  The demonstration was fueled by students, but supported by folks from every corner of American life. Masses of Americans did not want this war and were willing to gather en masse to say so.
Political demonstrations have become a common modern phenomenon. But they didn’t begin with the “march on Washington” concept. There have been more than a hundred “march on Washingtons” in the past 150 years! And the mass demonstrations are not just an American phenomenon – there were Ghandi’s salt march in India, Tiananmen Square in China, the Orange Revolution in Kiev, and many more. The concept of a mass march to a central location is to show, or demonstrate, to the powers how massive is the support for justice. Demonstrations arise when the common people decide to stand up and be counted, literally! When they feel powerless to be heard any other way.
In the spirit of a march on Washington, two processions entered Jerusalem on a spring day in 30 CE. It was the beginning of Passover, the Jewish celebration of liberation from Egypt and their annual gathering to pray and hope for a new release from captivity. One procession was a peasant one. Entering Jerusalem from the east, down the Mount of Olives and up into the city, came a troupe of disciples and pilgrims singing the sacred Psalms glorifying Jerusalem and inviting God’s coming. Among them rode Jesus of Nazareth on a humble donkey.
On the opposite side of the city, from the west, came the imperial Roman procession. Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, entered Jerusalem at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers. Every festival, the Roman legion came to town. It was not in honor of the festival, but to keep things under control. The mission of the troops with Pilate was to reinforce the Roman garrison permanently stationed in the Fortress Antonia, overlooking the Jewish temple and its courts. They and Pilate had come up from Caesarea Maritima, “Caesarea on the Sea,” about sixty miles to the west. Pilate and the majority of Roman troops lived in the new and splendid city on the coast, cooler and more comfortalbe than Jerusalem, the traditional capital of the Jewish people, which was inland, partisan, and often hostile. Imagine the imperial procession’s arrival in the city: cavalry on horses, foot soldiers, leather armor, helmets, weapons, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, sun glinting on metal and gold. Hear the marching of feet, the creaking of leather, the clinking of bridles, the beating of drums. Notice the onlookers silently fearful, avoiding notice, with a few angry shouts spilling out. 
While the Passover was not the most celebrated Jewish festival, it seems to be the most political and volatile of them all. Jewish people in the time of Jesus were under the oppressive power of the Roman Empire, not unlike their forebears in Egypt. If God could release them from the power of Egypt, God could do it again with Rome. No doubt longing for liberation ran high. Rome was on alert!
In school I was taught that the “pax romana,” the freedom from warfare which the Romans enforced, was a gift to civilization. The Romans certainly portrayed it this way. However, imperial Rome generated feelings of hatred and resentment as well. Tacitus, a first century Roman historian and senator, writes, “[The Romans] rob, they slaughter, they plunder — and they call it ‘empire.’ Where they make a waste-land, they call it ‘peace.’” 
Jesus’ procession proclaimed the kingdom of God; Pilate’s proclaimed the power of empire. Like many political marches today, the two processions would come to a violent end.
It is important to note that Jesus deliberately found a donkey to ride the last two miles into Jerusalem. It was the way Jesus chose to proclaim that his demonstration was entering Jerusalem in peace. It was a pre-planned demonstration, like the marches on Washington. He had arranged for the donkey to be ready for him. The Hebrew Scripture reference to the donkey is not made explicit in Luke, as it was in Matthew, but it was clearly the background for this demonstration. Zechariah makes it very clear what kind of king this action represents: This king, riding on a donkey, will banish war from the land— no more chariots, war-horses, or bows. He will be a king of peace.
Jesus’s procession deliberately countered what was happening on the other side of the city. Pilate’s procession embodied the power, glory, and violence of the empire that ruled the world. Jesus’s procession embodied an alternative vision, the kingdom of God. This whole day is an acted parable of the decided contrast between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Caesar. 
The story of Palm Sunday is no delightful tale of a whimsical parade. It was a planned demonstration of the in-breaking kingdom of peace. It was Jesus’ staged statement for all to see and hear that what he was talking about, what he was bringing had nothing to do with violence. That the kind of kingdom he inaugurated was one of peace, reconciliation and abundance – for all – not just abundance for the privileged few. It is what God had intended since the garden of Eden, was covenanted in the laws of the Exodus, and was prophesied by Zechariah and many others. And it is here. This kingdom is here and it will topple the scales of society, reverse the ordering of greatest to least.
Even today, it takes courage to trust this peaceable kingdom. It takes at least as much strength as violent oppression. Like Jesus and many justice workers since his time, it means putting everything on the line, often suffering, and sometimes death. But Jesus demonstrated that the way of justice and love would go forward, through death – but that gets us ahead of the story.
When the Pharisees in the crowd see and hear the crowd rejoicing, shouting and saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord,” they say to Jesus, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” Apparently they were afraid that such a tumultuous activity would attract the attention of Roman authorities. It did. And Jesus says that it matters no longer. If the crowds did not shout, the very stones would cry out that the way of violence and oppression will never work.
Around a bend in the road, there suddenly is Jerusalem. Jesus catches his breath, his eyes well up with tears: “Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace…, but you did not know the time of your visitation,” he says. Because Jesus’ ways were not what the people expected, they did not recognize the way of God in his teachings. The Romans did not see that he came in peace, to give peace. Neither Jew nor Gentile made sense of this. Nor do we today. The absence of peace in our world, in our communities, in our families, even in our own souls remind us that we still don’t get it. We make it true again that stones of rubble, like those of the twin towers, will cry out against our oppression and violence, and say “NO! There must be another way.”
Remember that Luke is writing these words through the lens of his recent history. He is seeing the broken stones of Jerusalem, lying in huddled piles, splashed with blood and carved by swords and spears. As little as a decade before this writing, in 70 CE, the Romans had done what Jesus knew was the only thing that could happen. They came and destroyed it all! The piles of stones were now the voice crying out for another way, another king, another kingdom, for certainly the way of Temples and palaces could not last.
All to say, we are not without experiences of the heart which beats in Luke’s story of Jesus. We still see the desire for justice turn to violent oppression. Palm Sunday is the day we hope with the disciples in the road, we hope for the way of peace, we long for security and to live our lives without the shadow of fear. And we choose peace.
Frederick Buechner, an author with a beautiful way with words, sums up Palm Sunday beginning with a quote from Isaiah 2:
“God shall judge between the nations and shall decide for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” That is our Palm Sunday hope, and it is our only hope. That is what the palms and the shouting are all about. That is what all our singing and worshiping and preaching and praying are all about if they are about anything that matters. The hope that finally by the grace of God the impossible will happen. The hope that Pilate will take [Jesus] by one hand and Caiaphas by the other, and the Roman soldiers will throw down their spears and the Sanhedrin will bow their heads. The hope that by the power of the Holy Spirit, by the love of Christ, who is Lord of the impossible, the leaders of the enemy nations will draw back, while there is still time for drawing back, from a vision too terrible to name. The hope that you and I also, each in our own puny but crucial way, will work and witness and pray for the things that make for peace, true peace, both in our own lives and in the life of this land. Despair and hope. They travel the road to Jerusalem together, as together they travel every road we take – despair at what in our madness we are bringing down on our own heads and hope in him who travels the road with us and for us and who is the only one of us all who is not mad. 
No Jesus was not crazy. No we are not crazy to hope in his way. That is the story of Exodus – God comes through to release the captives. That is the story we anticipate this week, the story of resurrection, that even death is not the end. No, Jesus is not crazy. Jesus is life, and hope, and peace – justice and love holding hands. So may it be. Amen!
Pastor Carley Friesen
 Whitaker, Morgan, “’We want peace’: The largest political protest in US history, 45 years later,” http://www.aol.com/article/2014/11/14/we-want-peace-the-largest-political-protest-in-us-history-45/20993872/
 Borg, Marcus J.; Crossan, John Dominic (2009-03-17). The Last Week (p. 3). Harper Collins. Kindle Edition.
 Tacitus, Agrigolae, chp. 30
 Borg, Marcus J.; Crossan, John Dominic (2009-03-17). The Last Week (p. 4). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
 Buechner, Frederick, “The Things That Make For Peace,” from A Room Called Remember, HarperCollins, 1984.
“The Sixth Sunday of Lent,” by Jirair Tashjian, Copyright © 2015, Jirair Tashjian and
Christian Resource Institute, http://www.crivoice.org/lectionary/YearC/Clent6nt.html