Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
behold your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
I think that for most of us who grew up in the 50s and 60s, wherever we lived was “big enough.” That reality was definitely true of me, for even though my hometown was only 400 with many farms surrounding, the world that was life in Manlius was certainly big enough for me. I am serious when I say that I never once thought I should live in a bigger town. Not once. There was enough going on at our school and in our town to get me in plenty of trouble and I even did the occasional good thing.
Today is Palm Sunday, a very important day in the Christian calendar. It is the story of a parade. I want to tell you the story of another parade before we get to the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. This parade was the Memorial Day parade in Manlius, a big deal to us back then…
The day was exceedingly hot and the band uniforms we wore were exceedingly heavy, but I loved mine and was proud to wear it. They had a rather formal military feel, black with gold trim. Our hats were military, too, and we wore white bucks on our feet. I was in 8th grade, so this was May of 1965. In marching band I was in the front row for a very logical reason: I played trombone. There were a few of us who were still not in high school that had made the high school band. Hey, in a small town, you gotta do what you gotta do! This experience was good for those of us who took part.
I think it necessary to explain what a train wreck I was when it came to doing things right in band performances. I was actually a pretty good trombonist, playing first chair even in 8th grade, but those accolades were earned in practice. As I write this, I just quickly recall some of the “performance” failures of those years:
- Twice I had, because of fear, pooped out on playing a solo, once at a concert and another time at graduation. The grace and mercy of Mr. Milburn still warms me. He stayed positive and (long story which includes drugs) I finally got over the hump.
- We always marched in the Peoria Santa Claus Day Parade, the day after Thanksgiving. This was a truly big deal, for not only did the parade give us each $1 to spend (you read that right, and it was appreciated) but we also got free tickets to a movie. Downtown Peoria was amazing back then, with the storefronts all dolled up and merchants up and down each block. On this particular day I think I was in 7th grade. We parked the bus down on Water Street right by the Illinois River and assembled for marching up into our position in the parade. This was an uphill march. This was an uphill march that included stepping over railroad tracks. This was an uphill march over railroad tracks that I didn’t see because I was (no doubt) gaping at the buildings and taking it all in. I tripped – severely – and landed on my “bell.” The bell is not a nice name for any part of my anatomy; it is the part of the trombone from which the sound emanates. In the fall, I “accordioned” the bell of my horn. Trombones are not to appear wrinkled. Amazingly, I didn’t damage the slide, so was able to play that day. (I was able to order a new horn, a better one, and have it to this day!)
- As a freshman playing in the Conference Band Festival in Kewanee, I forgot all my music. Loser.
- As a sophomore playing a solo at the State Contest in Leaf River, I forgot my tie. Thinking quickly, I remembered that I was wearing knee high black socks, so I removed a sock and tied it around my neck in necktie fashion and it sufficed… as long as they didn’t look at my bare left ankle.
- As a junior, again playing in the State Contest this time at Peru St. Bede, I arrived with forearms wrapped in gauze. Earlier that morning I had tipped over on my cycle – the only wreck I ever had, mind you – and slid on gravel on my forearms. Remember, I played trombone. The arms must move! (And they did, painfully.)
So, those are a few of my musical faux pas. That takes us to the other side of the performance coin; I think we will call this “the day I did something heroic, but only the band director, Mr. Begun, truly cared.”
Remember, I said it was terribly hot. Our parade route was about as long as it could be in that little town. We started in the school parking lot and marched and played moving east down Maple Avenue all the way through the town from west to east. Probably a mile. Then we turned south, up a hill and started marching to the far southeast corner of the town, where we would turn west and march to the cemetery, where we would turn north and march to the village park for the speeches and such.
Anyway, did I say it was really hot that day? Marching right next to me was one of our sousaphone (tuba) players, a senior named Christine Hochstatter. Friends, we didn’t have fiber glass sousaphones; we had big, bold, brass ones. Christine had carted that baby all the way in the heat and just at the peak of the hill, right by Trinity Lutheran Church (which happened to be her church; these things are so spiritual) Christine started to weave and go down. She was marching just to my right on the end of the line. Somehow, I saw her and (quick thinking) I didn’t grab her, I grabbed her horn. She fell, but the horn didn’t! She had been, sadly, overcome by the heat, but the horn was uninjured!
After a brief moment of getting her help, we were off again on our journey to the park, everyone concerned about Christine. However, even though he was concerned with Christine, Mr. Begun later thanked me for my noble gesture.
Every year back then saw the band marching in two parades in town – homecoming and Memorial Day – and in the Peoria parade and usually in a college band day. It all seemed so very important to me and I took great pride in how we looked and sounded. I can remember, even today, our drum cadences while marching. I’m very grateful that I went to such a small school where all one had to do to be part of something is sign up.
The parade we celebrate on the Sunday before Easter every year was, shall we say, rather impromptu. However, our Scripture from Old Testament prophet Zechariah shows us that God had planned this parade, probably before the foundation of the world. John tells us that the crowd was swelled because the word of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead had spread and folks wanted to see this miracle working man. And, for once, Jesus wanted to be seen.
I hope you know this story. I hope you remember that he had sent a couple of the disciples to get him the donkey he was to ride. I hope you know why we call this Palm Sunday, for the people took branches from the palms and either laid them in front of the donkey or waved them as they shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel.” (John 12:13)
There is so much significance to Jesus’ Triumphal Entry and I certainly don’t know much of it. But, I want to share this: as per usual, He was opposed in the process by the religious leaders who wanted him to quiet the crowd. These guys feared that Jesus could foment such an eruption that their power over the people might be questioned. Jesus’ response to their challenge to quiet His disciples continues to echo throughout the ages. He says, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” (Luke 19:40)
Wait. What did He just suggest? If the people were stilled, even inanimate Nature would express itself? Yes, that’s what He said. Hyperbole? Maybe. Truth? Absolutely. Consider what Romans 8 says about all creation crying out awaiting “that day” when the entire entropy-ridden world is liberated. This parade was a preliminary announcement that that very liberation was on its way. Other things had to happen first, but here He comes and with Him, liberation follows.
Jesus knew what no one else knew at this time: He was riding into a welcoming throng which would later that week become a brutally cruel throng. Yet, He received their adulation at that time, knowing that the very voices crying “Hosanna” might well be crying “Crucify Him!” at week’s end. And, just in case you might think you and I would never be like that, let me ask this question: do we always metaphorically shout “Hosanna” when it is time to identify with Jesus? I can’t say that I always have. Working on it, though, as I hope you are, too. For there is another parade in which we want to march and not trip over the railroad tracks: read II Corinthians 2:14-17.
Clive says: “The world, knowing how all our real investments are beyond the grave, might expect us to be less concerned than other people who go in for what is called Higher Thought and tell us that “death doesn’t matter”; but we “are not highminded,” and we follow One who stood and wept at the grave of Lazarus — not surely, because He was grieved that Mary and Martha wept, and sorrowed for their lack of faith (though some thus interpret) but because death, the punishment of sin, is even more horrible in His eyes than in ours. The nature which He had created as God, the nature which He had assumed as Man, lay there before Him in its ignominy; a foul smell, food for worms. Though He was to revive it a moment later, He wept at the shame; if I may here quote a writer of my own communion, “I am not so much afraid of death as ashamed of it.” And that brings us again to the paradox. Of all men, we hope most of death; yet nothing will reconcile us to — well, its unnaturalness . We know that we were not made for it; we know how it crept into our destiny as an intruder; and we know Who has defeated it. Because Our Lord is risen we know that on one level it is an enemy already disarmed; but because we know that the natural level also is God’s creation we cannot cease to fight against the death which mars it, as against all those other blemishes upon it, against pain and poverty, barbarism and ignorance. Because we love something else more than this world we love even this world better than those who know no other.”
Some Thoughts – God in the Dock