Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church - Marshfield, WI

Lent Devotional - April 2, 2023

Hymn: “No Tramp of Soldiers’ Marching Feet” (LSB #444, v. 1 & 2)
 No tramp of soldiers’ marching feet
With banners and with drums,
No sound of music’s martial beat:
“The King of glory comes!”
To greet what pomp of kingly pride
No bells in triumph ring,
No city gates swing open wide:
“Behold, behold your King!”
And yet He comes. The children cheer;
With palms His path is strown.
With ev’ry step the cross draws near:
The King of glory’s throne.
Astride a colt He passes by
As loud hosannas rings,
Or else the very stones would cry
“Behold, behold your King!”
 How should the Lord Jesus be greeted as He comes into His streets? How should the Lord of all creation be received as He comes to His own?

            The ancients had a way to welcoming a king or an emperor into their cities, especially if one was a conquering hero. The emperors and kings of old would process into the city with what was called a Triumph. Caesar was known well for his Roman Triumphs. These Triumphs were essentially very big parades where political and military leaders would show off their achievements with a lot of pomp and circumstance. First, the Senate of Rome would have to approve of the Triumph before they would allow Caesar to enter the city of Rome with his soldiers dressed for battle. The Roman Triumph was the only time that anyone was allowed to cross the sacred city lines bearing arms, for it was illegal to bear arms inside the city at any other time. This is why the Senate had to approve of the Triumph to make sure it met all the qualifications necessary.

At the start of the parade, Caesar’s legions who fought for him would be dressed as they would be for battle and they would march the length of Rome often singing lewd songs about their Commander to entertain the crowds. The pomp and circumstance of the whole parade would be extravagant.

In the parade they would have also showcased the spoils of conquest. Show off what was won. Loot and booty captured from distant lands would be carried in giant baskets for everyone to see. Also in the parade, painted scenes of conquest would pass in front of people’s gaze to see heroic and patriotic images of the various victories won during the military campaign.

Finally, at the tail end of these things were the shackled and humiliated leaders and key figures of whatever people were conquered. These prisoners of war would often be mocked and jeered at by the crowds attending the parade. Once the parade ended, the crowds would then rush the prisoners and beat them to death for entertainment and then their bodies would be cast into the Tiber River, at least hopefully.
But the most important part of the Triumph was near the end of the parade. Near the end of the Triumph, standing tall in a large war chariot with plenty of decoration and stature would be Caesar himself. The crowds would cheer and hail Caesar as the Lord of the World. Caesar would follow the parade route until they came to the temple of Jupiter where he would offer sacrifice.
We can make some interesting comparisons and contrasts as a different Triumph comes into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. We greet a different King who comes now in the name of the YHWH who is the true Lord of the World. Our hymn captures this image of a triumph, a parade. This Triumph procession is not one the Romans would have thought impressive, though it might be enough for them to crucify Jesus and write that He is the King of the Jews over His head and to say that Jesus was guilty of treason for setting Himself up as a King.

But this Triumph is not one we are used to. No tramp of soldiers marching feet with banners and with drums. There are 12 ordinary, uneducated men, not soldiers, certainly not men who will stay and fight by week’s end. There are also other disciples and followers who let down their cloaks and wave the flag of Israel with the palm leaves and they sing not a lewd song about their commander, but rather they sing a hymn. Hosanna, Hosanna! Save us! Save us now! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

No Pomp and Circumstance. So, who rides into town on what we now call Palm Sunday?  Who comes into the city of Jerusalem? This is the King of Glory. This is Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, the Son of God, our Savior. This is He who made the heavens and the earth. This is He who upholds it by the word of His power. Jesus has come.

But His loot and booty is not in tow. The vast riches of His conquest have not yet been laid. In fact, they stand before Him and around Him. He comes not for riches or conquest. He comes to indeed save. But no gates swing open wide. No trumpet announces that the king is here.
The end of His journey will take him to the temple, but curious enough, Jesus offers no sacrifice there. For He does not come to offer sacrifice but to be the sacrifice. Soon the crowds will rush Him and take Him and beat Him and give Him away to be sacrificed, not in the Temple, but outside the streets. Behold your King!

But yet, this Jesus comes. We who know the story should mark it well. The cries of cheers will turn to jeers. The shouts and hails will turn to assail. Little children are singing Jesus’ praise, while Pharisees complaints they raise. Every step closer that Jesus takes, the cross comes closer and closer into view. He comes to do this for you. His throne is not in Rome, nor is it in Jerusalem, nor in any place of power that still remains yet in the world. It is the cross which Jesus sees as his throne, the place where He reigns in mercy and grace.

But He must ascend that throne first. Now He passes by on a colt, an animal humble and low. A beast of burden who carries upon him the One who shares in all our burdens. But while the cross still looms, there is yet praise for this King of Kings and Lord of Lords. How could it be otherwise, for if no one sang His praise, the very stones and rocks themselves would have to open their mouths in praise, for at least these stones know their Maker and would tell us, “Behold, Behold, your King.”
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