From 1981 until 1984 I lived in the city of Odawara, a famous “castle town” west of what is today Tokyo, Japan. During the “warring period” in Japanese history (1467-1615), the feudal lord, or daimyo, of the Odawara Castle ruled most of this area (1495-1592). Each year in May the history of this ruling family and it’s importance to the city of Odawara and surrounding areas are celebrated in a 3-day festival, the highlight of which is a parade called the “Daimyo Gyoretsu” or Daimyo Parade that happens on May 3rd.
The parade is meant to be an historic enactment of a real military parade in which 1,700 samurai warriors in their armor, along with various other courtesans and members of the daimyo family march through the city in full regalia, wearing costumes and garb from that historic period, many riding war horses and brandishing traditional weapons.
Since it usually coincides with the blooming of the castle cherry and wisteria trees, it can be a colorful and cultural feast for the eyes and ears. Famous actors are usually hired to play the roles of the daimyo and his family while local people are encouraged to audition and participate in the parade.
In our text for today (Matthew 21:1-11) the author makes a point of interpreting the entrance of Jesus into the capital city of Jerusalem – riding on a donkey – as a fulfilling of the old testament prophecy from Zehariah 9:9.
“Say to the Daughter of Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”
For some reason, whenever I read this text of Jesus, the king, entering Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, I think of the Daimyo Gyoretsu in Odawara. One is filled with flair and pageantry – while the other is decidedly simple and unimpressive. Many scholars believe that, in fact, Jesus’ entrance to Jerusalem in this humble fashion was meant to contrast with the way in which the Roman rulers of this time would often appear. It was thought that Pilate, the governor of Judea, would surely have chosen this largest of all Jerusalem festivals – Passover – to make a grand entrance into the city, most likely on a warhorse, with the full strength of a Roman battalion behind him. I’m guessing it would be an image closer to my memory of the Daimyo Gyoretsu than the picture conjured up by Matthew’s description of King Jesus.
In the end it begs the question of us – which kingdom are we impressed by? To which kingdom will we tie our futures? What model will we choose to follow? A kingdom where wealth, political power, and societal influence still manage to sway us and form our decisions…. or a kingdom where gentleness, humility, and service (even unto death) are the identifying characteristics? The contrast couldn’t be more stark – and it’s hard to believe that Jesus wouldn’t have meant it to be. Unfortunately, the Daimyo Gyoretsu in Odawara has been canceled this year due to the coronavirus outbreak. But the choice of which parade we’ll join is still before us.
As we walk with Jesus toward the cross this week, are we able to consider following him in his footsteps? Can we serve each other – wash each other’s feet – as he commanded?
(the above is a summary of the message shared during our ZOOM worship time on April 5, 2020.)