Several weeks ago, I was in a parade for the first time in my life . . .
The nose of the award-winning Perry Pallet float (note ribbon and trophy)-- and a lesson on triumph at home.
When the idea was hatched to enter Perry Pallet in the celebrated Old Settler’s Parade, I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve never been a part of a parade before; I don’t know if I’ve ever even been a spectator at such an event. True, I have cherry memories of watching the Rose Parade on television at Grandma’s house. She kept all of us overnight for New Year’s festivities, fed us fancy food, and let us watch flower-covered floats roll down Colorado Avenue via her color screen.
But this is Ferndale, not Pasadena. I’ve laughed that our farm town is the “next New York”: You might be able to buy fresh sushi day or night in the Big Apple, but we’ve got a grocery store (that sells fresh sushi) open 24/7. Even so, I had to admit that I didn't expect multi-thousand dollar floral displays or technological wonders promenading on Main Street.
Our float? Double drop trailers towed by a handsome Kenworth truck. Our place in the parade? Just one vehicle behind Jazzerciser’s dancing to music blaring from a pickup truck. (If they weren’t embarrassed, I could have felt it for them—middle-aged women in exercise suits performing cardio-antics all the way down the parade route.)
I looked at those who came as they looked at us. Some stood and waved; others brought their lawn chairs and relaxed alongside the road while they enjoyed the festivities. Old people who might have seen a hundred parades and children for whom this parade was a first, all blended in the sea of happy people who were . . .
. . .well, what were they doing here? What magnetic pull did this funny conglomerate of vehicles and horses and dancers exert? Why would hundreds of people break from their normal routines and give up a Saturday morning to sit on the sidewalks of Ferndale?
I suppose some were curious. Others stood to show their support for someone in the parade, like Grandma and Grandpa and Great-Grandma Mary. Still others may have attended this annual parade since childhood, and somehow it worked its way into the essential fabric of their traditions.
Great Grandma Mary, complete with Perry Pallet hat, and covered with a quilt; Grandma Carole holding Lily and saluting our float with an enthusiastic wave.
What the spectators felt, I don’t know. But I can tell you what I felt as I watched them.
I saw, lined on the streets of my own town, ordinary people—people like me—who rub shoulders with me in the grocery store or drive past my house on their way to work. I saw people whose lives, at least in a distant way are connected to my own. We breathe the same air and share the same roads. We laugh and sorrow and love together, a tiny slice of humanity doing on the microcosmic level things that people from all times and ages have done.
We’re people in need. Not just in need of a good time or another hard candy thrown from a passing float; we’re a people in need of Christ. It’s not necessary to travel to Africa to meet souls in darkness. They’re all around, often wearing a friendly face that covers a bleeding heart. We’re people who need the Light.
Down Main Street
I experienced something else as I sat on the trailer and waved to onlookers: I felt a little—a very little—of the feeling that might have belonged to a triumphant general marching through the streets of Rome, the spoils of victory on every hand.
Only I’m not the general and this triumph is not my own.
But when I stop to consider, that’s the very kind of triumph I get to be a part of every day.
“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere” (II Corinthians 2:14).
Can you read that sign on the hardware store? Yes, it's been an exceptionally cool summer here in the PNW . . .
Take a look at the people in your own little fellowship of believers: They don’t look much different than the average man or woman on the sidewalk, do they? For that matter, take a look in the mirror: You won’t be greeted by the headdress of a conquering hero. We’re plain people doing plain things in our plain little jobs and funny towns.
But in Jesus, we are part of a triumphal procession—a parade, if you will—spreading the knowledge of God wherever we go. It’s the glory of His victory that casts a glow on us. It’s His triumph—and we spread His fame, not our own.
This parade isn’t something that will take place someday in the future. It’s happening right now. A sea of people line the parade route and observe as we do the very same things in a totally different way. In sorrow, we rejoice. Under pressure, we bear up. Through disappointment, we don’t lose heart because Jesus is at work in us.
It’s true that the cause of the Gospel often doesn’t look victorious. People don’t cheer and wave flags when we pass them on the street. The message of Christ is rejected more often than received with gladness.
But this is a triumph, nonetheless. Right now. Right on our own Main Street.
But how do we triumph in Christ?
We triumph because He has conquered us through love. We are on display as a testimony to God's victory—a demonstration of the impossible depths of His mercy and the unimagined heights of His grace. "Look at what the grace of God can do! It makes enemies into friends, a living death into a crucified life, the defeated into victors. Who but God could do such a thing?”
We catch a flavor of Jesus' triumph in Ephesians 2:4–6:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
To say it another way: God triumphed over us in love. We were unwilling and fought against Him, but He subdued our rebellion, brought us into HIs kingdom through Christ, and made us subjects of grace. Why did He do it? To display His love and mercy and grace throughout the ages to come. Forever we'll follow in His triumph—and angels and demons and men will have cause to say, Worthy are You, O Lord, for You have ransomed people for God. How rich is Your grace! How unfathomable Your love!
The Conqueror leads the conquered. But as slaves to a new master, we are not despondent transplants newly arrived in a kingdom not our own. Yes, we are slaves. Yes, we are subject to a new Master and brought into a new kingdom. But we've been transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of Light. Our Master is Love and, though slaves, we serve Righteousness, our mission is Mercy, and we are heirs of the King.
So, has God triumphed over you? If no, beat your breast with the publican of Jesus' day and cry out, "God be merciful to me a sinner!" That very act demonstrates that God is conquering your own "good" and awakening you to grace.
But if yes, if God has triumphed over us, are we following in His triumph? Certainly we are a part of the eternal procession, but does grace make a difference in the way we live? The conquered live like they are conquered. Their wills are not their own. Their freedom is to do the will of another. In the middle of ordinary life, in the experience of weakness and temptation and sin, we cry out with Paul, "Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:24–25).
The daily process of joining the procession is simply staying behind Christ.
He’s the Conquering Hero and it’s through Him that our lives are worth anything at all. We follow in His train, a retinue of the redeemed who have been bought by His blood and made fellow-heirs with Him of the infinite riches of the King. Through Him, we’re sons and daughters—members of the royal family. It’s nothing special that we’ve done. We really are pretty ordinary in many ways. But the extraordinary God set His love upon us, purchased us for His own, and set us free. Now as sons and daughters, we serve Him from love and join the dancing triumph of the Son of God all the way to glory.
That's Andrew next to me with his face covered by the brim of his Perry Pallet cap while we wait for the parade to begin. Cousin Philip (sitting next to Anna) holds a bag filled with candy for tossing to onlookers.
What do we say when we wake up in the morning feeling like leftovers from last night’s dinner? How is this part of the triumph?
It all hinges on getting behind Christ. We are triumphant if we are in Him, but if we’re making our own decisions we aren’t on the parade route. We’re blundering along our way, irritating in this world and useless for the next.
I’ve found that the rub often comes in the rip-tide between my will and God’s. Moment by moment I’m at an invisible crossroads: Whose will masters my life?
Surrender to the will of God is painful; it’s hard to let go of my way and to fall in line behind the Conqueror. But surrender to my own will is more painful still: Getting my desire without satisfaction guts the keenest victory and keeps me panting in endless pursuit of imagined achievements.
Let’s face it: We don’t naturally triumph in trial or stay motivated in the mundane. I certainly don’t. The hollow gong of disappointment tends to leave me hollow, too. The pressure of much to do and little time to do it squeezes out all my most unsavory responses, putting my lack of character on display for a dozen watching eyes.
In those moments, it’s as if I’ve veered down a side street and danced to my own tune while the triumph of Christ proceeds on its way.
I don’t know if I’ll ever participate in a parade again. But I’m eager to stay on the path of Jesus’ triumph. As subjects brought into the kingdom by relentless love and invincible grace, we now delight in sacrificing our wills to God, in marching to the beat of a drum not our own. With Jesus at the head of the line, and our eyes on Him alone, life transforms.
It doesn’t become easy.
But it is victorious.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For Your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us (Romans 8:35–37).