Last Sunday, Palm Sunday, there was a procession here in church up the center aisle with palms in our hands. This reminded us of the procession of Jesus riding a donkey into Jerusalem to prepare for the Passover feast. He was welcomed warmly by his followers along the way. You know about that procession; but you may not know there was another procession happening on the other side of town at the very same time. It was a parade of military might organized by the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, featuring hundreds of Roman centurions marching into Jerusalem on foot and horseback in full battle gear. It was Pilate's way of demonstrating the power of the Roman Empire in case any local people got foolish ideas about causing trouble during the feast of Passover.
These two processions, simultaneous in time, were quite different in symbol, substance and purpose. Events in Scripture are often symbolic, reflecting the culture of the time. The symbols sometimes can be lost on us who are of a different time and culture. An example: a donkey, like the one Jesus rode, symbolizes peace, whereas a horse symbolizes war. In the old cowboys & Indians films of our younger days, the cavalrymen never charge on donkeys, do they? People would laugh! They charge on horses : fast, muscular, agile horses! Neither Egyptians nor Romans used donkeys for their chariot wars; they used highly trained, extremely strong horses. Jesus riding a donkey means Jesus comes in peace, Coming on horses often means war.
Another example: In Jesus' time it was the custom to celebrate the arrival of any VIP by waving palms or dropping cloaks on the ground to ease their journey : much as Hollywood does when it "rolls out the red carpet" for its famous celebrities. Jesus had a strong history in Jerusalem (ever since he was 12 years old!), and he was noted there for his integrity, knowledge and healing powers. So a good number of people came with him on his procession into Jerusalem, cheering him on. The mood was one of spontaneous joy and celebration. On the contrary, we suspect there was little joy and celebration on the other side of town, where Roman soldiers came in force parading into Jerusalem before an intimidated and fear-filled people. The mood on that side of town was tense, apprehensive and resentful.
Today is Good Friday : the day we remember Jesus dying on the cross. We know Jesus did not want to die. He admitted this during his agony in the Garden. But he remained deeply passionate about his mission of establishing God's reign on earth : a reign of compassion, peace, justice and all-inclusive love. It's the very same message Jesus shares with us today. He needs each of us to complete his work on earth. It's not just a matter of which procession we want to join up with, that of Jesus or Pilate. It's a matter of following through on the baptismal commitment we've already made. We are called by our God to walk faithfully in Jesus' footsteps. There is so much in our world that is demonstrably unjust, so much that is violent, so many that are unloved and unloving. By his life, death and resurrection, Jesus begins to implement God's reign on earth but the task remains unfinished. That's where we come in. Jesus calls us not just to shout our hosannas, but to help him complete his mission. He calls us this very day to help make it happen. Are we answering God's call??