On Palm Sunday we remember Jesus processing into Jerusalem on a donkey. At the same time, the imperial Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, was processing into the city with pomp and ceremony to supervise public security during the Passover celebrations.
In their book, The Last Week, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan wrote this: “Pilate’s procession embodied the power, glory and violence of the empire that ruled the world. Jesus’ procession embodied an alternative vision, the kingdom of God. Holy Week and the journey of Lent are about an alternative procession and alternative journey … an anti-imperial and non-violent procession. Which journey are we on? Which procession are we in?”
This is the very essence of the week ahead of us, the climax of our spiritual pilgrimage through Lent. As we read the account of the passion of Jesus, we do well to immerse ourselves within it. We are called to emulate Christ as our model and guide. In reality, during our lives we play several of the other parts in the sad drama:
- the self-preserving disciples, of whom the denying Peter is the epitome;
- the preservers of status quo, of whom the high priest and sham of a trial are exemplars;
- the baying mob, who are in reality projections of our tendency to want to avoid rocking the boat;
- the cruel bully who inflicts mockery and pain on the weak and innocent, as demonstrated by the soldiers with their crown of thorns and whips;
- the spineless leader, Pilate, who won’t stand up to the majority, who represents our weak inability to speak truth to the vocal majority;
- even the questioning witnesses around the fire, who represent our inclination to gossip and interfere even when it causes discomfort, pain or even danger for others.
To place ourselves in the procession of Jesus, we are just as much challenged today as his followers were then to confront the values of the culture around us. We have to consider that the definition of “empire” in our times might include a much broader range than legions of Roman soldiers; today’s imperial forces use economics as much as weapons for subjugation.
The question of Messrs. Borg and Crossan remains: which procession are we in? Which role in the passion do we play?