Two Processions

Stallion and Colt:

C. S. Lewis’ book the Horse and His Boy, has a scene set in the vaguely Arabian city of Tashbaan in the country of Calormene – south across a vast desert from Narnia and the north.  Shasta, the ‘boy’ of the title notices the difference between the way the Calormene royalty and the Narnian royalty process through the streets.  Both are heralded: “Make way!  Make way!”  but beyond that the difference is stark. And here I quote:

… above their heads Shasta would sometimes see the great lord or lady for whom all the fuss was being made, lolling upon a litter which four or even six slaves carried on their bare shoulders…[and] everyone who is less important has to get out of the way for everyone who is more important; unless you want a cut from a whip or a punch from the butt end of a spear.[i]

But at the approach of the Narnians, Lewis describes the procession thus:

There was no litter; everyone was on foot…And instead of being grave and mysterious like most Calormenes, they walked with a swing…and chatted and laughed.  One was whistling.  You could see that they were ready to be friends with anyone who was friendly and didn’t give a fig for anyone who wasn’t.  Shasta thought he had never seen anything as lovely in his life.[ii]

We read and walk (or should have) a procession like that: joy filled and lovely.  And a contrast to another procession. Residents of Jerusalem are familiar with the regal processions of Roman military and rulers.  Pilate enters the city on it’s other side atop a steed with a military procession, flanked by soldiers and proclaimed by standard bearers and flag wavers.  He is the keeper of the Pax Romana, a peace kept only by constant threat of military crack-down.  A force much like (one might argue) the one in whose empire we live.  You may have seen a poll and map published recently.

“There’s really no way to sugarcoat it:” says the Huffington Post, “The rest of world believes that the United States is the country that poses the greatest threat to world peace, beating out all challengers by a wide margin.” (map) Pax Americana.

Jesus’ counter rally – his staged procession – boasts cloaks on the ground and draped over not a grand war horse but a colt of a donkey.  Perhaps some leafy branches.  Joyful shouts of the multitude hail the king coming in the name of the Lord, proclaiming peace in heaven, the crowd echoing the angels who greeted Jesus at his birth.  Which crowd will you join? The stallion or the colt? Which procession do you choose?

Laurels and Thorns:

Another crowd attends Jesus’ trial, this crowd that stirred up by the priests and the scribes, ready to shout ‘Crucify!’  It is a carefully controlled crowd.  Were they of this age and era they might sport T-shirts and ball caps with slogans. (Make Judea great again!).

Jesus and Pilate are face to face now.  Each representing a kingdom: “Jesus could have spoken of the family of God, community of God, or the people of God, but…he spoke of the Kingdom of God.”[iii] He is a political prisoner because like Barabbas, like the men who were crucified beside him, he defied and threatened the Roman Empire.

Jesus was not simply an unfortunate victim of the domination system’s brutality.  He was also a protagonist filled with passion.  His passion, his message, was about the Kingdom of God. He spoke to peasants as a voice of peasant religious protest against the central economic and political institutions of his day.  He attracted a following and took his movement to Jerusalem at the season of Passover.  There he challenged the authorities with public acts and public debates.  …He was passionate about: God and the kingdom of God, God and God’s passion for justice.  Jesus passion got him killed.[iv]

Ultimately his procession of palms leads down the way of the cross – that particular form of punishment saved for political insurgents, their bodies a Games-of-Thrones-like sign to all to look upon: this is what happens to rebels.  A king crowned not with the golden laurels, as a victorious Roman commander might wear, but with a crown of thorns.  Which procession shall we choose?

Clowns and Klan:

It’s not so easy.  Not so easy because choosing the Kingdom of God can have consequences when it confronts the kingdoms of the world, and not so easy because most of the time (unfortunately) there is a lot more nuance, and subtlety and less of a stark and obvious choice.

During the children’s time we heard another story about two kinds of processions, a red nose (like that pictured above) or a white hood.  Joyful dissent that interrupted a hateful message of racism.  That seems like an easy choice.  This Friday many of us will be making a procession through downtown Seattle, standing with those who live outside and walking the streets in a procession that follows Jesus’ last days: his arrest, trial, appearance before Pilate, crucifixion and burial.  We are invited to (and I quote the FB event page) “bring sandwiches or similar items to share with sisters and brothers on the streets. We also invite you to bring stories, songs, poems, images or objects that express and/or symbolize your own desire to repent of our imperial privilege and to move into solidarity with those continually crucified by Empire.”  We will visit Occidental Park, City Hall, Police Headquarter, the jail.  That too: a physical thing I can do. A procession I can choose.

Yet we live enmeshed with a system in which we benefit from our privilege and which is exploitive.  We make our choices in how we shop, where we choose to live, the kinds of work we do, which chocolate and coffee we eat and drink.  May our lives reflect the Kingdom of the palm King. May our choices reflect the procession of the colt, the procession toward the crown of thorns.  And may we live with the passion and hope of Jesus, looking toward the new life and triumph of Easter.

[i] C. S. Lewis, The Horse and His Boy, Collier Books, New York.  1954. 53.

[ii] Ibid. 54-55.

[iii] Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan. The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’ Final Days in Jerusalem. Harper One, New York. 2006. 25.

[iv] Ibid. 161-162.