This week, Holy Week, is the most important week in the Christian Calendar. It is a week which is framed by processions. It begins today with Palm Sunday and Jesus arriving in Jerusalem, triumphant as a king, as the Messiah surrounded by his disciples and friends and cheering crowds.
It ends with his departure to Golgotha in a procession of criminals on their way to execution, surrounded by soldiers and jeering crowds.
It seems interesting therefore to look a little into the subject of processions and see what they mean to us.
Processions necessarily involve movement – moving from one place to another. As such they involve change. They also involve a degree of order, sometimes (as in many church processions) there is a lot of tradition and formality in this. At a marriage, for example, the groom enters first with the ushers and the rest of the congregation, then, after a pause and with a fanfare the bride enters with her father, followed by the matron of honour, bridesmaids and pageboys. At the end the bride and groom leave together followed by bridesmaids and then the couple’s parents – the different order at the end of the ceremony symbolises the coming together of the couple during the service.
You could see this clearly in the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton and Crown Imperial is the perfect music for a celebratory procession. Click to Hear (Note the red carpet taking the place of the cloaks laid down in the Gospel, waving flags instead of palm branches but you can hear the crowd!)
Interestingly in our Gospel today we have Jesus arriving on a young animal (a colt) perhaps as Matthew suggests (in fulfilment of Zechariah 9:9), a young donkey
Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
As such this not exactly what you would expect of the procession of a king – but then it would be typical of Jesus to upset the established order of things.
In as far as they involve movement, processions often come in pairs – processions of arriving and processions of departure – and in between these two processions there is usually an event, something happens, very often something changes in character or status.
In a marriage, the bride and groom arrive as single people and leave as a married couple. A prince arrives at a coronation and leaves as a king. At the Lord Mayor’s show the old Mayor arrives and the new Mayor leaves in his place.
A great deal changes in this week in the Christian calendar. Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, heralded as a king, as the Messiah (“Hossana” or “saviour” the crowds cry). He institutes the ceremony of the Eucharist giving this as a gift to his disciples and indeed to us as a means to remember him. Finally after a period of intense prayer he determines to make a gift of himself through his suffering and death. Nowhere is the humanity and mortality of Jesus more evident than on the cross, crying out in his final agony “my God, my God, why has thou forsaken me”.
But then there is a further shift, a further change of status for, as Jesus is never more human than on the cross, he is never more divine than in his resurrection and in the manner of his appearances to the disciples where he is so changed that even they do not recognise him.
For there is one final journey in the Gospel of Luke, on the day of the Lord’s resurrection:
“That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them.”
(Luke 24:13-15 ESV)
There is a message in this for our own personal Holy Week. In order to change things there must often first be a breaking down of the old. We say “You can not make an omelette without breaking eggs” or in the recent film “Hope Springs” Doctor Feld advises that in order to fix a marriage, “you have to break it, like a deviated septum.”
In the same way that Jesus had to die in order to rise so we have to be prepared for things to break down in order that they come together stronger and be rebuilt.
This week we have the opportunity to join with Jesus on his entry into Jerusalem but also to accompany him on the road to Calvary, to examine and rebuild our lives, our priorities, our faith –in time to be reborn anew a week today, on Easter Sunday when we join him on the Road to Emmaus.
And so we pray for renewal, for change and for new life for ourselves, we also pray for it in our church (with its two new leaders – Archbishop Justin and Pope Francis), in our communities and in the wider world, and as we do so we listen to the words from Psalm 118 which were quoted by the disciples on the way to Jerusalem.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the lord, Hosanna in the Highest.
– or in Latin, Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini. Hosanna in excelsis.
Benedictus: From the Armed Man by Karl Jenkins: Click here to listen
From an address given by Chris Hancock at St. Andrew’s Box Hill (Palm Sunday 24th March, 2013)