This Sunday we celebrate two important stories: the parade of Jesus into Jerusalem, and the passion. The passion isn’t about Jesus’ carnal desires, which are the object of literary speculation, but about his suffering. The root of the word “passion” is “to suffer.”
Which sometimes describes the dangers of falling in love.
According to scripture Jesus marched in on a donkey. People were shouting and cheering. They thought it would be an end to empire; that miracles would suddenly become commonplace; that the world would be turned upside down. Little did they know how they would be disappointed.
Whether parading for the Yankees, balloons shaped like people, the Irish, or balloons shaped like the Yankees or the Irish, parades lift the spirit. We get to be a little proud. We wear fancy clothes, or perhaps – as in Brazilian Mardigras – we wear fewer clothes, and we strut and preen or watch those who like to strut and preen. We witness the pride of all those people who like to show off.
It’s one way of celebrating togetherness.
Jesus’ parade, however, is a little different than most parades. First of all, Jesus isn’t exactly royalty. The mount isn’t a clydesdale, its an ass. We’ve all seen parades where people are on trucks; imagine parading on a small thirty year old Raleigh three speed (although I’m sure you can put a few flowers on the basket).
In short, Jesus’ parade seems more like a parade of fools than an imperial parade. Although it doesn’t seem that the crowd quite gets the shift, the notion of triumph is radically trained. It is not merely about status, but a ironic twist upon status. Jesus is busy giving a wave to all his fans thinking, There is more to life than just being on top…. or its the beginning of the end, which is just another beginning.
The second half of the service this Sunday will be the passion: its the central story of the faith. It is not, however, just an intellectual exercise; nor is it meant to be a series of mere facts. The story is about you: being in character in this drama that includes Jesus.
This is one of the reasons we assign people parts in the liturgy. People take the role of Judas, of Peter, of the servants. Although we hope that those who take the role of Judas don’t get too into the character, the hope is that we can understand how at any time we can take such a role. It is the root of making choices: to see how we play in our own personal dramas. And yes, I get to play the part of the HIgh Priest.
I really don’t like it when priests play Jesus.
We change the roles up a bit: but this is a drama where you have a part. You witness the life of Jesus Christ. You shout it out to crucify him, because that is, sadly what you’d probably do. That is the warning for each of us.
The idea, that this week is central to humanity’s story, assumes our lives are more than propositional statements. The art that makes us alive can not be reduced to mathematical propositions about the universe.
This week is a time to look at how we live what we believe. For when people use the word “faith” it seems that we insist about knowing exactly the content of one’s “belief system.”
But there are some days, darkly cynical days, that if someone asked me about my “belief system” I want to offer a big guffaw: “Ha! beliefs? I wish I could say that I knew one thing for all time forever.”
What we can say is this: “let me tell you a story.”
You would be one of the characters.