April 12, 2009


… Holy Week presents us with a study in contrasts. On Palm Sunday TWO processions entered Jerusalem at Passover, a tinderbox time, when the people celebrated their deliverance from the past Egyptian empire & not so secretly hoped to be delivered from the Roman empire in the present. Protests were inevitable & so at each Passover Pilate rode up to Jerusalem from the imperial capital on the coast at the head of a six hundred-plus cohort of imperial troops to reinforce the local riot squad.

Pilate’s procession arrived from the west where imperial power resided. Jesus’ procession entered the city from the east, a counter-procession. Whereas Pilate rode on a warhorse, Jesus rode on a donkey, mindful of the prophet Zechariah who speaks of a king of peace on a donkey who will banish the warhorse from the land.

In this public drama, the gauntlet has been thrown down & the contrast is clear: Jesus versus Pilate, the nonviolence of the kingdom of God versus the violence of the empire. Two processions, two ways of life, two choices represented by these processions on Palm Sunday.

On Monday, Jesus deliberately takes on the Temple authorities, chiding them for making the Temple a den of thieves. The next day, he debates those same authorities who wanted to seize him but were afraid of the crowd. Note, He was consistently protected by the crowd. They stood by Him all the way, contrary to the “fair-weather friends” image we so often have. So on Wednesday, when Judas made a deal to betray Jesus, the plan was for Him to be arrested on Thursday night when the crowd who loved & protected Him had dispersed for the day. So on Friday, Jesus stood before Pilate & a second, smaller crowd who were supporters of the Temple authorities, i.e., an in-the-pocket, bought crowd. It was these, not the people at large, who shouted for his execution.

But on the day we’re celebrating, the Sunday we call Easter, Jesus is raised from the dead by divine power. What does this mean? It means God said a resounding “yes!” to Jesus & all He stood for, & a firm “no!” to the powers that killed Him. To translate this into contemporary terms, God is against the denials, lies & corruption of public officials, the bonuses & golden parachutes of some corporate executives, & the con artists who have hurt so many people. He is against the murders & violence of our streets, & the vulgarity of our discourse. The list could go on.

The Easter story is basically a potent story of where God stands. He approvingly raises up a Jesus who told us to turn the other cheek, not to seek revenge or return evil for evil, who told us it profits us nothing to become a celebrity but wind up losing our own soul. Beyond the mystery, Easter is a statement of divine values.

Easter bunnies are nicer & more comfortable to talk about, but the truth is that Easter is about right & wrong, & mostly, about which entrance we’ve taken into the Holy City . Which entrance shall we take, which procession will we follow? God has announced His choice. What is left is our choice. AMEN!