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THE LAST WEEK

Two processions entered Jerusalem on a Spring day in the year 30AD. We are mostly familiar with only one but there were actually two processions that day and they could scarcely have been more different.

It was the beginning of the week of Passover, the most sacred week of the Jewish year. One was a peasant procession, the other an imperial one. From the east, Jesus rode a donkey down the Mount of Olives, cheered by his small band of followers. Jesus was from the peasant village of Nazareth in northern Galilee, his message was about the Kingdom of God and his followers were peasant people.

Later that day, on the opposite side of the city, from the west, Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor of Idumea, Judea and Samaria, entered the city at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers. His procession proclaimed the power of empire.

But it was more than a demonstration of Roman imperial power: it was also a demonstration of Roman imperial theology. According to this theology, the emperor was not merely the ruler of Rome, he was also the Son of God. Pilate’s procession embodied not only a rival social order, but also a rival theology. His procession embodied the power, glory and the violence of the empire that ruled the known world, Pax Romana. Jesus’s procession, on the other hand, embodied an alternative vision, the Kingdom of God, bringing peace to the nations.

 

The Last Week - Irish Chaplaincy Blog

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

 

The contrast between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of Caesar is central to the story of Holy Week, to the mission of Jesus and the story of early Christianity. The confrontation between these two kingdoms continues throughout the last week of Jesus’s life and indeed, continues right up to our own time. Holy Week is the story of this confrontation, a confrontation that led to his death on the cross but ultimately his Resurrection.

The personal and political meanings of Holy Week are captured in two nearly identical questions. The first is one many Christians have heard and responded to down the centuries: do you accept Jesus as your personal Lord and saviour? The second is: do you accept the values of his kingdom, values like love, peace and justice? The Gospel of the Kingdom means that its “good news” for the poor, the oppressed and marginalised is by definition “bad news” for the rich, the powerful and violent in our world. All this is symbolized in the two processions entering Jerusalem on the first day of Holy Week.

Holy Week and the journey of Lent are about an alternative procession and an alternative journey. The alternative procession is what we see on Palm Sunday, an anti-imperial and nonviolent procession. Now as then, that procession leads to a capital city, an imperial centre, and a place of collaboration between religion and violence.

Now as then, the alternative journey is the path of personal and collective transformation that leads to journeying with the risen Jesus, just as it did for his followers on the road to Emmaus.

Two processions entered Jerusalem on that day. The same question, the same alternative, faces those who would be faithful to Jesus today. Which procession are we in? Which procession do we want to be in? This is the double question of Palm Sunday and of Jesus’s last week, the week we call Holy Week.

Fr. Gerry McFlynn

Author Fr. Gerry McFlynn

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