Sunday reflection by Rev. Thomas Macdonald, Vice Rector, September 12, 2021
One of the greatest spectacles of the ancient Roman world, into which our Lord was born, was the triumphal procession. When a Roman general won an especially spectacular victory or conquered an especially rich territory, he would return to the city of Rome with his army and a magnificent parade would take place. The parade was an amazing sight to behold. It would consist of the prisoners the general had captured, marching in their chains. Exotic animals from the conquered land would then follow in tow. Pillaged pieces of art and wagon loads of silver and gold would be carried through the streets, all as tokens of Rome’s indomitable martial prowess.
The victorious general would follow all these amazing sights in a chariot, wearing a laurel wreath and robe of royal purple. As he rode past the adoring crowds, they would cry out with cheers that praised him for his greatness. It was hard for ancient peoples to imagine a more glorious spectacle than a Roman triumph.
When St. Peter proclaimed that Jesus was the Christ, the anointed one, he probably imagined that something like a triumphal procession was is store for Jesus and His followers when He established His Kingdom. Peter imagined he was following Christ on a gilded path to glory.
Nothing, however, could be more unlike a Roman triumphal procession than the way of our Lord’s cross. Looking at the fourteen Stations of the Cross in our churches, we see a very different picture. Instead of a laurel wreath, He wore a crown of thorns. Instead of adoring crowds, the people who lined His way to Golgotha spat on Him. There are falls, indignities, and the crushing weight of carrying the cruel instrument of His death.
Peter’s mistake in envisioning what following Christ would be like challenges us to take a hard look at what we expect in our life of discipleship. Are we hoping for a Roman-style triumphal parade where we will be praised, enriched, and covered in worldly honor or are we hoping to follow Jesus on His way of the cross?
As we contemplate our answer to that question, it’s important to bear this truth in mind: the Roman generals who enjoyed those spectacular parades in their honor are all dead and buried in their tombs; they are dust and bones. Very few people even remember them and their names are fading, even as we speak, from the marble monuments they built for themselves. Jesus, however, is alive! His tomb is empty, and He lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit forever. On Tuesday we will celebrate the truth that, by His Cross, Jesus was the one who truly triumphed. May the pattern of His victory be the pattern for our own.