Summary: The parade that wound into Jerusalem on that long ago Sunday was exciting -- but it can’t hold a candle to the parade that took place on Friday.
The parade route begins near the twin towns of Bethpage and Bethany, less than two miles from Jerusalem and winds into the Holy City. The Grand Marshal is an unlikely hero – a rustic from a blue-collar town up north, the son of a woodworker. In keeping with his “common man” image, he decides to ride on a cut-rate float – the back of a donkey.
The crowd that chokes the road on that long-ago Sunday is made up of ordinary folk: merchants and mothers, goldsmiths and goatherders, clergymen and children. All of them are straining their necks to catch a glimpse of the man who would be Messiah. A copper-skinned fellow with a bushy beard calls out: “Anyone see him?”
“Not yet,” cries a taller man, and then adds, “Do you think Jesus is the One? Do you think he will finally liberate us?”
“Who knows?” the swarthy man replies. “He can’t be any worse than the other pretenders we’ve put up with.”
The crowd erupts. He is coming! Like a surging sea, the people press forward as one. Children are hoisted on shoulders. Shouts of “Hosanna!” – “Save us now!” – tumble from excited lips. Some of the spectators leap onto the dusty road, spreading out cloaks and freshly-cut palm branches to welcome the King of the Jews. Jesus rides by with a smile, touching outstretched hands and occasionally leaning forward to bless a child.
The parade ends at the steps of the great temple of Herod. Jesus dismounts and takes a stroll as his disciples fend off zealous sightseers. Finally Jesus announces he will return to Bethany for the night and return the next day.
Monday comes and then Tuesday. Jesus tosses shady cashiers out of the temple and argues theology with robed priests. Thursday is a day of fellowship. Jesus retreats to a second-floor room with his disciples, washes soiled feet and eats a Passover supper. In the midst of dining on roasted lamb and unleavened bread, the Lamb of God and Bread of Life inaugurates a new meal in his name, saying, “This is my body. . .this is my blood.”
Friday is the day of suffering. Sometime around midnight, as the disciples rub sleep from their eyes, temple police arrest Jesus in an olive garden, tipped off by the kiss of a betrayer. Through the dead of the night, Jesus endures a brutal round of mock trials. Two high priests and a religious Supreme Court interrogate him. Rigged witnesses trot out false testimony. Temple guards blindfold and strike him. Adding insult to injury, his foremost disciple denies that he knows him – not once, but three times.
The pious graybeards confer and quickly render a verdict: since Jesus claims to be the Son of God, he is guilty of blasphemy – a high crime. The Jews are not allowed to carry out a sentence, so they recommend the death penalty to the Roman governor. At daybreak, as Jerusalem stirs to life, an exhausted Jesus is dragged into the Praetorium, the fort-like palace of Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor.
Pilate is irritable. He would rather be sleeping on soft pillows than judging such an insignificant case. He listens to the charges with his head in hand, frowning. He sees no criminal in this man Jesus and certainly nothing kingly. He tries to free the carpenter’s son, but a mob surrounding the palace will hear nothing of release. They demand blood! Jesus has blasphemed – and more importantly, though they dare not confess it, he has let them down by not leading an army against the enemy of Israel.
Suddenly Pilate has an inspiration. He doesn’t want to execute an innocent man, nor does he want to set a spark to the volatile crowd below. So he tries to pawn off Jesus on Herod, the Galilean puppet-king who happens to be in Jerusalem for Passover festivities. But Herod soon grows bored because this religious rube will not perform miracles, so he shuttles him back to Pilate.
The Roman governor tries another tack – he offers to set free Jesus or a murderous thug called Barabbas. Surely the crowds will choose a rabbi over a killer! But they do not. They screech for Jesus’ death: “Crucify him! Crucify him!” A desperate Pilate plays a trump card: he will order a scourging and perhaps satisfy the mob’s bloodlust.
Plumed soldiers shove Jesus into an open courtyard, where they strip him to the waist and rope his hands to a post. Then they begin the punishment, lacerating his naked back with leather straps tipped with scraps of bone and metal. After the beating, the soldiers decide to have a little fun. They invite the entire palace guard to deride Jesus. Someone weaves a crown of thorns and drives it into the carpenter’s skull, while another drapes a purple robe around his bloody shoulders.