Who doesn’t love a parade? Outdoor, live action involving music and people in costumes—what’s not to like? As a child, all it took was to come upon the high school marching band practicing in the street, and I would follow along. It was a nice break from the routine. To happen upon a parade while visiting a small town is a delight to me. I like the small town atmosphere and seeing neighbors gathered outside. Watching parades on TV . . . BORING! If I’m not there in the mix, it’s no fun.
What good is a parade with no-one standing on the side-line watching, no kids running out for candy or crying at the clowns? You are not a passive on-looker, but part of the action.
Processions are even better. In a procession, everyone is involved. Why then are we in the American church so poor at processions? At least that has been the case at so many churches I have attended over the years. We rebel on Palm Sunday when asked to walk a few feet from the church parking lot to the church. We pray the Stations of the Cross, kneeling in our pew, while the priest and a few altar servers walk from one station to the next. How dare anyone disrupt us from our comfort zone!
This is not the case in the Latin American church where processions are essential, vibrant parts of church celebrations. In Antigua, Guatemala, there are processions every Sunday in Lent with streets strewn with colorful designs made of flowers for the procession to walk over. This culminates with multiple processions during Holy Week. Traffic is blocked as thousands turn out to watch and participate. And what would a Mexican celebration of Christmas be without posadas, a procession with the Virgin Mary as she seeks a place to have her baby?
The Hebrew nation was no stranger to processions. Processions to the Temple were a regular part of their life. Worshipers would walk, sing and participate in ritual prayer and symbol as they approached the gates of the Temple.
Psalm 132 is a hymn used for one such procession. Filled with pageantry, the Ark of the Covenant was carried about the city as the events around David’s bringing the Ark back to the city after its capture were re-enacted. It is a hymn in praise of King David and his reign, and through him, the whole Hebrew nation.
The psalm begins with an intercession to remember David and his vow to find a resting place for the Ark. “I will not enter my house or get into my bed; I will not give sleep to my eyes or slumber to my eyelids, until I find a place for the Lord, a dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob.” (3-4)
It was while David was living in Eph’rathah, Bethlehem, that he heard that the Ark was in a field in Ja’ar. “Lo, we heard of it in Ehp’rathah, we found it in the fields of Ja’ar. ‘Let us go to his dwelling place; let us worship at his footstool!’” (6-7) The search for the ark and David’s procession with the ark, recounted in 2 Sam. 6:2-12, is re-enacted here.
The procession then moves to the gates of Zion and the Temple, “Arise, O Lord, and go to your resting place, you and the ark of your might.” (8) At the Temple, the king offers a sacrifice and prays, “For your servant David’s sake, do not turn away the face of the anointed one.” (10)
An oracle is proclaimed in response to this prayer, reminding all present of God’s promise to David. “One of the sons of your body I will set on your throne. If your sons keep my covenant and my testimonies which I shall teach them, their sons also for ever shall sit upon your throne.” (11b-12) Once the ark is set in its place in the Temple another oracle is proclaimed telling of God’s blessings on his people. “This is my resting place for ever; here I will dwell, for I have desired it. I will abundantly bless her provisions; I will satisfy her poor with bread.” (14-15)
Thus, reminded of their past through song and ritual, the Hebrew people were instructed in the present and ready to return to their everyday life. We need such moments, breaks from the routine, to help us remember, bind us together as the people of God.
How has ritual and symbol enhanced your life?