Today's liturgy celebrates two processions, a procession into the city of Jerusalem, and a procession outside the city walls. Each appears to be quite different from the other. One is a scene of triumph and joy, but the other is one of sorrow and mockery. In each case it is the same character who is on the move, and again it is perhaps the same crowd that accompanies him.
That same central character is of course Jesus the Christ, the same yesterday, today and for ever. He enters Jerusalem in triumph like a victorious king, and he leaves like a defeated prisoner, one bound for execution. And yet in each case he is the same -- obediently making his way to the cross to vanquish sin and death, to capture our hearts for his Father, to lead our souls in final triumph to paradise.
But while the same central character is the Christ, our unchanging king, that same crowd is of course us. Like the crowd, the mob of the Gospels, we are changeable. We too can be double-hearted, as long as our hearts are not fully taken prisoner to Christ. Like the Gospel's crowd, we are willing to cheer when things seem to be going well, but we can also be ready to jeer when things appear not so propitious.
But the calling we receive from Christ is an invitation to join one side, to be single-hearted rather than double-hearted. This Lenten season, with its traditional forms of penance, is our opportunity for us to grow into a single-hearted people, a heart that cheers God rather than jeers him, a heart set on the love of God and on the love of our neighbours as ourselves.
The penance of prayer calls us to love God with our whole heart and soul. The penance of fasting then calls us to discipline ourselves so that we love ourselves in a way that is healthy rather than destructive. And the penance of almsgiving calls us to love our neighbours just as we love ourselves.
Our whole Lenten penance is designed to make us single-minded in love, to purify ourselves of a double heart, to prepare us for this very moment when we are faced with these two very different processions. And these processions, the same Christ and the cheering and the jeering crowds, confront us with a question: Which side are our hearts really on, deep down?
And yet the question doesn't end there. Because we are not asked just to recognise that we have sometimes stood with the mob that mocked our Lord and called for his crucifixion. We are not even asked just to stand apart from that mob. Jesus asks us not only to stand out from the crowd, but to stand with him, to take up the cross and follow after him. If we are not meant to be this mob, it is because we are meant to be Christ, like Simon of Cyrene to be identified with Jesus on the way of the cross.
Now Lenten preparation leads to Easter celebration, the great annual festival of baptism, when our liturgy will bring us in a procession of light into the church and then in a procession to the font of baptismal water. Round the whole world, churches will be baptising converts on Easter night, men and women who have chosen to turn to God by being baptised into Christ and his Church, by being baptised into his death and resurrection.
These converts will allow themselves to be so deeply identified with Christ crucified and risen that they will be accepting a new identity as Jesus's brothers and sisters. They will trade in their own double heart for his single heart, a heart that ever burns with love for the Father and for us all.
And we, we who are already baptised, when we come to renew our baptismal vows at Easter, we will choose once again to process together with Christ, like Simon, so that at the last we may make our way into heaven, rejoicing, trophies in Christ's final triumphal procession. So this Holy Week let us prepare ourselves by purifying our hearts, so that we may celebrate with a new heart in the excitement of Easter Night.