Thanksgiving conjures up memories of getting up far too early in the morning to help my dad stuff the turkey. Before anything else, we would set up the television in the kitchen to watch the parade festivities and football pre-game shows as the rest of the day progressed in an alternation between preparing food and watching television. Celebrity interviews, musical guests, and commentator speculations bolstered anticipation for the much anticipated floating colorful giants in the sky.
The enthusiasm and joy surrounding such a parade provides a helpful point of reference to appreciate the use of the processional in the church. People go to great lengths to attend a parade: purchasing expensive tickets, arising early, traveling a long distance, breaking through hoards of people, or enduring bitter cold. To what end is this done?
What the church calls its procession derives from the ancients who had their own parades of victory filled with sights, sounds, and even smells. The hope of the Psalm 68:24 is that God will reign victorious as a king, entering the sanctuary in joyous procession for all to see. The Apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 2:14, “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.”
During this Advent season, the cross and light will enter the sanctuary followed with a train of liturgical ministers. Each Sunday we come to bring our praise as an offering to the Triune God, yet each week our sordid past rears its ugly head, telling us the lie that we cannot live in the victory of our victorious king. The light and cross will enter the sanctuary and we are reminded of Christ’s victory; light has come and Christ has won. Each Sunday of Advent we are reminded of the victory won, but we likewise experience a longing for the victory to come. After joining in the celebration within the sanctuary we are invited to process out with the recessional. As Christ’s body we now take the light and cross into a dark world filled with all manner of stumbling blocks.
In the words of my favorite Syrian Bishop,
Deliver me from the enemy who fights with me, for I cannot conquer him without Your aid.
Do not look to me to conquer in that great occasion bloodshed.
Take for Yourself the battle and the victory befitting You.
Deliver me from it and let the crown and fame be Yours, and neither attribute to me triumph, nor victory.
Deliver me from it and let the entire glory of the athlete be reserved for You, for You have conquered the enemy.
–Homily on the Prayer of our Lord, p. 711-718
Mar Jacob of Sarugh (✝ ca. 521 CE)