If there was ever a movie with a whole lot of tramping feet in it, it was the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Thousands and thousands of Orks, relentlessly marching across mountain plains to search out and destroy anything good – particularly Froddo and Sam!. It is a uncompromising and foreboding sound – the sound of tramping feet…I think of all those war movies I saw as a kid – the relentless and perfect step of the SS homing in on some feaful ally.
The heavy footfalls in tight precision, the rhythm of the feet marching in proper cadence as the powerful people descend upon the powerless.
The gospel tellers must have knwn this sound well. As they recalled the events of that first Easter, the sound of tramping feet musy have pervaded their minds because it is very present in their telling. Tramping soldiers feet is heard again and again as Jesus is shuttled from one place to another. There are guards, armies, sentries, and centurions taking our Lord from Gethsemane to trial, from Caiaphas to Pilate, from judgment to the cross.
LISTEN TO THE SOUND OF TRAMPING FEET.
We first hear the sound of armed men marching on Thursday night at the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus had just finished his agonizing prayer. He awakened his disciples with the news that his betrayer was now here. The heavy footfalls of an army stopped closeby. Jesus goes to meet them. At the forefront of this crowd was Judas, but with him were the temple guard and a contingent of Roman soldiers. Dead of night or not, the priests weren’t taking any chances of Jesus’ arrest causing a ruckus on this Passover weekend among the packed city of people. Anyone wanting to raise a fuss would be answered with Roman steel.
Jesus faced the armed crowd with courage and conviction. “Am I leading a rebellion,” he asked them, “that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me” (Mk 14:48–49a).
Then Jesus said two other important things. “But the Scriptures must be fulfilled” (Mk 14:49b). The coming of the crowd, the timed precision of their feet marching in perfect order, wasn’t a random event. This crowd was part of God’s will for the world. Surely Jesus knew what the armed contingent meant: the cross.
They were coming to take him before the kangaroo court that would find him guilty, then to Pilate for sentencing, and eventually to the cross. Scripture had to be fulfilled. God’s had to take our brokeness and death to himself and deal woth – by the death of his own Son. The marching army was a part of it, the timed tramp of feet kept beat with the promise of Holy Scripture, even if they didn’t understand it that way.
And then Jesus added, “But this is your hour—when darkness reigns” (Lk 22:53b). Jesus saw this small army for what it really was, not just a ragtag group thrown together by the chief priests and the Sanhedrin at the last minute. Nor was this merely a group of professional soldiers joined together for a short while.
This group was in reality part of the army of darkness arrayed against Jesus that night. For Satan himself had entered into Judas, and his dark power was guiding the crowd. This was the time when darkness would reign. This was the night when the powers of sin and darkness would give Jesus what he had coming to him. They would pour out their hatred of God and his Son and nail Jesus to the cross once and for all (so they thought)..
Jesus meekly went with them. They marched down the mountainside, swords clanging in time with their feet. Hup-two-three-four. Hup-two-three-four—down the Mount of Olives, across the ravine, into the city of Jerusalem, up the temple mount, onto the Court of Gentiles—company, halt! The Romans dismissed to their barracks at the Fortress Antonia on the north side of the temple. The temple guard took Jesus into the council chambers.
The trial proceeded in almost perfect precision. There were some missteps as they marched to the preordained verdict of guilty, but soon it was all done. Jesus was guilty; that was the only thing that anyone really cared about.
Then the guards took Jesus back outside. Once again, Jesus marched in step with the soldiers: across the court, down the steps, through the city, to the fortress, stopping at Pilate’s judgment hall, where they transferred Jesus back to the control of the Roman army. The soldiers remained outside as Jesus was tried before Pilate. After some shouts and bickering, the sentence was handed down: Jesus would die by crucifixion.
Jesus was marched crisply to the barracks, and then . . . the soldiers at last broke ranks. Suddenly, the strict discipline that held them together disintegrated as they began acting like barbarians. Striking, mocking, dehumanising, shaming….. Heavy boots that had earlier marched across the ground kicked Jesus, bruising him, knocking the wind out of him, causing blood to flow freely from his wounds.
Then the final march…Picking up Jesus, they put the cross bar on his back and led him out to the Via Dolorosa, the way of sorrows. “Hup-two-three-four. Hup-two-three-four. Hup-two-three-four. Hup-two-three—oh, come on! Come on you weakling! Jesus had fallen. The lack of sleep, the loss of blood, and the weight of the cross all conspired against him. Jesus didn’t have the strength to walk another step.
The centurion in charge of the procession is irritated. Pushing aside the crowd, he takes his sword in hand and cuts the ropes holding the cross bar, setting Jesus free. Quickly scanning the crowd, he sees a Cyrenian. Hauling him into the street, the centurion motions to the cross bar. “March! he roars”. “Hup-two-three-four! Hup-two-three-four! Hup-two-three-four!” Out of the city, across the dry riverbed, to Golgotha, the Place of the Skull. There they crucify Jesus.
As they nail Jesus to the tree, a word comes from his lips, a word that surprises all who hear it. There’s no cry for vengeance, no word of hatred for the Romans who nailed him there. Simply a word of grace: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34a).
What an indecribable word – sheer underserved compassion! Instead of calling down legions of marching angels to destroy all who were hurting him, Jesus called down a word of forgiveness. In fact, Jesus earned forgiveness for the soldiers whose feet had taken him to his death. Jesus died for the very community who put him on the cross. He took it all. He gave it all. He brings forgiveness for all.
Friend, where are we marching and with whom? How easily we go off on our own way, following our own orders. We seem to predisposed to march to the beat of a different drummer—ourselves. We shut our ears to the cadence of God’s direction and listen to our own drumbeat of self determined journey. It’s so easy to get out of rhythm with the Spirit. So easy to become confused about who we are and where we are going.
Hiding our confusion and self- interest and focus can be done with a veneer of civilization, as the Romans kept such strict discipline over their soldiers. But the moment the officers were out of sight, their discipline fell apart; deep down they were still cruel barbarians. We see this in the Easter witness of the NT.
In the same way our veneer of civilized behavior can drop away in an instant. You’ve heard of “road rage,” when people suddenly go ballistic at other drivers and use their cars as weapons. There are an array of ways in which we betray our marching to beat of our own broken drum.
Hear that relentless sound. He marched it with you and I in mind. He changes our march headlong into more self-inflicted pain, sin and sorrow into a march of victory – the victory over all that that binds us, hurts us and intimidates us. This is no march of relentless fear and loathing but a march to love – pure self-sacrificing, Divine love that excells all loves.
Freed from self-laothing and the death this bring us, we join the march of the Via Dalorosa – the way of Jesus’ suffering. “If anyone would come after me, he must take up his cross and follow me” (Mt 16:24).
Take the march to the cross this time around. In the weakness, violence, obvious pain and darkness of human sin, there is light. There is life. There is a relentless God inviting you to go deeper into his suffering that you may go deeper into his life given and shed for you.
Because of this march to the freedom of the cross, we walk in the way of forgiveness, peace, mercy, and love. The world needs us to walk in this way. Without the suffering of Jesus there is no end to suffering. Without the march to the grave and the resurrection, there is no resurrection to God’s life.
God has prepared a way to march with others; good works for you, that you should walk in them (Eph 2:10), loving others as God has loved so clearly and humanly loved you. We in this community of God here in this place walk in the way that Jesus did, marching with him in the way of God’s directive word and his Spirit’s power.This sound of tramping feet— is the sound of God’s people following the way of Jesus!