Reflection on Holy Week

People Raising Their Hands during DaytimeWe have been walking the path with Jesus since we celebrated his birth a few months ago. We read the story of his baptism and how he brings light and love into the darkest places of the world. We heard stories of his love and compassion for those on the margins. We witnessed him challenge injustice. We have witnessed this challenge bring him closer to the cross…to the point where we are today.

This week Jesus arrived in Jerusalem. The story (Luke 19:28-44) leaves lots of room for questions. How we answer the questions says something about who we believe Jesus to be. How did Jesus know where to find the colt? Had he made previous arrangements for it? Had he been in the community before and seen animals at that corner? Did he have some sort of vision or message from God that told him the colt would be there?

Jesus is part of a crowd coming into the city. Throughout Luke, the disciples have not understood who Jesus is and yet here they are proclaiming Jesus is king. Why this moment? Are they simply contrasting him with Caesar and proclaiming Jesus as their political and military leader? Do they understand that Jesus is a different kind of leader? Do they understand that Jesus is not going to be in charge of this new kingdom? Jesus is just the messenger sent by God bringing a message of love, compassion, justice. Do they understand that this new kingdom Jesus is bringing will be different from any other kingdom they have experienced?

What about the stones that will continue to shout? Even if no human ever calls Jesus king or Lord, the very earth will know that God is the creator and Lord of the universe. Can we hear the earth crying out, proclaiming God?

And then Jesus weeps over Jerusalem. Is he predicting the destruction of Jerusalem because he knows it is going to happen or he simply because he can see the state of the country and recognizes that bad things are going to happen if they continue on this path? What could prevent the destruction that Jesus imagines is coming? Could the people, the city be saved if they had recognized Jesus as a messenger from God? What would the world look like if the hearers took Jesus’ message to heart? What would our world look like if we imagine God’s kingdom among us?

We know how this week will end. We know that Jesus dies on a cross but did Jesus believe that God had sent him to this place so that he could die? Was he simply living faithfully, knowing that the path he was on would put him into a difficult and dangerous situation?

Are we willing to risk living as Jesus lived? Are we willing to be messenger that point to God?

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Which Parade will You Join?

Imagine the scene on that first Palm Sunday: The Jesus procession arriving in Jerusalem–a chaotic mix of people singing and dancing, waving palms and spreading cloaks on the ground.

Historical records tell us that at the same time, across the city, Pilate is arriving in a military procession in perfect formation with all the pomp and ceremony necessary to make an impression. every Jewish festival, the Roman army would have had an extra presence. Imagine the Roman army with Pilate arriving in Jerusalem just in case there is trouble.

Jesus arrives with a small informal band of followers. Pilate and his generals arrive on war horses. Jesus arrives on a donkey. Pilate arrives with an army marching in perfect time. Jesus arrives with peasants in disorder. Pilate proclaims the power of Rome to control by military might. Jesus proclaims God’s reign of love.

No one would wave at Pilate. They would just stay out of the way. Jesus’s followers gather around and make a party out of the parade.

Pilate’s procession displays political and military power and Roman imperial theology which goes like this:

“the emperor was not simply the ruler of Rome, but the Son of God. Augustus, was the son of the god Apollo. Inscriptions refer to him as “son of God,” “lord” and “savior,” one who had brought “peace on earth.” After his death, he was seen ascending into heaven to take his permanent place among the gods. His successors continued to bear divine titles, including Tiberius, emperor during the time of Jesus’s public activity.”[1] (Adapted)

You might recognize the story line in Jesus life: Jesus son of God, lord, savior, peace on earth. You might remember hearing that Jesus ascended into heaven. When Mark was written 60 years after Jesus’ death, the author would know the story of the Roman gods. In the Jewish tradition there could only be one God. If you believed that Jesus was God then the Caesar, the Roman emperor could not be God. The story of Jesus’ procession into Jerusalem is designed so that we will ask the question: Which parade would you rather participate in?

Do you want to participate in the parade that rules the world by force, by military might, by wealth, by power? Do you want to participate in the parade that fills the world with love, compassion, healing and restoration of relationships?

That is the question we are confronted with 2000 years later. Jerusalem is a central location through much of our scripture. In many places in scripture it is central to the worship life of the Jewish people and as a city dedicated to the glory of God. But Jerusalem is also the center of the “domination system” Borg and Crossan identify three characteristics of the “domination system:”

  1. Political oppression
  2. Economic exploitation
  3. Religious legitimation – meaning that the system is justified using religious language [2]

How many times do we look around the world and say, “that’s just how it is?” How often do we look around and feel ineffectual in our ability to change the systems that we know exist? That’s part of what the domination system does. It makes the world, as it is, seem like the norm. It seems too big for us to take on. I wonder how many of Jesus’ followers watched Pilate arrive in Jerusalem with his army and thought there was nothing they can do about this oppressive presence in their city. The Jesus procession reminded people that it didn’t have to be that way and called into question the strength of Pilate and the army that backed him.

Throughout our own scripture we see the struggle between good and evil. Is God’s love stronger than evil? It is a question that has been asked throughout time. It is a question that is seen in the competing images of Palm Sunday. It is a question that we continue to ask in the fiction of books, movies and TV of our own culture. Palm Sunday encourages us to ask ourselves some important questions:

Who is more powerful: God or Culture?

Who would you rather follow? God or Culture?

Which parade do you want to participate in? The Jesus parade or the Pilate parade?

As we move towards Good Friday we need to ask ourselves if we will stand at the foot of the cross and bear witness to the pain and suffering in the world. We need to ask ourselves if we are willing and able to walk the path that Jesus walked on Palm Sunday bringing love, compassion and healing to the world around us in spite of threat and intimidation. Jesus path is one of both personal and communal risk in the face of what seems overwhelming odds.

Jesus stood against the Caesar who proclaimed to be God and as people of faith we choose to follow in Jesus’ path proclaiming hope for the world.

[1]. Borg, Marcus J.; Crossan, John Dominic (2009-03-17). The Last Week (p. 3). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

[2]. Borg, Marcus J.; Crossan, John Dominic (2009-03-17). The Last Week (p. 7). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.