Into JerusalemPosted: March 20, 2016
SLIDE 3: EVERYONE WAS HYPED
Jesus and his disciples burst into Jerusalem like a juggernaut. We call it Holy Week, the Jewish week of the Passover, a time to remember and celebrate God saving the people of Israel from Slavery in Egypt. Everyone was hyped. Would this be the time when God would work another miracle? Would God lift up a second Moses to lead his people to freedom from the Romans? In fact, the week started out sort of like that with Jesus leading a great crowd into the City and marching to the temple challenging their oppressors. But as soon as Jesus and his followers crested the Mount of Olives and started down into the Kidron Valley it was like the free fall of an emotional roller coaster that is the wild ride of Holy Week.
SLIDE 4: PLACING THE PALMS AND RIBBONS ON THE TREE
This morning as we place the palms and the ribbons on the resurrection tree allow me to encourage you to sign up for all of Holy Week. I know in our busy, busy lives it sometimes seems hard enough just to make it on Sunday mornings. Recent studies have shown that “regular” church goers are only attending about twice a month. So I understand to set aside a Thursday evening to come to church in the middle of the week is a big deal. So let me spend some time reviewing the events of Holy Week this morning in an effort to help you understand what you might be missing, if you do not attend our Maundy Thursday Communion and Tennebrae Service.
SLIDE 5: BETHANY AND BETHPHAGE
Jesus had timed his journey to Jerusalem so he arrived about mid-morning on Palm Sunday the first day of the week. Thousands of Jews journeyed to the Holy City, and they were camped out on the hills around Jerusalem for the great spring religious pilgrimage.
Jesus was approaching Jerusalem from the East on the Jericho Road. At the foot of the East side of the Mt. of Olives, the side opposite Jerusalem, Jesus paused at the village of Bethany, while he sent two disciples on ahead to the village of Bethphage at the summit of the Mt. of Olives to secure a donkey and her colt for the “ride” into the great City. When Jesus reached the crest of the hill with Jerusalem laid out before him, he wept, anticipating the challenges that awaited him, and some people think in anticipation of the destruction of the City forty years later. Then he mounted the donkey and his disciples began the political demonstration, waving palm branches and shouting, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”
SLIDE 6: THE GAME WAS AFOOT
At the same time Jesus was approaching the Golden Gate on the East side of the City, Pilate and a troop of Cavalry were entering Jerusalem through the Jaffa Gate on the West. The game was afoot. There would now be almost no opportunity to back out.
SLIDE 7: FOLLOW THE MONEY
When Jesus entered the temple he most assuredly sealed his fate by overturning the tables of the money changers and driving the sellers of sacrificial animals out of the Temple Courts. These were the very real profit centers of the religious establishment, (follow the money) and Jesus’ rebellious action could hardly be ignored. But how and where to arrest him? He was a popular anti-establishment figure and the crowd would make every effort to protect him from arrest and trial.
SLIDE 8: IT IS EXPEDIENT FOR ONE MAN TO DIE
After cleansing the Temple Jesus left the City and returned to the other side of the Mt. of Olives to Bethany, where he spent the night in an undisclosed location. According to the text of the story, when the inner circle of the Sanhedrin met, and they were wringing their hands over what to do about Jesus, Caiphas, the High Priest, set the drama in motion when he said: “Don’t you understand that it is expedient that one man should die for the people, so that the whole nation might live?” And so the plot to kill Jesus began.
SLIDE 9: WHO JESUS WOULD NAME AS PRIME MINISTER
Each day Jesus walked into the City and taught freely and openly in the Temple. Several groups of Sadducees and Pharisees asked Jesus trick questions designed to give the authorities a pretext for his arrest, but the temple police made no attempt to detain him in broad daylight in front of a large crowd. And so, the followers of Jesus were lulled into a false sense of security. They even began discussing among themselves who Jesus would name as his Prime Minister, when he was crowned King.
SLIDE 10: CLOAK AND DAGGER
But the plot to betray Jesus was already underway. Judas, the treasurer of the group, one of the inner circle had already made a deal to betray his master. He was only biding his time, looking for the right opportunity to lead the temple guards to Jesus, when he was alone and at night. But Jesus was smart. He slept in a different undisclosed location every night. When he arranged to eat the Last Supper within the gates of Jerusalem, he did not tell any of his disciples, where the dinner would take place. He sent Peter and John into the City, looking for a man carrying water. Carrying water was women’s work and so a man carrying a water jar would stand out in the market place. They were to follow that man, and when he entered a house, they were supposed to give the pass word: “The Teacher says, ‘Where is the guest room, where I am to eat the Passover with my disciples.’”
SLIDE 11: AND THE DRAMA GOES INTO FREE FALL
At that meal Jesus shared the bread and the cup with them, and Judas slipped out to inform the authorities they would be able to arrest Jesus in the middle of the night in the Garden of Gethsemane. From the high point of excitement on Sunday morning to the high point of intimacy on Thursday evening, the drama of the last hours of Jesus life goes into free fall.
SLIDE 12: HE PRAYED EARNESTLY
In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed earnestly for courage and strength. Right up to the moment he was arrested he could have gotten up, walked up and over the Mt. of Olives and disappeared into the Judean Wilderness. He chose to stay and face arrest, while his closest friends fell asleep in the Garden. When the Temple soldiers led by Judas showed up to arrest Jesus, all of the disciples ran away and deserted him.
SLIDE 13: BETRAYED, ABANDONED, TORTURED
And so the story plunges on into darkness. Betrayed by a friend with a kiss, deserted by all of his other followers Jesus faced the hatred and torture of the Temple authorities alone. A rigged meeting of the Sanhedrin declared him guilty of blasphemy, but still the Chief Priests wanted the Romans to execute Jesus. Better the crowd be angry with Rome than the Temple.
SLIDE 14: DRAGGED OFF TO PILATE
And so with the dawn Jesus already roughed up by the Temple thugs was dragged off to Pilate, the Roman Governor to be accused of treason against Rome. And of course one Jew more or less made little difference to Pilate. During Passover any potential unrest had to be crushed. And so the Governor had Jesus flogged and then signed the order for his crucifixion.
SLIDE 15: DEATH BY CRUCIXION
Crucifixion was the ultimate journey into the darkness of pain and degradation. The victim was often forced to carry the cross piece to the place of execution. Then they were stripped naked, and either tied or nailed to the cross piece which was then hoisted into place atop a pole, while their feet were tied or nailed into place on the pole.
SLIDE 16: FOOD FOR SCAVENGERS
Some victims lasted exposed like this for days until exhausted they could no longer raise themselves up to get a breath, and then they died of asphyxiation. Sometimes in order to hurry the process along, the legs of the victims were broken, so they could no longer push themselves up with their feet hurrying the process of asphyxiation. Then as a final degradation the bodies were left on the crosses without benefit of burial for the wild animals to come and consume. Crucifixion was a journey into the very heart of spiritual darkness. Imagine becoming food for scavengers.
SLIDE 17: MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME
As I have learned in the past year pain all pain is worthy of being acknowledged, and when pain is persistent and suffered over a long period of time it can lead us into a black hole of despair. And not just physical pain, but also the emotional pain of betrayal, abandonment and depression. And so at the very bottom of the roller coaster of Holy Week we hear Jesus’ cry from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”
SLIDE 18: DUST AND ASHES
So we close our Tennebrae Service on Thursday night in darkness. The emotional roller coaster hits bottom. The resurrection tree is stripped of all the Palm branches and all the colorful ribbons lie in the dust and ashes of defeat, and we leave in silence to come back on Sunday morning with the new flowers we have brought from our gardens.
SLIDE 19: EASTER MORNING RESURRECTION TREE
If we come on Easter Sunday morning to decorate the resurrection tree with flowers, without having accompanied Jesus into the black hole of despair on Thursday, then we miss the fullness of the joy of resurrection. We miss the truth that we must die in order to come to new life. And that is the great truth that Holy Week wants to teach us. So allow me to encourage you once again to sign up for the whole Holy Week experience. Come on Thursday to eat and drink at the Sharing Table of Jesus, and then join with us in remembering the last twenty-four hours of Jesus’ life, so we might be prepared for the full joy of Easter morning.