I served as a summer missionary to a rural & highly segregated area of South Carolina when I was in high school. I was part of a 6-member team of high school girls. 5 of us were Anglo & 1 of us was Korean. Each afternoon we loaded down the van with Vacation Bible School curriculum, candy, & enthusiasm. Then, we crossed over the train tracks [literally] to the African-American side of the town & led a kid’s club at a low income apartment complex. Though we came at the same time each day like clockwork, a few of the kids felt the need to announce our presence to the entire apartment complex by running up & down the breezeways yelling, “the white people are here! The white people are here!”. There came a point when our team was kind of uncomfortable with this announcement. One of my teammates suggested to the… let’s call them town criers… that they find a different way to show their enthusiasm for our presence. So, the next day as our van pulled in, we heard the kids running up & down the breezeways again, except they were yelling, “the church people are here! The church people are here!” Ok, we’ll take it. Not all announcements of arrival are equally triumphant.
On this festive Palm Sunday, we naturally turn our attention to Jesus’ grand entrance into Jerusalem. I have to be honest. It was not until this week that I realized that Jesus had both a donkey and a colt with Him for the journey into Jerusalem. This caught my eye. Matthew is the only Gospel to specifically mention both a donkey and a colt. This may be to set up Matthew’s no so subtle hint that Jesus fulfills prophecy from Isaiah & Zechariah that speak of the humility of the coming King & how he will ride on a donkey. It’s kind of like coming to town with the options of a Cadillac Escalade or a Ford station wagon. Jesus chose the more humble option. Yet again, when given the choice, Jesus chooses humility and limits Himself. Jesus chooses sacrifice. Even though this is a small act of humility, it signals an overall attitude that Jesus does not choose the easiest or most comfortable option, though He is able to. Jesus chooses to be a humble king who is different from the powers of this world. Matthew makes connections between the events of Jesus’ entrance with other passages like the prophets to connect the stories of the prophets with the Gospel. Sometimes the story, the journey of the story, is the point.
Why was Jesus going to Jerusalem? There is more than 1 answer to that question. One of which is to celebrate Passover. Ancient & contemporary celebrations of the Passover Seder can significantly differ, but if you have ever experienced or maybe heard about a Passover Seder, then you know that the meal & festivities center around a story. The Seder retells the story of the Exodus, the Hebrews’ liberation from Egypt. Perhaps the timing of Jesus’ arrival to Jerusalem during the time of Passover is a hint that Jesus will be our liberator. Sometimes the story, the journey of the story, is the point.
Preparing for Passover is a time of cleaning out. This is more than just spring cleaning, a little dusting and vacuuming. Preparing for Passover is a time of searching out chametz. Chametz is yeast or leavening and represents sin. Paul uses this metaphor between yeast & sin 1 Corinthians 5. It is not enough to find the chametz, but Jewish tradition is to get rid of it completely. Often times there is a ceremonial burning of chametz just before Passover begins as a way of showing complete separation from it and as a reminder that the time they are entering into is different from other times. It is holy. Just as Christians go through Lent as a time of finding and getting rid of sin, may this Holy Week be a time of renewal. This week is different from other weeks. It is holy.
There are many questions asked in the stories of this Holy Week. There is a big story made from many smaller stories during this week. I’m concerned that many of us maybe out of a sense of over familiarity, or because we lack spiritual focus, or because we are allergic to anything unhappy, we will go from- Yay! Jesus arrives in Jerusalem!, then skip to Yay! The tomb is empty! Sometimes the story, the journey of the story, is the point.
Truthfully, I enjoy a good sandwich. J In order for it to be a sandwich, it has to have bread or the ends and the middle. Think of how much more satisfying a sandwich is compared to 2 pieces of bread. Jumping from Palm Sunday to Easter is like this: “Once upon a time there was Papa Bear, Mama Bear, & Baby Bear who lived in a house in the forest. Then Goldilocks jumped out of bed and ran out of the house into the forest and was never seen again!” Can you imagine reading that to a kid? J They would look at you & say… I think you missed a few pages there. This Holy Week, don’t miss a page. It’s Holy Week! [not just Holy Sundays, Batman!] Sometimes the story, the journey of the story, is the point.
I invite you this week & I think God invites us, to think about, live into, feel the story, the Gospel. Stick with the story long enough to gradually hear the crowd disperse. Settle in with the story long enough to hear the crowd’s cheers become the crowd’s jeers. Sit with the story long enough to appreciate what Jesus does and who Jesus is. Read the Gospel passage that corresponds with each day. Get your feet wet & feast with the Disciples on Thursday. Confess with the Centurion that Jesus is Lord & hear the Temple curtain rip on Friday. Grieve with Mary on Saturday. Sometimes the story, the journey of the story, is the point. Don’t miss out. May the Lord return you all to this place next week having lived into the story of the Passion, which is the best way to fully welcome Jesus, and to prepare for the celebration of Easter. Amen.