Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Following Jesus to Jerusalem: reflections on Holy Week

The paradoxes surrounding Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem continue to astound me!

A king would arrive with a great entourage of white horses and soldiers with a road perfectly groomed for his arrival.

Jesus arrived on a borrowed donkey that had never been ridden.

A king would sit in a spectacular saddle upon his majestic horse.

Jesus sat on his discples’ coats.

A king would have a military band playing announcing his arrival.

Jesus came amidst of the shouts and singing of people declaring “Bless the King who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in highest heaven,” while they waved palms which they broke off from the trees.

It seems that the people who praised Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem that day recognized that Jesus was a King, even though he didn’t have all the appearances and trappings that all kings carry.

They recognized that Jesus was a king because of “what he does” rather than what he owns or wears.

Luke 19:37 tells us that the people worshipped Jesus because of all the miracles that he had done. This is the Kingdom of God in action: God’s divine activity and invasion onto earth!

The disciples must have been bursting with pride to see their leader being praised and worshipped by the adoring crowds that lined the streets. Their dream of seeing Jesus build his kingdom was coming closer.

Except they were looking for the wrong kingdom.

The disciples still believed at that point that Jesus was going to bring political and military freedom to the Jews. Surely the crowds meant that was going to happen—they would help to accomplish it.

I am continually amazed that as people who follow Jesus we think we get it when we are really so far away from what he intends for us.

Jesus had no intention of lining up an army to fight the Romans.

As a matter of fact, just around the bend from the parade, Jesus burst into tears. He spoke these prophetic words over Jerusalem: “I wish that even today you would find the way of peace. And, now it is too late, and peace is hidden from you. Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you. They will crush you to the ground and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you have rejected the opportunity that God offered you.” (Luke 19:41-44). Jesus knew that the Israelites were rejecting the true king, even though many of them worshipped him as he entered the Holy City of Jerusalem for his final week on earth.

What can we learn from Jesus’ triumphal entry on Palm Sunday?

First, that God is often hidden in the most unlikely of places.

We may go to our comfortable pews on Easter morning looking for Jesus but actually find him when we share lunch with a homeless person. We may look for Jesus in our Bible Studies, but actually find him as we work out a conflict with our co-worker. We may look for Jesus in our political association but actually find him through serving our neighbor whose lifestyle is radically different than our own.

Second, following Jesus means that we take the role of a servant.

Jesus tells us that “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to offer his body as a sacrifice for many.” (Mark 10:45). He continually modeled to his disciples the role of a servant rather than a hierarchical leader.

Finally, following Jesus often leads us into a place of suffering.

Jesus knew throughout his whole life that he had come to die. He invites us to follow in his example by taking the narrow road of life and carrying our own cross: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. 25What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? (Luke 9:23-25).

Friday I went to the Christian Ministry Convention. I went to hear a speaker that invited me, but I was overwhelmed by my reaction when I entered the building. I had the immediate sense that I was with Jesus at the temple when he reacted in anger over how they had made his Father’s home a market.

I also had a sense that many well intentioned people were present believing that they were following Jesus, but I wondered is if they would ever hear his words of invitation to follow him with our own cross to the place of suffering. And, if they did, would they have the courage to follow him?

We cannot fully celebrate Jesus’ resurrection on Easter without first acknowledging the price he paid. Jesus didn’t rise to life without first dying the most horrible death imaginable.

My invitation to you this week is to spend some time reading the final chapters of the Gospels as you hear Jesus’ words of challenge to us that “in dying we find life.”

Consider this passage as you meditate on what it is that he is urging you to let die so that he can bring it miraculously to a place of great life:

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.
24I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.” John 12:23-26

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