In Luke chapter 9 we read the prophetic words about Jesus, “He set his face to go to Jerusalem.” The journey would end with Jesus’ death on the cross. Jesus has come at last to the moment to which his entire life had been pointing. We would be more comfortable if Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was victorious, something we could all celebrate. Our difficulty in understanding this event is that the king riding on the donkey or the colt is not an earthly king. Jesus himself says, “My kingship is not of this world.” Everyone is confused as to what to make of Jesus — The religious leaders are fearful, the people see him as someone who will rescue them from Rome, Pilate will try to free him, Herod speaks with him and then sends him back to Pilate, Pilate finally washes his hands of the whole affair. It is a time made up of shadowy figures, spies, traitors, betrayal, secret trials, frightened disciples who disappear into the night. In fact, all of Holy Week is a week of drama. The procession into Jerusalem is almost pathetic rather than victorious, because people do not understand.
It is important to see Holy Week as a unit. It is a whole piece from Palm Sunday to Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil and at last Easter morning, with each occurrence holding a special place for our understanding of this historic event which changed the world forever. And it begins with Palm Sunday and the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem. It is Passover Week and the City of Jerusalem is four times its usual population. It is full to overflowing with Jews from all over the ancient world coming to Jerusalem for this religious celebration. Roman soldiers keep a watchful eye on the crowds. They stand on the walls around the Temple and at the Antonia Fortress, watching for signs of trouble. Pilate has brought more soldiers as he came from his palace at Caesaria. Trouble? we will be ready. There is noise and confusion, the smoke from the temple rises constantly with the sacrifices the priests are performing. The religious leaders are watchful and trying to keep the crowds under control. Then from one of the gates of the city there is a commotion. People shouting, children calling and singing, there is some kind of procession taking place and the words people hear is “Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.” The words are from Psalm 118 which seem to say that a king is coming in royal procession. These words will be used against Jesus later when he is brought before Pilate as his religious accusers protect themselves by putting these words written for a king into the mouth of Jesus.
There are Pharisees traveling with Jesus, Zaccaheus was probably along, Jesus had just been in Jericho. The twelve disciples, Mary, his mother, Mary Magdalene, perhaps Lazarus, Mary and Martha, Bethany was nearby. Scriptures talk about a multitude of followers, not just twelve disciples. It was a crowd and they were saying and doing things that were not wise in the politics of the day. There are those who warn Jesus to keep it down, don’t make a fuss, but he tells them — too late. Now even the stones cry out the wonder and glory of God. You see, this is a visitation, yes, but not of any earthly king, this is a visitation from God. Jesus is God’s visitation to the holy city. Perhaps more than any other time Jesus has a heightened awareness of who he is and why he is where he is. But no one knows, except himself.
The gospels cover this event fairly lightly. There isn’t a great deal said other than what actually happened. It is only later as we move into the night of the last supper and Good Friday we begin to see what was really going on. It is an event both political and religious. Jesus’ crucifixion was by angry, threatened religious leaders, and Romans were simply there, doing their duty and attempting to keep the peace.
As I said earlier, Jesus’ words talk about a visitation from God. That is what Jesus time on this earth was always about — in the gospel of John we read, “He came to his own people and his own people did not know him.” Jesus opened the ears of the deaf and gave sight to the blind. These were not only physical healing, but spiritual healing as well. “You don’t see. You are blind”, and this is what he is saying to the crowds leading him into Jerusalem that day. “If only you had been able to see what was going on. But now it is too late. The day of your visitation is over. God was here all along and you failed to recognize him and his love for you. “ The saddest words ever are “too late”.
The stories of Holy Week are ones we have heard year after year. You might think we would get tired of hearing them. “Oh, that again! I know that story by hears!” But there is something in the repetition of the stories from Scripture that draws us back over and over again. Each time we return we know we will hear the same words, but each year we are different, older, changed. We need something more. The passion story is one for which we hunger. It is a time when we occupy several spaces. We are the crowds hailing the King. Our questions go with theirs — could he really be the one? We are one of those who have betrayed Jesus in this past year. We have gone our own way and attempted to side-step the journey Jesus has called us to take with him and we are the repentant sinners who have recognized the saving grace of God in the face and the words of Jesus. Each Holy Week we come — waving our palm branches and crying words of praise, and then knowing we will be found weeping at the cross in sorrow for all that has gone on before. Jesus knows we come blinded by our own tears, confessing our particular sins and we stand by the roadside crying “Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord”, in praise and in hope.
We know the journey we will walk this week. It is not unknown to us, but each year it is troubling. Each journey starts with the unknown just as each day begins with the unknown. If nothing else, this coming week leads us to the knowledge that any path we walk, Jesus has walked before and as the glory of the open tomb was there for Jesus, the knowledge of God’s love and care for us even in the face of his own sorrows, is something we can trust and hold on to in the midst of all.
I really pray for you that this Holy Week will be a blessed journey for you. May each day begin with the knowledge God loves you — individually. He cares for you and wants only good for you and those you love. May you begin each day in thanksgiving for the the gift of life, for family and friends, for worthwhile work and acts of kindness that come to us each day and acts of kindness we are allowed to do for others.
Jesus did not care about the cries of the crowds. He wanted them to know how much God cared about each one of them. Jesus was the One who came in the Name of the Lord. Jesus was and is the blessed one, our savior and our king. And now he enters the city of Jerusalem and his final days are here. Thanks be to God.