Updated: Apr 2, 2021
We rounded off our series on An Altar in the World yesterday morning, so the fact that it was Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week only got a passing mention, which was perhaps rather remiss.
We will pick up from the Last Supper in our Good Friday service, so to help you walk through the Easter story until then, you will find below a series of brief reflections on key moments from that fateful week, each accompanied by a hymn or song.
May they help you prepare to remember the cross and celebrate the empty tomb, and may familiar stories sound new notes.
JESUS ENTERS JERUSALEM
As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’” They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!” Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve. [Mark 11:1-11]
This is politically charged street theatre. Jesus orchestrated his entrance knowing that Zechariah had spoken of a king riding on a donkey. The crowds shouted of a kingdom and cried out for a saviour knowing how that would sound in the ears of the powers that ruled over them. There must have been a festival atmosphere in the air as people hacked off branches and threw off coats.
I wonder if we see these scenes differently in the light ofs recent debates about protest, and if we would dare to shout hosanna even if it would see us arrested.
JESUS DISRUPTS THE TEMPLE
On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts.And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’” The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching. When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city. [Mark 11:15-18]
Things are really stepping up now, and we are firmly into the realm of protest. Causing a disturbance in the street was one thing, but taking on the temple is quite another, and it is probably at this moment that Jesus' fate is sealed. It is easy to imagine him storming in and knocking over a few tables then storming out again, but it seems that he stays to teach and continue to disrupt the business of the temple by blocking the passage of traders through it, and it gets him an audience.
I wonder what we should be protesting about, where we should be seeking to act as a disruptive presence.
JESUS NAMES THE GREAT COMMANDMENTS
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices." When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions. [Mark 12:28-34]
Protest is driven by an anger with the way things are, and a vision for how they should be. Here we are reminded that Jesus' anger was not aggressive or hateful, because his vision was always and only grounded in love. We sometimes speak as if this teaching is unique to Jesus, but both commandments are drawn from the Hebrew scriptures. Love is what God has wished from us and for us all along.
I wonder what we must do to love so fully, or what other core parts of our faith we must return to.
JESUS ACKNOWLEDGES THE WIDOW'S OFFERING
Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” [Mark 12:41-44]
There is something interesting in the use of language here. The rich throw their offerings into the treasury while the widow puts hers in. There is a carelessness or flamboyance to the former, whose gifts come easily and with little sacrifice, but a thoughtfulness or humility to the latter, whose gift was surely made after hard deliberation knowing that hardship would follow. Perhaps it is not what we give but how we give it and what we hold back that matters most.
I wonder if we have examined our own attitudes to giving, and if we ever ask ourselves what we are holding back.
JESUS IS ANOINTED
While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke
the jar and poured the perfume on his head. Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly. “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is
preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” [Mark 14:3-9]
Jesus was right, wherever the gospel is preached, this woman is remembered. The gospels differ on the details of the occasion, so that we're not quite sure of her name and whether she washed Jesus' feet with her tears or bathed his head with her perfume, but we do remember that she did a beautiful thing.
I wonder what beautiful thing we might do to Jesus, how we might anoint him with our words and deeds.