Our “assignment” in Holy Week

The Rev. Tracy Heilman
Thursday, April 18, 2019
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            Rev. Tracy Heilman

Journeys in Faith

This is Holy Week, starting with Palm Sunday, moving to Maundy Thursday, then Good Friday, and finally Easter.

Last Sunday, we celebrated Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem — an event that is both a celebratory parade and a death march because we know where it leads. That story says that the crowd gathered to meet Jesus (riding on a donkey) with branches from palm trees. In ancient tradition, the palm branch was a symbol of home and safety, but also triumph and military victory.

In Judaism, riding on a donkey was both a sign of humility and of royal rule. In other words, Jesus was engaging in some dramatic liturgy and risky political theatre.

Liturgy and politics always have been connected. Liturgy, which means the work of the people, is the symbolic expression of our highest hopes for the future. It’s how we communicate what the future should look like.

Politics simply means the affairs of the city (the first form of government); it is the mechanism humans use to decide how to live together, of who gets what, when, where and how. What the future should look like, how the present is actually shaped, the work of the people and the affairs of the city, are irrevocably linked in our faith.

Jesus surely knew what he was doing by entering Jerusalem. The crowds which welcomed him, shouting “Hosanna, hosanna,” were not mouthing innocuous pieties. “Hosanna” does not mean Hallelujah; it means “save us, rescue us, liberate us from this oppression.” It was a shout of political hope. The palms, passion, politics and prayer were all mixed up together.

But we can easily miss this in Holy Week. We can glory in the excitement and promise of the Palm Parade, proclaiming Jesus as the one sent by God, and then go about our lives until the excitement and promise of Easter Sunday.

We can enjoy the parades and the Resurrection without having to really examine the reason for Jesus’ death.

You see, it was real people who plotted Jesus’s death — religious leaders working with political leaders to bring an end to a movement that threatened both.

According to the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), the final event that pushed leaders to action was Jesus cleansing the temple. He overturned the tables of the money-changers and kicked out those who sold temple sacrifices, saying that the Temple was a place to connect with and worship God, not for money-making that hurt those most vulnerable.

According to the gospel of John, the final straw was the raising of Lazarus. By raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus graduated from the category of “manageable nuisance” to “serious threat.”

Too many people saw it, heard of it, and put their trust in this outsider prophet of the people. If the local authorities didn’t stop him, Rome would send their army, and even more would die. The easiest solution was to kill Jesus.

Between the glory of the Palm Parade and the glory of the empty tomb, Jesus was killed. The Roman Empire didn’t sentence him to death so that our sins could be forgiven and we might have eternal life.

They put him to death because he shared meals with sinners and healed the hopeless, because he crossed boundaries to connect with people, because he told about God’s love for all and the Kingdom of Heaven present right here on earth. They put him to death, thinking they could kill the message when they killed the messenger. They had no idea.

Holy Week is the time when we intentionally ask ourselves the significance of Jesus’s life and death. Today is Maundy Thursday, when we serve each other as Jesus commanded us to do, share the Last Supper, and ponder the final moments of Jesus’s life.

We do this in order to fully consider who Jesus was, what he did, and how he is still at work in our lives and in our world.

Who might be shouting out “save us, rescue us, liberate us” in our world today? Strengthened by the life and teachings of Jesus, let us respond with compassion and courage. Jesus’s message, and ministry, and life will thus live on. Thanks be to God.