By Marjorie George
Jerusalem was a city under siege in 30 AD. Almost as if taking their places on the stage of the drama, as Jesus entered the city from the east riding on a donkey and hailed as a king, the forces of Pontius Pilate were entering from the west in a military column of imperial cavalry and soldiers. Although Pilate lived in opulence at Caesarea on the Sea, it was his custom to be in Jerusalem during major Jewish festivals to put down any riot or rebellion the locals might incite. “Jesus’s procession proclaimed the kingdom of God; Pilate’s proclaimed the power of empire,” say Borg and Crossan in The Last Week, (Harper San Francisco, chapter 1).
Jerusalem – the City of David – had been corrupted both by its Roman occupiers and by the Jewish authorities who acquiesced to keep the peace.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” Jesus had once said, “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34)
Now as he entered Jerusalem, Jesus wept over the city. “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes” (Luke 19:41).
Jerusalem was not just the political and economic center of Judaism; it was, from the time of David, the religious center, for it was the home of the Temple – the place where God’s glory dwelt.
The psalmist thirsts to be in the presence of the temple, to see the living God, as much as a deer yearns for running streams in psalm 42 (vss 1-2). The psalmist recalls how he led the people in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving (vs 4). One thing he asks of the Lord:
to live in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the Lord,
and to inquire in his temple (Psalm 27:4).
In Old Testament times, as Jewish pilgrims approached Jerusalem, they sang psalms of ascent – generally recognized as psalms 120 to 134 – expressing their delight at coming into God’s presence:
I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the Lord! (Psalm 122:1).
Thus Jerusalem, while maintaining its place as the center of Jewish devotion, embodied the corruption of the time. And that is where Jesus chose to go.
This week, as we enter Jerusalem with Jesus, we know something of the tension between faithful devotion and the effects of living in a broken world. Later in this Holy Week we will read that, after demonstrating to the disciples what loves means by washing their feet and sharing bread and wine with them, Jesus poured out his heart in what is known as the “farewell discourse” (John chapters 14-17). In it he asked God to protect his followers: ”I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one,” he prayed to his Father (17:11,15).
Then he prayed for us: “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me (17:20-21).
What must be said, of course, is that Palm Sunday is not the end. Jerusalem does not only mean death, it also means resurrection.
Christians around the nation will grieve this Easter because we cannot celebrate the glorious day in the company of those we love. Even so, we know the end of the story. We know that evil does not win. We know the darkness of Holy Week, and we know the truth of Easter.
We enter Jerusalem in hope.
Today, read the psalms appointed for Palm Sunday:
For the Liturgy of the Palms:
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
1 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; *
his mercy endures for ever.
2 Let Israel now proclaim, *
“His mercy endures for ever.”
19 Open for me the gates of righteousness; *
I will enter them;
I will offer thanks to the Lord.
20 “This is the gate of the Lord; *
he who is righteous may enter.”
21 I will give thanks to you, for you answered me *
and have become my salvation.
22 The same stone which the builders rejected *
has become the chief cornerstone.
23 This is the Lord’s doing, *
and it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 On this day the Lord has acted; *
we will rejoice and be glad in it.
25 Hosannah, Lord, hosannah! *
Lord, send us now success.
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; *
we bless you from the house of the Lord.
27 God is the Lord; he has shined upon us; *
form a procession with branches up to the horns of the altar.
28 “You are my God, and I will thank you; *
you are my God, and I will exalt you.”
29 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; *
his mercy endures for ever.
For the Liturgy of the Word:
9 Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am in trouble; *
my eye is consumed with sorrow,
and also my throat and my belly.
10 For my life is wasted with grief,
and my years with sighing; *
my strength fails me because of affliction,
and my bones are consumed.
11 I have become a reproach to all my enemies and even to my neighbors,
a dismay to those of my acquaintance; *
when they see me in the street they avoid me.
12 I am forgotten like a dead man, out of mind; *
I am as useless as a broken pot.
13 For I have heard the whispering of the crowd;
fear is all around; *
they put their heads together against me;
they plot to take my life.
14 But as for me, I have trusted in you, O Lord. *
I have said, “You are my God.
15 My times are in your hand; *
rescue me from the hand of my enemies,
and from those who persecute me.
16 Make your face to shine upon your servant, *
and in your loving-kindness save me.”
More for your Holy Week: Some Online resources
The Diocese of West Texas offers four short videos featuring Bishop David Reed as he engages Holy Week in this time of separation from our home churches. The episodes of “Tangible Resurrection” were introduced on Thursday Apr. 2; four additional episodes will be released for Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. To view them, visit the diocesan social media vehicles including the diocesan Facebook page – “Episcopal Diocese of West Texas – Bishop Jones Center.”
The brothers of Society of St. John the Evangelist in Cambridge, Massachusetts, offer nightly Compline with text and audio at https://www.ssje.org/chapel/. They are preparing other resources for Holy Week that will be posted on their site at www.ssje.org.
Trinity Church Wall Street in New York City will live-stream Holy Week and Easter services. The schedule is below. (We presume times are Eastern Daylight Time.)
Sunday, April 5 | Palm Sunday
Palm Sunday Holy Eucharist
Wednesday, April 8
Tenebrae (encore presentation of 2018)
Thursday, April 9
Liturgy of Good Friday
Saturday, April 11
The Great Vigil of Easter
Sunday, April 12
Easter Festive Eucharist
To access the live stream, visit trinitywallstreet.org about 5 minutes prior to the event. At the top of the page under the header, you will see a white banner with the name of the current live broadcast and text that reads, “Watch Live Now.” Alternatively, follow Trinity Church Wall Street on Facebook to watch the services on Facebook live. To watch on-demand after a service has ended, visit trinitywallstreet.org/videos.