We just compressed most of a week into about a half hour. We went from Sunday, through Thursday night and into Friday afternoon. That’s time travel.
There are two reasons for this. The first is that the lectionary writers believed that most Christians will not attend the Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services. So they put three services, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday into one service on Palm Sunday. When the lectionaries were written in the 1960s, they already knew about people’s attendance habits.
On Palm Sunday you get to experience Jesus’ last days even if you choose to not be here or you are unable to be here or in another church. The lectionary writers thought that these events are way too important to let them slide to weekday services alone. After all, these events are the core part of the salvation for the whole world. That’s pretty important.
What we do, liturgically this week, is to walk with Jesus as Jesus’ disciples. We are Jesus’ disciples, are we not? What we are doing is basically the same thing that Christians do in Jerusalem during Holy Week and have done so for centuries and centuries. Only in Jerusalem they walk in the very same places that Jesus and his disciples walked.
We carried palms and welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem. By doing this, we were acknowledging Jesus as king and we were pledging our allegiance to him. There’s a lot of commitment to just simply carrying a palm branch. The Parish Hall was the Mount of Olives. From there we can see over Jerusalem’s walls and see the temple. Jesus rides a donkey, in royal triumph, into the city. We shouted Hosanna, an Aramaic word that means, “save us.”
In the next two days, Jesus overturns tables at the temple courtyard and will have verbal sparring matches with the religious authorities. The religious authorities are threatened by Jesus and look for ways to eliminate him. But they fear Jesus’ popularity with the people. So, they engage in negative political ads against Jesus.
Then on Wednesday, the authorities have a gift drop in their laps. Judas Iscariot offers to lead them to Jesus at a safe time and place for their soldiers.
On Thursday, Jesus knows his time is short. He has another meal with his disciples. He asks for a special room to have the meal. It’s located south of the city walls. It’s a big room. Presumably, Jesus wants a lot of people there. It goes just like any other meal, with two big exceptions. In the first, Jesus washes the disciple’s feet – an act of a slave. And the second when he blesses the bread and wine, he does something remarkable and very unusual. He says that the bread is not just bread. It’s his body. And the wine is not just wine. It’s his blood. And he orders his friends and followers to repeat this in his memory. It is Jesus’ physical self-eulogy.
Jesus and his crew leave for the Mount of Olives. Jesus prays. Judas leads the soldiers to arrest Jesus. Jesus withstands an ecclesiastical trial.
Early Friday morning, he is then turned over to the Roman government. The governor has a special palace not far from the temple. Jesus is tried outside, because the religious authorities would become unclean if they went inside this gentile palace.
He is tried as a traitor and as a rebel against the Roman state. It seems that the crowd that once celebrated his triumphal entry into the city now yell, even scream, for his execution. A lot of people have speculated as to why this happened and we have some rich theories. But we will likely never know why nor what happened in that courtyard on that Friday morning. He is sentenced to die via the one form of execution reserved only for those engaged in insurrection – crucifixion.
Jesus is led to a place just outside the city walls to be crucified. The place was on a hill so that the people inside the city could see over the city walls the condemned hanging there. Rome wants everyone to know what fate becomes of anyone thinking that they have the power to overturn the Roman state. Independence is not an option. Jesus came into Jerusalem in triumph as king. Now Jesus ascends on his throne, the cross.
If Jesus was treated like any other prisoner in his position, he was savagely beaten first by the temple soldiers and then by the Roman soldiers. Some prisoners never survived the pre-crucifixion flogging. Jesus and two others did. And they died on their crosses.
The sign above Jesus’ head was ordered there by the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. It was Jesus’ indictment – “King of the Jews,” in three languages, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. Jesus is buried in the style of the time, in a small cave, either natural or dug out, with a rock rolled in front. It was done hurriedly, because the Passover and the Sabbath were to begin at sundown.
This is our Holy Week walk. This is our pilgrimage to Jerusalem during Holy Week without being in Jerusalem.
This week is meant to be experiential. It is meant to visceral. We are to get out of our heads and to really be with Jesus. This was difficult for Jesus and he wanted his friends there. But they abandoned him. It was a few women who were faithful. This is the one time of the year when we are to be there for Jesus and not Jesus being there for us. What can you do for Jesus?
Text: Mark 14:1–15:47