Welcome to Jerusalem
Welcome to Jerusalem. This is where we begin Holy Week. We open with the story of Jesus riding a colt or a donkey depending on the gospel, into the city, attracting crowds, cheers, and attention. He takes care to add very specific details to this particular trip. He mimics the words of a famous prophet; by doing so he proclaims to the world that he is the promised one and the eyes of Jews and Romans turn to him. In the words of Fred Craddock, “it’s a parade, it's a protest march, but only Jesus knows it is a funeral procession.” Once he arrives at the temple, knowing that he has completed his task, he turns around and heads home.
We know that within days this crowd that cheered his arrival will turn against him.
I want to tell this story from their point of view. So I know the Nazi analogy can be a bit overused, but that is the best example of what it’s like for the citizens of Jerusalem and surrounding areas. It is without exaggeration or hyperbole, like the Nazi occupation of Poland. A big powerful force rolled in, they were unstoppable and anyone who stood in their way disappeared. People were rounded up, homes were seized, and citizens were suddenly without rights. Their country existed in name only. Now, they are scared, traumatized and miserable. But this is their life now, and they’ve gotten used to it. They have a Roman governor who rules on behalf of the emperor.
And if they stay in Rome’s good graces, they can keep their religious practices, temple, and council of scribes and priests and pretend that life as they know it is not completely over, and they are not in danger every single moment.
Because this isn’t a, “we claim this land and you’re all Romans now” invasion. This is a “we claim this land, and this property, and you. You are now a thing, and things belong to us.” Roman guards walk around brutalizing citizens, raping wives, daughters, and mothers, conscripting young men into service temporarily or permanently. And they think the Jewish holiness code is a joke, and it’s hilarious to offend the religious sensibilities of the people they enjoy humiliating.
It’s bad. And here comes Jesus.
Again, sometimes we forget that all during his ministry Jesus has been back and forth to Jerusalem many times. On this most recent trip he’s staying in Bethany during the evenings, which would be like commuting here from Plano. The people have been talking about Jesus. He is a subject of fascination. This man does magic. He heals the sick, he’s even brought people back from the dead. One time when he came to town, he flipped over tables in the temple, throwing money around and calling it “my father’s house.” The man is either the messiah or insane. Truly, maybe he’s the one who came to save them from this evil; to release them from bondage and fear so their children can grow up in a land without war and captivity. You just know they sat around and talked about it.
Maybe this is the guy. Maybe this is the time.
And on that Palm Sunday, Jesus comes in riding on a colt. This man who has attracted so many followers, who speaks as if he knows God directly, who preforms miracles, suddenly appears in the exact way the prophet Zechariah predicted. Marching triumphantly into Jerusalem.
Who would be dumb enough to do that if this wasn’t the start of a revolution?!? It’s go time. Finally. God has sent his magic messenger to deliver us from violence and occupation!
So they weep tears of joy. It’s finally happening! They scatter palm branches on the ground to give Jesus a carpet. They throw their cloaks in front of him. They wave and celebrate and march behind them, thinking that today freedom has come to Jerusalem. God is with them once again.
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. And it takes a long time, the group moves slowly, gathering steam and interest, growing larger and larger, heading to the center of town.
Welcome to Jerusalem messiah and Savior! Look out Rome, the chosen one is here now and HE IS OUR KING!”
And Jesus gets to the temple, looks around... and goes back to Bethany.
He does not wave his hands and force the governor’s palace to rubble. He doesn’t bring lightening from the sky to strike down the centurions. He does not will the villains in this story to die with the same power he uses to bring life to the dead. He leaves.
The Bible doesn’t tell us how the people felt, but I imagine you could almost hear the sound of a thousand hearts breaking at once.
We’re not rescued. We’re not redeemed. God isn’t coming after all.
And now they’re worse off than they were before because you know the Romans aren’t letting this action go unanswered. Maybe they’ll lose more rights. There will be more beatings, rapes, murders, more acts of domination to show them their place, to punish them for even entertaining the thought of rebellion.
For years they had prayed for their Messiah, a general leading them into battle against evil. A general blessed by God. A general who would fight for their freedom.
That is so not who came into Jerusalem that day.
And they are disappointed, crushed, betrayed.
The lamb of God was not who they wanted.
And we know the rest of the story – that Jesus in a twist of fate had come to save them in ways they could not comprehend. Came to save every person who had ever and would ever live. Came to free all of humanity from sin.
But they didn’t know that. And I think their feelings are pretty valid. It makes sense to me that when Pilate later offers the crowd Jesus’ release that they call for another – the Robin Hood bandit figure Barabbas, who at least did SOMETHING to tick off the Romans.
I see where they are standing.
In fact, I think most of us have been there. Whether it was your angry, youthful atheist fist shaking at the sky, or through tears as you said goodbye to a loved one on their deathbed. Maybe it would be the after-that-thing-that-changed-your-life-forever that you'll never get over. I’d say a large percentage of the population has experienced a moment where they felt betrayed, abandoned, and let down by God.
I’ll be the first to admit it. The lamb of God is not the Jesus I want. I want the same General Jesus the people of Jerusalem thought they were cheering for, because I’m done with the world as it is right now.
I’m sick of vibrant people who make me smile turning into weak cancer patients sometimes within months. I’m sick of people yelling at each other on TV, the Internet, and even face to face. I’m sick of reading about protocols for active shooter drills for preschoolers. I’m sick of people treating human life like it’s gum on the bottom of their shoes, and all of creation like a junkyard. I’m sick of attending funerals. I’m sick of that ball of terror that seems to permanently reside in my stomach.
And what I want, more than anything, is Jesus waving hands, melting weapons, destroying oppression, lifting up the lowly, dripping miracles from his fingertips.
What are YOU done with? Which feelings of hurt and betrayal do you need healed? Because we do get healer Jesus. We certainly got love your neighbor and yourself Jesus. We do get a messiah who cares and meets us exactly where we are, even when "where we are" is a whole lot of anger.
This entire Lenten season we’ve been doing these rituals of healing and wholeness – inviting people to find coping mechanisms for the conflicts or tragedies that are breaking their hearts, to turn anger into something helpful. This includes conflicts with Jesus and broken hearts because your relationship with God is not what you want it to be, and anger that your prayers have not been answered in the way you wanted.
All of that is okay. It really is. I know it feels counter intuitive to hear this message in church, but you really are allowed to have an honest and open relationship with Christ. It is almost incomprehensible that our Savior seeks such an authentic, intimate, relationship with us, that we can bring such feelings before our Christ. But that, strangely enough, is the privilege we have been given. He knows your heart and invites you to share it with him no matter how you are feeling.
He wants to have that conversation with you. Jesus can take it: your anger, betrayal, fury. It can’t defeat Jesus. We know how this next week is going to go. We know what our God is capable of.
To this crowd, I say: "Welcome to Jerusalem, North Park Presbyterian Church." Experience this week in the way that suits your needs, for your healing. If you need to sit at Christ’s table and be fed, or make a desperate plea in the garden of Gethsemane on Maundy Thursday with him, do that. If you need to shout “Crucify Him!” on Friday or weep at the injustice of the cross, you’re welcome to. And on Sunday you can keep vigil for the sunrise or return to a new world of celebration and splendor. Just encounter him in some way this week. We’ve cheered him into our town, and it is the least we can do for the one who has come to save us.
Welcome to Jerusalem. The holiest time is here.
Rev. Kelly Staples is Associate Pastor and Director of Youth Ministries for NorthPark Presbyterian. She grew up a member of First Presbyterian Church of Shreveport, received her Bachelor's degree from Middle Tennessee State University, and earned her Masters of Divinity from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.