When Jesus and his disciples had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, "Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, `The Lord needs them.' And he will send them immediately." This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,
"Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey."
The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
"Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!"
When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, "Who is this?" The crowds were saying, "This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee." (Matthew 21:1-11)
Malcolm Guite is a Christian poet. He serves as chaplain of Girton College in Cambridge. He writes beautiful books of poetry, and his elegant words are the thoughts a yearning spirit needs as fuel for prayer and reflectional
As we prepare to enter into the mysteries of Holy Week, his sonnet Jesus Weeps speaks to where we find ourselves today.
Jesus comes near and he beholds the city
And looks on us with tears in his eyes,
And wells of mercy, streams of love and pity
Flow from the fountain whence all things arise.
He loved us into life and longs to gather
And meet with his beloved face to face.
How often has he called, a careful mother,
And wept for our refusals of his grace,
Wept for a world that, weary with its weeping,
Benumbed and stumbling, turns the other way;
Fatigued compassion is already sleeping
Whilst her worst nightmares stalk the light of day.
But we might waken yet, and face those fears,
If we could see ourselves through Jesus’ tears.
Palm Sunday is a strange service. We begin with a parade, with partying and triumph and celebration, welcoming Jesus into the city, into the midst of the people. But, for us on the street corners, there is a huge disconnect. The reason we are celebrating is not the reason Jesus comes to town. We celebrate the arrival of love and hope and promises fulfilled. Jesus, with his face toward Jerusalem, rides on the back of a donkey to the center of town to accept the reality of his upcoming death and, in the week ahead, asks us to do the same.
Perhaps Jesus’ view is better than ours, but as we wave our palms in the air, Jesus points out that death surrounds us. As we look around the block, standing on the side of the road, on the streets of the city, at everything that is going on, it is hard not to weep. There is a lot to cry about.
Another school shooting in Nashville is all over the news. Children and educators are once again made victims, lost to gun violence. Thoughts and prayers are offered, but they seem meaningless because prayers are only answered through action, which leads to different results. It takes both God and us to answer prayers. And when we pray to God for something, many of us expect something to happen, for something to change, for the world to take a turn toward the way God intends for the world to be. And when it doesn’t, many lose faith. The prayers about our children and those who help prepare them for tomorrow remain unanswered. And Jesus weeps as he arrives in the city.
War continues in Ukraine. An invasion by a foreign aggressor into a peaceful nation has been the thing of headlines for over a year. Who thought I could ever become numb at the sight of another bombed-out, devastated city? But when we are exposed to death, over and over and over again, we forget about death’s power. Mass graves are dug. Apartment houses are struck and crumble and burn to the ground. Mothers cry for their children. Grandfathers are lost to gunfire. Tanks flatten parks and playgrounds. A president aches for his people. And just the other day, as South Korea tested nuclear weapons, Russia suspended its last arms treaty. And Jesus weeps as he arrives in the city.
Putin meets with Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. Tsai Ing-wen, president of Taiwan, comes to North America and will meet with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. China objects to Tsai Ing-wen’s visit and is very unhappy with the hospitality extended to Taiwan’s president. Tsai is unmoved, sharing with reporters, “External pressure will not hinder our determination to go to the world. We are calm and confident that we will neither yield nor provoke.” And Jesus weeps as he arrives in the city.
As the storms passed through our area the other night, we stayed tuned to the television in case we had to seek shelter. Humankind’s impact on the planet is proven by science, yet elected officials ignore the data and the cries of our children for a healthy planet. Through our inaction regarding gun violence, we have already revealed that the lives of our children do not matter unless they are still in the womb. Wind gusts exceeding 70 miles per hour, and tornados hopping across the plains and townships, leaving death and destruction in their wake, become increasingly the norm, we continue to ignore the cries of nature bombarding us. And Jesus weeps as he arrives in the city.
Jerusalem erupts. On the streets, people protest and chant, “the country is on fire!” Netanyahu’s controversial reforms to the country’s judicial system haven’t fallen on deaf ears. The people are mad and demand that draft legislation stripping power from the Supreme Court be withdrawn. Universities close. Flights are diverted. Workers strike. Life, as the city knows it, comes to a halt. And Jesus weeps as he arrives in the city.
Ezekiel, my favorite manic-depressive prophet, the prophet God found in the middle of a valley of dry bones, is commanded by God to, “Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.” People of faith must follow Jesus into the city and see and do something about the death that is happening there.
Jesus knows as he brings his friends into Jerusalem for Passover that he will be facing his own death, and Jesus weeps because of the amount of death that surrounds him, which seems to be the norm, which seems to be acceptable. Jesus laments, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, 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! See, your house is left to you, desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’” (Matthew 23:37-24:2)
The march into Jerusalem, the parade led by Jesus on Palm Sunday, is a march into death. But, we march with confidence because, as people of faith, we know God’s hope for us. Will the parade end when Jesus is put to death, or will we respond to Christ’s call to become his people, his hands, his feet, his heart in the world?
As followers of Christ, we pray for the strength to follow him into death, knowing that he goes ahead of us to prepare the way. As members of the Church, we worship together to discover how to step into the center of the dead and dying and bring the light of God’s resurrection hope. These may not be the truths that we are looking for today. It certainly was not what the friends and followers of Jesus were looking for when they marched into Jerusalem nearly 2000 years ago. But we follow in their footsteps. We break bread and drink wine to remember Jesus. We wash feet and have our feet washed to learn to serve like Jesus. We move through the darkness into the Garden of Gethsemane, contemplating suffering and sufferings casting shadows of doubt throughout the journey of faith in hopes of moving beyond “thoughts and prayers” into action. We stand at the foot of the cross listening to Jesus pray, “Father, forgive them,” to learn how to forgive. We stand among the dead and gather around the paschal fire, hearing stories of God’s mighty saving acts in the midst of death in hopes of proclaiming loudly and boldly God’s resurrection promises, echoing Paul, who proclaims that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)
May we remember all of this, may our faith increase, may our love for God and for each other sustain us, as we enter the gates of Jerusalem, as we participate together in the story of Jesus’s final days there in that holy city.
Malcolm Guite writes this in his poem titled Palm Sunday:
Now to the gate of my Jerusalem,
The seething holy city of my heart,
The Saviour comes. But will I welcome him?
Oh crowds of easy feelings make a start;
They raise their hands, get caught up in the singing,
And think the battle won. Too soon they’ll find
The challenge, the reversal he is bringing
Changes their tune. I know what lies behind
The surface flourish that so quickly fades;
Self-interest, and fearful guardedness,
The hardness of the heart, its barricades,
And at the core, the dreadful emptiness
Of a perverted temple. Jesus, come
Break my resistance and make me your home.
Guite, Malcolm. Sounding the Seasons: 70 Sonnets for the Christian Year. Canterbury Press Norwich. Kindle Edition. (Location 931 of 1813)
Guite, Malcolm. Sounding the Seasons: 70 Sonnets for the Christian Year . Canterbury Press Norwich. Kindle Edition. (Location 931 of 1813)
Thank you, Kevin. You certainly see Christ with us in our city and invite us to follow Christ.