Photo Credit: Mary Ann Flannery, SC
Holy Week is here for Christians, and Passover begins on Wednesday. Ramadan had begun last March 22. Having been in the Holy Land last September, I can only imagine the teems of people going to the holy sites of their faiths. I took the picture above at the entrance of the place leading to Golgotha, the hill on which Jesus was crucified. The doors are many centuries old and are opened and closed daily by a Muslim man whose family has guarded the entrance for centuries.
Entrances speak to us this week. The entrance of Jesus to Jerusalem, while celebrational, is foreboding. With hindsight we know this but if we had been in the crowd that morning, we would not have been aware of the nefarious plans being made by authorities to end Jesus’s life. After all, he claims to forgive sins, he heals, he raises people from the dead—how much more trouble can he cause? In their righteousness, they must condemn him mostly for forgiving sins, something only God can do they claim. But the simple believers in Jesus were enthusiastic about his coming into Jerusalem, the Holy City. Some theologians suggest that the palms used to greet him in dance and joy had been carried into the city for the Passover observances because there are no palm trees in Jerusalem. One can imagine the excitement of gathering the palms, grabbing them from shops and vendors while running ahead of Jesus on the donkey to welcome him. These believers have a very simple faith; Jesus is more like a hero, and they think he will be an earthly king. The fact that he chooses to ride on a donkey and not a horse signals he is not a warrior king.
If you were part of the crowd that day, in what frame of mind would you go home? I’m guessing you would be delighted. He has come home to us! He is ours! He will lead us! There will be no more suffering, no blindness, no lameness, no unfair accusations, no unfair taxes. He is ours. He is the king! The Messiah. We would be relieved.
Later in the day, the people, the hopeful followers, succumb to the shadows of the week’s celebrations. Rumors fly the next few days about a coming trial. This Jesus, this would-be king is in great trouble with the chief priests and the Roman officials. Now, the people are in fear and so they hide. They hide from both the high priests and the Romans who are threatening their only hope. I picture a mother preparing the Passover meal mildly agitated because she had been there on that day, Palm Sunday, so when her son asks at the table what has happened to Jesus, the man who said he would save us, she says, “Oh let us see. I have faith in him.” But in a few hours, she recedes deeper into the lingering night of her village because he has been condemned and she has heard about it through a neighbor. She is perplexed. And so are hundreds more.
The doors in the above picture invite us to enter the last days of Lent perhaps with a reflective attitude. Each of the next few days will reinforce the foundation of our faith in preparation for Easter, the summit of the Christian life. George Herbert was an Anglican poet/priest of the seventeenth century, one of the ‘metaphysical poets,’ whose writing is deeply inspirational. He wrestled mightily with the meaning of Holy Week, especially the passion of Christ as reflected in this one line:
“I have considered it, and find
There is no dealing with thy mighty passion.”
The other picture above of the pathway is another entrance in one of the stories of this coming Holy Week; it is the entrance to the praetorium where Jesus will be questioned and where Peter will deny him. Tourists are no longer allowed to walk on this path as the original stones from Jesus’s time have been excavated and are now visible as seen in the photo. We have gone from the entrance to the city, to the entrance of the praetorium, and eventually will go to the entrance of Calvary.
Sometimes we consider the Palm Sunday crowd a fickle group given to hero-worship and rootless praise. But we have to remember that these are simple people yearning for a ‘ruler.’ It is true that many were Jewish cognoscenti, meaning they were aware of the possibility of a Messiah in the religious sense and this Jesus might be the One. But the second crowd, the one gathering around the praetorium, is made largely of Roman militia, Pharisees and Sadducees, the latter being the more powerful members of the Sanhedrin. It is they who were more fearful of this Jesus; it is they whose hardened hearts could not see the hope he was giving the simple people.
In the praetorium, the Romans and Sadducees and some Pharisees want to rid the people of this would-be ruler as theologian Edward Schillebeeckx points out with the Romans taking the lead in carrying out a crucifixion, their preferred method of execution.
This week, take more time each day to read the passion and to meditate on it. Write down the questions you have about it and discuss them with others. Each time you do this, you are going through another door, passing through another entrance, drawing closer to the Source of your faith who awaits you on Easter. Your faith is thus growing. I would like to offer a beautiful thought from the writing of Hans Kung:“In this terrible, shameful death does one see, like the mockers, the death of a misguided, broken-down enthusiast who cries in vain for Elijah to save him? Or, like the Roman centurion—the first pagan to bear witness to him—the death of the Son of God?” (On Being a Christian. p. 334
Thank you Mary Ann for those beautiful words. I am now on my way to Mass. God be with you.
Thank you for a Post that brings in the season – resurrection🌿