Today, Christians around the world begin the holiest week of the year in which we recall the final days of Jesus’ life, his death, and his Resurrection. This year, it coincides with Ramadan and Passover. The eyes of three great Faiths are fixed on Jerusalem, where these things took place, a city also called Holy, but which is all-too frequently still a place of strife and bloodshed, as these three world religions square off because of deeply held differences regarding how we are to worship the one true God. We are also sadly aware of the violence in Ukraine and other parts of the world, where similar struggles are still murdering the Prince of Peace in the person of his brothers and sisters.
We are perhaps tempted to look away from all this, yet we do so at our peril. The world still languishes in need of healing and redemption. And we often feel the need keenly in our own hearts. If not, we aren’t paying attention.
Today’s procession and ceremonies recall Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, where the last scenes of his earthly life would be played out. It is found in all the gospels.
Details differ, as we might expect, for different communities remembered the events of Jesus’ life differently. Palm fronds and olive branches are not found in every account, nor cries of “Hosanna.” Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us that after entering Jerusalem Jesus goes directly to the Temple, where he finds the market atmosphere abhorrent and drives the money-changers and animal-sellers away. John places that tumultuous scene much earlier. All agree, however, that Jesus came to the Temple where he preached daily, stirring the officials to resentment and eventually to murderous anger and intent. In the meantime, Jesus stayed out of the city at night, returning to Bethany, where according to John he had so recently raised his friend Lazarus from the tomb.
Thus begins the week in which the story of Jesus and our salvation reaches its culmination.
But unless we understand why Jesus chose to suffer and die to accomplish that mission, we are left wondering, like the people around the cross, why it had to come to that, why God let it happen. Why for that matter, any of us have to suffer, especially the innocent…
In the days to come we should remember that how Jesus suffered is less important than why he did. It is sufficient that it happened, that Jesus died in a painful, shameful way, rejected and despised by the leaders of his people, even abandoned by many of his disciples, because as we have heard, in that willing sacrifice he took away the sins of the world. He became the final paschal offering.
For that reason, as the Letter to the Philippians proclaims, God exalted him so highly that his holy name itself is the most revered in any language. But our celebration of the triumph of innocence, truth, and justice awaits the remembrance of the divine drama that precedes it, the story of the redemption of the world. The whole world.
During the coming week, as we follow Jesus in the terrible journey toward Golgotha and the glory of Easter morning, we are first called upon to take up the cross of suffering for him like Simon of Cyrene [Luke 23:26]. That is how we show ourselves worthy to be called “disciples” [Matt 10:38, 16:24].