Hosanna! Hosanna! We cried, Hosanna!!! As we stumble along the dirt road. Our group of students was making its way down the side of the mount of olives, jerusalem was in front of us, screaming Hosanna as we went! Today was the day we would walk in the steps of Jesus, moving down the mount from the place where he cried having seen Jerusalem- the city of his death, to gethsemane, to the judgement seat, through the Via Dolorosa, to Golgotha and the tomb. The energy was electric as we made our triumphant descent into the kidron valley from the mount of olives. Slowly, however, my eyes opened more widely and saw around us that we were walking between two cemeteries. You see, the kidron valley is lined with jewish and non-jewish tombs, these white dots set against the golden sand for as long as the eye can see. Suddenly I was halted in my walk as I watched a jewish burial take place, the mourners wailing and praying- throwing their whole body into this act, not a bystander among them. Hosannas still ringing in my ear, my heart and soul suddenly moved from “what an amazing experience this is going to be” to “Oh My God, this is life and death. Its real.” This is real. This week is real! Hosanna!
For Mark in this mornings Gospel, it is the details that matter- rather than the interpretations of the details in the larger salvation narrative. Mark is the oldest of our gospels and would be been written down as the community of faith started to grow larger than the oral history of the disciples and their followers. Mark focus’s is on the details of Christ’s death which point us into the real world of betrayal, failing, denial, and darkness that his followers and the wider community lived. And yet, within all of this, we hear how Jesus willingly gave his life- choose to suffer the wounds and betrayals of those who he loved. Mark opens for us a window into our own world, and our own ability to act just like those who betrayed Jesus- because we have, because it’s real.
With lent coming to a quick end, we move from 40 days of silence into seven days of kaos, violence, despair, and crushing darkness, which throws us into hope, love, joy, and surprise. This holiest week of our lives is an assault on our senses and, like the walk down the mount of olives we start with the excitement of a new experience to suddenly be presented with the intimate realness of what this walk is about. There is shock value to walking this road, because when we look and listen closely, we see ourselves in it. We see our capacity to harm others, to hide and protect ourselves, to betray those we love, to focus on our own comfort before the needs of others. Indeed, when Jesus is rejected by his followers before his crucifixion, I often ask myself if I would have a different answer if I were in their shoes, knowing that if I recognized him- I would die alongside him. Yet we can't escape this experience, we have to go through the cross to get to easter, and the Cross is the ultimate symbol of failure. The Romans used it to keep hold of their control over others, and over the centuries since Christ’s death, we as Christians have done the same against our enemies and neighbours, against those who look different from us. Yet God turns the cross from a weapon into a way of life. The story of palm sunday and the passion of Christ is not an experience to witness, but an afronting way to life.
Walking down that mountain and past all those tombs, I became aware of the realness of what it was this day means for us as Christians. The palms and passion of Christ mean a willingness to know that when we scream Hosanna, we are also capable of screaming Crucify Him- and we do! The graves in that valley remain etched in my memory because they represent for me, the deaths to myself, deaths which are unavoidable, that I must make in order to fully walk this holiest of weeks which will take me directly into the pain and mystery of the cross. I must confront the places where I have betrayed, hurt, angered, spat, rejected, and shouted Crucify Him in my own life to those I love. I must challenge the comfort and isolating stability of my own world in order to take up the Cross with Christ as he stumbles along the Via Dolorosa. I must choose to live this week as if it was my own life, rather than just an experience to consume, because at its very centre beats the same heart that is within our own chest- the wounded heart of Jesus. I have to choose to see myself in the people of our Gospel, people who share the same human story as me, the same struggles, challenges, frailties, and abilities. You see, this is not a story about some long ago moment which has saved us from today. Rather, it is a story about you and me. It is a story about you and me and our ability to be scared, to be fearful, to be agents of terror, to be human in an inhuman system, and inhuman in a human existence. It's a story about our life, and the world today needs us to live as though it actually matters, because it does.
The reality that Jesus died for our sins is not something that is in contention in our gospel this morning, it is an assumed reality. Rather it is opening a distinction between the intellectualization of faith and the heart work of faith that really grounds our experience of Holy Week. As a preacher, it would be easy for me to just focus on the story, explain what it means, and wrap it up neatly in a perfect thesis for another year- but this week, this life we live as christians wont allow me to do that. This week is not something we can explain or understand, we can only live it. Faith which is only an intellectual experience drowns the lived experience of people who have doubted, struggled, worked at and died for the moments we hear about in our gospel this morning. An intellectual faith suggests that all the things we believe can be explained or solved which leans no room for Gods creativity or our doubt. It is neat and tidy, and has a clear answer. A lived faith is messy, anxious, questioning, hopeful, traumatic, dirty, smelly, mysterious reality. It leaves us with more questions than answers, and at its heart is the this week. A week when we walk with Jesus next to the disciples down the mountain, betraying Jesus because of our own fear, and seeing ourselves in the story again. None of this is easy, because it is the work of our life, but here are a few of the ways we can continue to see ourselves in this week:
- Read and daily pray with today’s gospel this week. Listen for the people whom you can identify with. What strikes you as interesting or hard about their part in this week. What challenges you. What comforts you. Where do you see yourself in the Passion of Christ. It’s a story about you.
- Ground yourself in the experience of this week. Challenge yourself through prayer to stay close to jesus as he walks the final days of his life. We are called to live this week together, in all of its mystery. Dare to lean into the experience this week in ways that bring you life.
- Practice encounter in the Eucharist. Receiving in the bread and wine the company of Jesus in your Holiest of weeks, brings to life the real lived experience of a week laden with immense mystery and soul nourishing meaning. Notice it’s simple textures, its rich feeling. Be aware of its freedom and open invitation. Jesus comes to us at the altar every week, for us to walk with him in this the holiest week of our lives, come and practice an encounter with the substance of your humanity which will take you through the cross and the tomb, into a freedom of life words can’t describe.
Holy week is not explainable or clean. It is a real and lived experience. Holy Week remains a call for us to conform our lives to the community of the Cross, willingly choosing to walk the way of death within our own daily lives, as Christ did, so that we can mature in our faith and grow into our baptisms throughout our life. Holy week will take the rest of our lives to understand, but the work begins today. As we walk into our own deaths to ego, self, pride, and the humanity of protectionism and isolation, Jesus calls to us from the cross and invites us into community and fellowship of that cross. Today your life, represented in the mystery of this week, has been made for this moment to walk with Jesus into his passion as an active agent of community. Hosanna, indeed! Jesus in the gospel this morning is calling you and I to live into a week which will show us the hardest and most beautiful mystery of our lives- it will show us Jesus. Jesus opens for us a week in which we are conformed to the image of the humbled Christ, who hangs on a cross and reveals for us the way in which we are to live.
Jesus is calling to you and I from the cross to dare to lean into the discomfort of the community of Cross this week because by it's wounds we are shown life. How will you respond?