In the normal course of a Sunday liturgy, we encounter our faith and our relationship with God in multiple ways. We use our minds and the senses of sight and hearing as we listen to God’s word as it is found in Scripture. We enter into the ritual of our service. In so doing, we connect to the words of Jesus and the words of countless Christians over the centuries. And we use our sense of taste when we join as a community in the Eucharist, a meal of bread and wine, sharing in the Body and Blood of Christ. As we begin the busiest and most important week of the church year, we can expand our connection to God by using the additional sense of touch. We also have the opportunity to become emotionally connected with what Jesus experienced during Holy Week. I think this happens differently than at any other time of the church year.
We began on this day with the procession of palms. As we carry the palms and process around the parking lot, we seek to recreate in a small way what the people experienced on that day. We add our voices to all of those who praised Jesus as the true Messiah, our Savior. The emotion is one of great joy. Hosanna to God in the highest we proclaim. This week will also end in great joy as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and excitement of Easter. But in between those two places of great joy we have sorry and suffering as we share the story of the terrible crucifixion of Jesus. It is as if we are on a roller coater, which has the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. I would suggest that we try to place ourselves in these stories. Imagine how it would have felt if we were one of the disciples. Can you allow yourself to feel the confusion and the fear of what would happen to Jesus and to yourself if you were there? I believe they also felt the terrible loss from the death of Jesus. And on Easter, they must have had questions about whether what they heard was real. Then they finally shared the amazement and joy when they saw Christ once more. Let’s give into our senses and emotions as we live this Holy Week.
Our gospel readings are from Mark. It is the shortest and I would say the most straightforward of all of the gospels. The largest portion of the gospel tells the story of the last week, focusing on the death and resurrection of Jesus. Just today, we read 20% of the entire gospel. It is often said that Mark’s Gospel is a Passion narrative with a very long introduction. Many times prior, Mark prepared us for that last week such as the times when Jesus foreshadowed his death and resurrection. Mark has some twists as well. You may remember that every time Jesus performed a miracle in Mark’s gospel, he would tell folks to keep quiet about it. Tell no one he said. Now we switch from the idea of keeping the miracles of Jesus quiet to a magnificent, processional entrance into Jerusalem. Suddenly Jesus is surrounded by people who are cheering him on as the messiah.
We had some interesting discussions on Wednesday after we had read the Palm Sunday story. How could the disciples go to a place where a donkey or colt was hitched and just take it? And when they were confronted by some bystanders they just said, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately and they were allowed to take it. One writer suggested that the use of the donkey had been preplanned, that when the disciples said the Lord needs it those words were a secret code about what was to happen. I usually think about the procession with the palms as something that happened on the fly but it may have been planned for some time. Maybe they were allowed to take the donkey because they were in Bethany, the place of Lazarus. Bethany may have been a stronghold of faith in Jesus. Another idea is that the fame of Jesus spread dramatically after he raised Lazarus from the dead and perhaps when someone heard that Jesus wanted a donkey, they were quite willing to allow it.
Another discussion had to do with the palms. Processions with palms were part of another Jewish feast called the Feast of Tabernacles which was held in the fall so perhaps the palms were a connection to people of the glory of God. Of course, palms and tree branches as well as cloaks were strewn on the ground in front of Jesus as he rode the donkey. All of these are signs of honor for a king.
And then there is the donkey. Using a donkey that had never been ridden before was a sign of honor for Jesus. It also connected him to King David who rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. In my daughter’s church in Flagstaff, they will have a donkey present during their procession of recreating, another way to touch, feel and smell what happened as Jesus entered the great city.
The emotions we experience continue throughout the week and they are often accompanied by ways that we use our sense of touch as well. On Maundy Thursday, we will have the washing of the feet. For those who wash the feet, it recreates the washing of the feet that was done by Jesus for the apostles. Jesus demonstrated that we are to be servants of others. If you have your feet washed, it requires you to humble yourself to allow someone else to do this kind of thing for you. Peter actually refused when it was first suggested by Jesus. But Jesus told him that was required. Serving others and allowing others to serve you is part of our Christian life. We learn in the recreating and in the doing.
The same thing is true of Good Friday. Someone will carry the cross into the church. As we do so, it is another opportunity to touch and to feel the emotions of fear and suffering that Jesus experienced for us. Perhaps we might even have the same sense of abandonment that Jesus must have felt, being left by his followers, knowing that this is what God the Father asked of him and wishing that it could be different.
One way for us to understand the fullness of the crucifixion of Jesus is to realize that through his death and resurrection he can relate to the deaths that we experience. It is a time to remember those that have died and left us. As we reflect on the loss that we have at the death of Jesus, the sadness and the despair, we also know that Jesus joins us in the times of our sadness and despair. But the crucifixion is not the end of the story. The cross of Calvary is connected to the resurrection of Easter. We do not just remember the death of Jesus, we know the joy of the resurrection. When we remember the loss of our loved ones, we should also celebrate the joy of life after death for them, our hope of everlasting life.
The crucifixion is intertwined so closely with the resurrection and the Easter joy that comes with it. We cannot come to Easter without having gone through the death on Calvary. We do all of this to connect to the things that happened when Jesus, the Son of God, came to earth. We recreate something that happened in the past, the reality of Jesus and his disciples going through the week that changed our lives. But it is not just about the past. It is also about the present. It is about the way that Jesus comes into our lives today, for I believe that he joins us on all of our individual emotional journeys. Jesus is with us in our suffering and sadness as well as in our joy. This week is also about the future. For Christians believe that Jesus died and rose again. He promised that he would go and make a place for us. We prepare ourselves for the future this week.
I invite you this day and this week to consider how Jesus changed your life, not just by using your mind, the words you say or the things you hear. Let’s allow our other senses to be a part of this week as well, the sense of touch in particular, to feel the things that Jesus and his disciples did. And I invite you to open your hearts to the emotions of this week. Allow the feelings of sorrow and joy to enter you. Perhaps the highs and lows you experience will be more meaningful. For me, it increases my thankfulness for all that Jesus did for us. Amen.