Mark 11:1-11

We’re back with Mark’s story this week. Back to the brief descriptions and the urgency of the story. Back to the tension between the kingdom of God and the Empire where all the powers gather in opposition.

It all seems to be going well.

A crowd is travelling with Jesus towards Jerusalem. There’s a sense of anticipation… that feeling you get as you walk towards a stadium for a final or a gig. Remember those days?

The excitement as the fans mill around outside.
The clicking of the turnstiles and the echo of songs.
That first view of the pitch as you emerge from the stairs.
The colours of the opposing fans.
The sounds as the buzz of the crowd is interrupted as the drums beat and songs start.
Even the smells stick with you. Cup finals smell of the smoke from flares mixed with the beefy aroma of bovril.

It’s in those moments that hope lives.
All those possibilities yet to be realised… or to be dashed.
Of course if you’re an Accies fan you will have no idea what I’m talking about… but take my word for it… that’s what it’s like.

As the crowd come towards the last village before the city Jesus sends a couple of his follower to borrow a donkey. When they just walk up and take it the local neighbourhood watch ask what they are doing! ‘It’s for Jesus’. ‘Oh, ok then.’

That always makes me laugh. Two guys basically car-jacking a donkey, but because it’s for Jesus that’s ok. But that tells us something, doesn’t it? That people know who Jesus is. He’s been here before. His friends Martha and Mary and Lazarus live around here in Bethany. People know him and they know his reputation.

It’s the lead up to Passover so all kinds of people would be travelling to Jerusalem for the festival. People would mostly be walking but the occasional wealthy or important people would be there on the road with their horses or camels and their entourage.

One of them would be the Roman Governor, Pilate. Pilate had a palace in Jerusalem but that’s not where he lived. He spent his time in Caesaria-Maratima by the coast where the weather was more bearable and there was space. He was only in the city because the Passover was a celebration of a time when a bunch of slaves escaped their oppressors. As the latest in a long line of oppressors, the Roman governor knew that Passover was always going to be a time when tensions ran high and revolution was in the air.

He would ride in, as the Empire always does, in a procession that was really a show of force. Horses, armour and lots and lots of soldiers. People would be forced to move aside, held back by swords and spears as the Emperor’s representative looked down on his subjects as they stood in silence, fearful of punishment.

In complete contrast, at the other side of the city here comes Jesus… on a colt. It’s not even a full sized donkey! The people are singing joyfully!

‘Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!  Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

A while back we heard Jesus ask his disciples, ‘Who do the people say I am?’. They thought maybe Moses, Elijah or John the Baptist. It’s Peter who blurts out that he is the Messiah. And Jesus tells him to be quite. Not to tell anyone. And that seems really strange, because he is the Messiah, so why not tell everyone?

This is why. Not the Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord bit. That’s fine. The David’s new kingdom stuff though… that’s a problem. The Messiah was supposed to restore the line of King David and free the people from oppression. The Messiah would be a warrior who would lead the revolution.

But the people aren’t tooled up for a fight. They are waving branches.
Maybe they have actually understood Jesus?
Maybe they finally get it?
Maybe they have realised that violence just leads to more violence?

So, for now at least, it’s all good! Hosannas and palm branches and smiling faces.

But the parade stops at the city walls.

Everyone knows that for a revolution to work you have to control the capital. You have to be in charge of the significant buildings. But the crowd don’t get beyond the gates.

Perhaps Peter would reflect on these strange events later…

The city was busy.
Teeming with Passover revellers.
Why did they all feel the need
to come and welcome Jesus?

We were hoping, for once, to keep a low profile.

Tired of attracting big crowds wherever we went with Jesus
we thought, at least, we’d have a quiet Passover

Thought everyone would be too busy
with their own family preparations
to take notice of ours.

And it was also time that
Jesus got out of the limelight.

We could tell the authorities didn’t like it.
They were getting really antsy

It wasn’t just Jesus
though he kept attracting unwelcome attention
but, all the people, it seemed
were getting pretty feisty
and the authorities were getting nervous,
clamping down on the most minor infractions.

Definitely NOT the time to be processing into the city
even on a donkey!

It was only a matter of time
before a ban would be imposed
on public gatherings
and demonstrations
the kind that had been breaking out everywhere recently.

So we’d hoped to enter the city quietly
to keep below the radar.

But, before we got anywhere near,
we could hear the shouts of the crowd
not angry, insurrectionist shouts
but the shouts of revellers
out for a picnic.

Maybe they were hoping for more miracles
a healing or two
or to be fed some more of those amazing stories
Jesus seemed to
make up as he went along.

Whatever they came looking for
they were not disappointed

There was Jesus
seemingly innocuous
riding on a donkey
but the people saw it
as something different altogether.

They always seemed to read into everything Jesus did,
Saw mockery, even subversion
to the political era of oppression.

Why was it Jesus they flocked to?
Why turn their attention on him?

Surely that day, the people signed his death warrant
as surely as if they had shouted
Crucify him!

When Jesus entered Jerusalem he went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

That’s a strange end to a strange day. But the looking around Jesus does in the temple isn’t a bit of sight-seeing. It’s the kind of looking around where someone stands in the middle of the room and glares their way around meeting every single pair of eyes… Staring out everyone who has been whispering and plotting and planning to get him. It’s the kind of looking that is more of a challenge…

What? Do you have something to say? I didn’t think so…. But I’ll be back soon…

The scene is set.
The events of this darkest of weeks have been put in motion
and there is nothing that can stop them now…

Something has changed in the air
There is some noise lacking
A city scape of sound:
people living,
stalls selling,
children calling,
deals being done.
But in the noise,
silence has broken out.

It’s like something in the city is holding its breath
like the heartbeat at the centre
pausing for a moment,
That was in the silence before,
when the heartbeat paused,
something has just changed…

Without this week, this journey from light into darkness and back into light, our faith means nothing. There can be no resurrection if there is no crucifixion. There is no eternal life if God’s son does not die. There can be no forgiveness if there is no wrong done.

This is Holy Week… and it is everything.

They meet in an upper room before Passover and Jesus starts getting all strange.
He washes the disciple’s feet.
An astonishing act of humility.

Without this moment
there is no gospel.
Without this moment
there is nothing to say
about anything that can be believed.
No doctrine can do this.
No creed makes this happen.
This is gospel:
to love one another,
and there is nothing more to be said…
So keep quiet all you scholars of tradition,
you have nothing to say this Holy Week.
Keep silent you writers of doctrine,
none of your ideas are important.
None of you can say this so clearly:
Love One Another.
Only this,
and this alone,
makes sense this week.

Words hold power only because they describe an idea.

Symbols are something else…
bread, His broken body,
and wine, his new promise.

And then there’s Judas…
he slips out,
sent by Jesus to do what has to be done.

Out in the garden Jesus prays.
He prays so hard that he sweats blood.
Take it away.
Please God, not me.
But I’ll do what you want me to.
Your will be done.

Judas returns with the temple guards.
There is a fight and a healing
and suddenly Jesus is alone with the guards.

All his disciples have deserted him.

Jesus has been here
and gone
the echo of betrayal
still lingers
the darkness seems
a little darker here

there is a gap in the darkness
where the son of light once prayed.
a crease in the air,
like a warped lens
through which we can see
what fear has done
and ghosts of the past
have come to shape our present.

the kiss has been given
and still the ripples distort the scene
where the son of humanity has been betrayed

this may be the first
but it is not the last

the path is now certain
the powers that be have chosen their way
chosen how to complete this story
and Jesus has been stolen from us

yet my friends,
with all that you can believe,
conspire with the light
torn from us now
yet crumpled somewhere
ready to rise again.
conspire to believe
that this turning of events
is not the way love intends to leave things…

The trial is a joke.
Even Pilate can’t see what Jesus has done but the religious people convince him that Jesus is trouble so they hand him over to the Roman soldiers who whip him and put a crown of thorns on his head and a purple robe on his back.

King of the Jews.

And they lead him to Skull Hill and they nail him to a cross and leave him there to die.

It’s almost Sabbath by the time Jesus yells ‘It is finished’.
Hope has gone.
There will be no miracle on Friday.
Just despair
and pain
and grief.

there is a hole now in faith
and the colour seeps from the image
even the sky slides towards monochrome
bird song moves from stereo to tin
and eventually fades altogether

the colour is silent
the sound abandoned

and over this empty background
one phrase is enough
to fill those thousand years
with piercing clarity
lama sabachthani

and empties the memory
of what greying colour there still is
when all light is gone
and the darkness is complete
not even shape is left
just a hole

this is faith

it is finished.

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