I’ve been to the Holy Land over a dozen times in the past 20 years – a journey that takes me in
some way in the footsteps of Jesus. Not every place can be pinpointed – in reality I suppose very
few can but there’s a particular poignancy as we travel through Galilee and into Jerusalem –
following the path from Bethany, over and down the Mount of Olives – pausing in the Garden of
Gethsemane before entering the city.
Whenever I make that journey I think of those who made it with Jesus and how like them I can be!
I thought this week about my Lenten Journey starting to come to an end and it made me begin to
wonder again about some of those who travelled that path with Jesus and what it meant to them.
This reflection is intended to lead you through Palm Sunday and through Holy Week (I will write
again for Good Friday) as we walk beside Jesus with some who walked beside him in his own
Take Mary for instance – in some ways, for her, the journey began before she even knew – when
the angel visited her and told her that she was to be the Mother of God – and then the angels
sang to announce his birth – and shepherds gazed in wonder and Wise Men worshipped. I
wonder if Mary FULLY realised what she actually cradled in her arms on that first Christmas
morning? I wonder if she, as countless millions of mothers had done before her and since,
counted the fingers and toes on each tiny hand and foot. And I wonder as she did that whether
she realised that these were the same hands that had created the world – that had flung the stars
into space and that these were the same feet that had walked with angels? And that the voice
that now cried out for her alone was the one that had spoken the world into being.
I wonder how much Mary really knew – I wonder how much Mary really understood – I wonder
what she thought when Simeon told her in the Temple that a sword would pierce her soul. I
wonder how she felt when, at 12 years old he went missing in the temple? When he so impressed
the elders of the temple. I wonder how she felt as she saw him perform miracles; as crowds
gathered around and followed him; as he rejected his family; as his popularity grew; as the
authorities became interested in him; as she stood at the foot of his cross and watched him die. I
wonder how she felt when Jesus spoke to her from the cross “Woman here is your son – son –
here is your mother” The one who had cared for and about him – right to the end – in spite of
everything as he passes her care into the hands of his friend. I wonder if she remembered then
the words of the angel – “don’t be afraid Mary for you have found favour with God.” and if she did
remember – what she felt about God.
I wonder about Peter – impetuous Peter – sometimes seeing it all so clearly – and sometimes just
not getting it. Peter – he gives me such hope for myself! In the beginning he made a decision – he
followed Jesus – it was a risk – what was he doing? We know he had a mother-in-law so
presumably there was a Mrs Peter and there were family responsibilities. I wonder how we’d feel if
the person with whom we shared our life just got up one day and said “Sorry dear – I’ve found
this man who wanders around the countryside telling stories – I’m not going to go to work
anymore – I’m going to follow him around and listen to what he has to say. Peter walks on water –
only an odd step – but goodness me – he gets out of that boat! At Caesarea Philippi Peter
declares Jesus to be the Messiah and in the next breath tries to stop him going to Jerusalem and
hears Jesus say “Get behind me SATAN” – what a terrible thing to call your friend. When, at the
Last Supper, Jesus is explaining to the disciples what is going to happen going on to say
(Matthew 26 vv 31-34) “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: “‘I
will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I have risen, I will
go ahead of you into Galilee.” Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”
“Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the cock crows, you will disown me
three times.” In Jerusalem – on Mount Zion is one of my favourite churches – the church where we
remember the cock crow – how we can criticise Peter for the events of that night! I wonder how
we would have responded? Later that same evening Peter is there in the garden – falling asleep
as Jesus prays fervently that the cup that is to come may be taken away. And so Peter is there as
Jesus is arrested. As I read those words from the gospel – “ALL his disciples forsook him and
fled” I remember Peter – Peter might have fallen short that night but he was there!!
Let’s think about that event – cast your mind back to Jesus in the courtyard of the High Priest’s
house in Jerusalem – Peter is outside the gate. “You were with him” says a voice; “No I wasn’t”
Peter says. It’s cold, it’s evening and he moves closer to the fire to warm himself. Twice more he is
recognised, twice more he denies knowing Jesus – then the cock crows. Yes – he denied Jesus
BUT – he was there! I wonder how often the memory of that cock-crow had repeated itself in his
head, the sound, the sight of the fire as he gazed into the flames to avoid looking at his ‘accuser’;
the smell of the charcoal fire. We do not know exactly how Jesus looked at Peter before the cock
crowed. But we do know that ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow’. His
character is consistent, he can be relied upon to be faithful. So we can say confidently that Jesus
would have looked at him and, even then, loved him, just as he had done with the rich young ruler
whose spirit was willing but, like Peter, whose flesh was weak. No wonder Peter ‘went out and
wept bitterly’ (v.62), for to be looked at with that sort of love – the love that knows you and still
believes in you even though you have condemned that love to death – was a hard and heavy
burden to bear.
And then there is that crowd – the one crowd who had followed Jesus excitedly – expectantly –
why did they do that? Almost 200 years before the first “Palm Sunday” in Jerusalem, a great
military battle was won by a different Judas–Judas Maccabaeus. On December 25, 164 BCE, so
the records tell us – well actually they tell us that it was Decem anti deum pridie septi which
means “in the tenth month (Decem – the year started in March – seven (septi) days before (anti
deum) pridie (the first day of the next month) – which works out as 25th December in the JULIAN
calendar – but that’s enough of THAT diversion! Judas Maccabaeus rode into Jerusalem,
conquered the foreign army occupying Jerusalem, and, in effect, cleansed the Temple – he
rededicated the Temple to the glory and worship of Yahweh, Israel’s God. The people waved
branches from the trees, palm, willow and myrtle. Judas Maccabaeus was such a national hero
that from his time on palm branches became a Jewish symbol. Even after the time of Jesus –
palms appeared as national symbols on the coins struck by the Judaean army during the first and
second revolts against Rome (CE 66-70 and 132-135). Only a King was allowed to ride
ANYTHING into Jerusalem everyone else had to walk. Judas Maccabaeus entered Jerusalem
riding on a horse declaring himself the conquering hero.
Almost 200 years later Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. We tend to think of it as a humble
thing to do – in reality it was rather subversive – remember that only a KING could ride ANYTHING
into Jerusalem. The crowd made the connection – this man Jesus was going to overthrow the
Romans and they re-enacted that earlier event, pulling branches from the trees – hailing Jesus as
a hero. They threw their cloaks into the road and shouted HOSANNAH (which means Lord save
us). Bearing in mind that, although the Jews had been waiting for the Messiah for generations,
Jesus didn’t quite fit what they had come to expect. They didn’t want a saviour for all the nations;
they didn’t want a Messiah who would turn their values upside down – who gave a voice to the
poor and the outcast and fraternised with women and sinners – they wanted a messiah who
would overthrow the Romans, cleanse the Temple and give Jerusalem back to the Children of
Israel. So even Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple was in many ways a symbolic action – not the
cleansing that was expected or wanted – and the authorities didn’t like it.
The Lenten journey begins each year on Ash Wednesday where you might have been marked with
a cross of ash made from burning the palm crosses from last year – a symbol that so often our
good intentions turn to ash in the reality of life as the cries of Hosanna quickly turned to crucify as
the priests and the people realised that Jesus was not the Messiah they wanted. And we know
where it ends – with betrayal, trial, abandonment – even that feeling of desolation as Jesus feels
that even God has abandoned him. I don’t want to get to Good Friday before the day – it’s only
Palm Sunday! But on the evening of this day – as night falls – Jesus thoughts would doubtless
A few words from Brother Roger of Taize to end.
Can you perceive it? Can you discern it?
When your night becomes dark – God’s love is a fire.
Perhaps the fire is under ashes and no longer gives you light.
Perhaps overcome by doubt, you are asking yourself:
‘But where is God? Has God become silent?’
The Spirit of God is always in you – never absent from your life.
The resonance of God’s voice is within you – God offers us somewhere to rest our hearts.
Ruth Parry 6 April 2022