“Were You There?”

21 When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” 4 This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,

5 “Tell the daughter of Zion,

Look, your king is coming to you,

humble, and mounted on a donkey,

and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7 they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

10 When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” 11 The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

I can’t help but think about what this week was going to be. Today we were going to be waving palm branches and shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna!” Then we were going to start the week of Breakfast in Fort Morgan. A new church each day, new ways to create egg and cheese somethings. More fruit than you can shake a fork at and ward off scurvy for years to come. Weak coffee made in giant urns that looks like coffee smells like coffee and tastes like what smelly socks are.

Thursday night gathering in Brush at Rankin sharing a pot-luck meal and then the Last Supper. Remembering the bread and the cup are symbols of the body and blood of Christ shed for the forgiveness of our sins. Then Good Friday starts early with a break from eggs at UPC and Wayne’s fluffy pancakes. Then the FM community service at noon with the seven last words of Christ and sloppy Joes of course. Culminating back in Brush at the Methodist church with readings and hymns and relieved that I am not required to eat.

I will probably also miss the opportunity to tell everyone how busy I am as well. Because that has become a great rite of passage. But we are going to experience Holy Week differently this year. It will be something we have never done before. It will be one in which we are saddened and filled with moments of lament. It will be a time in which we will do our best to put on a bright face and say everything will be OK. Maybe, just maybe, it will be a time to experience Holy Week in a brand new light. I want to help with a brand-new light. I want us to try and put ourselves there—Jerusalem in the days that Jesus was there. I want us to reflect on the African American Spiritual “Were You There?”

Powery writes in his book “Were You There?”

“We were not there, historically. But this spiritual takes us there, to the place of grotesque suffering and the death of Christ. They crucified him. Nailed him. Pierced him. The sun refused to shine because the Light of the world was murdered and laid in a tomb, dead. It should make us tremble, tremble. Tremble, if we sit with it, if we ponder it, if we allow ourselves to go there.”

In minds filled with imagination and seeking to grow in our faith, let us go there. Let us walk with our Lord and be a part of the spectacle. Let us pause to see, hear, smell, taste and feel, the last week that Jesus walked this earth. It begins with the apocalypse. I know some of our dispensationalist friends might disagree, but the apocalypse happened this week. The word apocalypse means according to Merriam-Webster dictionary: “one of the Jewish and Christian writings of 200 b.c. to a.d. 150 marked by pseudonymity, symbolic imagery, and the expectation of an imminent cosmic cataclysm in which God destroys the ruling powers of evil and raises the righteous to life in a messianic kingdom.” The resurrection of Jesus and the ascension onto the throne has been fulfilled. So, let us walk into the apocalypse…

Jesus sent two disciples into Jerusalem to get a donkey that was with a colt. Thus, we begin fulfilling the prophecies. Zechariah prophesied in 9:9 “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Jesus did not ride that donkey and the foal or colt at the same time, but he fulfilled the prophesy of entering Jerusalem in a lowly form. Coming from the East was the wrong way in which most military parades that entered from the west. That’s why we are told he was in Bethphage. The lowliness of Jesus’ arrival is the key to understanding that he was going to be a different kind of king, not like the ones we know that have all the power and prestige like presidents and prime ministers and kings of our world today.

In 2015 Pope Francis visited Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families. Much to the curiosity and delight of the public, the Holy Father chose to ride in a tiny Fiat for a pope-mobile, rather than a fancy limousine or a large protected SUV like we see in Washington DC all the time. Like Jesus on his borrowed colt, the pope demonstrated that humility and simplicity best suited his style of leadership and, more profoundly the mission of his calling.

Each night when I turn on the news, I am amazed at the number of humble servants seen there. Nurses and janitors, truck drivers and farmers, grocery store clerks and EMS responders, all humbly telling that they are doing their part to keep others going. These are the true heroes facing the risk of exposure every day, yet willing to continue to serve so we can eat and be cared for. We all have a part to play in this story and this week seeking those out who serve and thanking them is a big part of humbling ourselves and allowing us to be served.

We are sent into the world to get things just like the disciples were. Right now, we are learning how to use zoom, and Facebook live and all the other means of remote communication to keep each other safe. None of them are flashy, but they are all serviceable. Those who refuse to keep up have chosen to isolate themselves even further in these times. This is not 1965 and we need to work hard, even when it is not comfortable or easy, to maintain contact with our friends and neighbors who need ministering to.

The humblest thing we can do is to stay in and not go out. We are protecting one another just as much as we are protecting ourselves, loved ones and neighbors. Yet in Jesus day we can maybe imagine ourselves seeing the crowds build and hearing the voices shouting Hosanna, blessed is he who come in the name of the Lord, Hosanna! Which is also proclaimed previously in Psalm 118.

I love that phrase where the gospel writer says, “…the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘who is this?’”  If we can see ourselves there, we might be asking that question, “Who is this?” We have to remember this was the days before pictures and so most would have no idea if they had never seen Jesus before. When word spread that this was the man who healed so many people, drove out demons, and even brought someone back from the dead, the people would be intrigued.

But how long would you be intrigued? Long enough to take your coat off and lay it on the ground? Long enough to wave some palm branches in honor of the Prince of Peace? Would you think about the parade while you were cooking dinner or washing the dishes? The old saying, “What have you done for me lately” might be playing in your mind. Thinking to yourself that we didn’t see any miracles or signs, was it all made up?

Will we be the ones there as well on Friday shouting “crucify him!” Mob mentality is a fickle thing. Just look at the sale of toilet paper to understand it. What seems so important on one day, may be just a fleeting moment the next. How far will you follow Jesus? Will you go all the way to the temple or will you walk home as the street sweeper cleans up after the donkey? That is our challenge each day this week. How far will we follow the crowds? How far will we follow Jesus? Were you there?

Let us pray: Lord we seek to follow you but we waiver each and every day. Some times it is easier to follow the crowds. Sometimes it easier to do our own thing and not look out for each other. Sometimes it is easier to look out for #1 instead of seeking your will. Open our hearts and minds to walking with you this week. Give us the path in which our feet should trod. We pray in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.


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