A Procession Through the Back Door

Scripture Text: Mark 11: 1-11

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! 10Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” 11Then he entered Jerusalem and 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.

Here we are—bustling city, Passover festival, and a parade!  It seems that we’re not in the wilderness anymore!  Whew!  We made it!!!  As Jesus comes into Jerusalem, there is excitement and joy.  He is here!  And they honor him.  But, to be honest, we probably read a little bit more into this parade than is there.  From the time I was little, I had this sense that Jesus came into the middle of the city, flanked by all of the crowds.  He was “it.”  (But then it didn’t make much sense as to why it went so badly so fast.)  The truth is, Jesus was not “it” in Jerusalem.  Jesus was heading what was then a small fledgling movement on the outskirts of established religion and recognized society. 

He was coming down a narrow road that winds down Mt. Olivet and was then entering through the eastern gate of Jerusalem, the “back door” of the city, for all practical purposes.  The Western gate was the main gate.  It was the one where all the military pomp and circumstance entered, a gate fit for royalty.  Hmmm!  It seems that Jesus makes a habit of coming in the back door—into forgotten grottos and wilderness baptisms and ministries that begin around a lake rather than a bustling Holy City.  So, this seems only fitting.  Maybe that’s the point.  God doesn’t always enter in the way we expect, doesn’t always show up when it fits the best into our schedule or our circumstances.  Instead, God slips in through the back door of our wilderness lives when we sometimes barely notice and makes a home with us.

So, the onlookers stay around for just a little while.  And then the back-door parade fizzles.  As the road goes by the Garden of Gethsemane and down toward Bethany and the outer walls of Jerusalem, many leave and go back to their lives.  Maybe they had something to do; maybe they didn’t want to contend with all the holiday traffic in downtown Jerusalem; or maybe they were afraid of what might happen. So, Jesus enters the gate of the city almost alone, save for a few of the disciples.

Where are we in this moment?  Jerusalem is here.  The wilderness through which we’ve traveled is behind us.  But it has prepared us for a new wilderness of sorts.  As followers, we know that the road is not easy.  It will wind through this week with the shouts of “Crucify him” becoming louder and louder.  We will experience pain and grief and even betrayal.  The road is steep and uneven.  And the shouting stones and clanging iron against wood will be deafening.  But this is the way—the way to peace, the way to knowing God, the way Home.  This is our road; this is our Way; this is the procession to life.  The way to the Cross, through the wilderness of this week is our Way to Life.

The truth is the wilderness through which we’ve wandered these past weeks was not just to get us here; it was to prepare us for the wilderness to come.  And now we have to decide.  Are we the ones running away or are we following Jesus?  The ahead will be hard and painful.  We know that.  But it is the way to life.  The gate is just up ahead. And as followers of Jesus, we, too, are again driven into the wilderness.  But this wilderness is different.  Rather than encompassing a broad sweeping desert, it is contained within these walls; rather than pathways that are difficult to see, we know the road all too well; and rather than a time of solitude, the noises are deafening.  But we can no longer sit on the steps outside the gate.  Jerusalem awaits. And Jesus has begun his walk to the Cross.

Our hosannas sung, our palms waved, let us go with passion into this week.

It is a time to curse fig trees that do not yield fruit; a time to cleanse our temples of any blasphemy.

It is a time to greet Jesus as the Lord’s Anointed One, to lavishly break our alabaster and pour perfume out for him without counting the cost.

It is a time for preparation.

The time to give thanks and break bread is upon us.

The time to give thanks and drink of the cup is almost here.

Eat, drink, remember

As each of us asks ourselves, “Is it I who will betray you?”

And on that darkest of days, each of us must stand beneath the tree and watch the dying if we are to be there when the stone is rolled away.

The only road to Easter morning is through the unrelenting shadows of that Friday,

Only then will the alleluias be sung; Only then will the joyful dancing begin.

“Holy Week”, by Ann Weems. In Kneeling in Jerusalem

The miracle of the Red Sea,” the rabbis taught, “is not the parting of the waters. The miracle of the Red Sea is that with a wall of water on each side, the first Jew walked through.” The implications are clear: God is not in this alone. Yes, God may be all-powerful and eternally unfailing, but that’s not the point. The real key to the coming of the reign of God on earth, the rabbis imply, is not God’s fidelity. The real determinant between what ought to be and what will be in this world is the mettle of our own unflagging faith that the God who leads us to a point of holy wakefulness stays with us through it to the end. The key to what happens on earth does not lie in God’s will. All God can do is part the waters. It lies in the courage we bring to the parting of them. It lies in deciding whether or not we will walk through the parting waters of our own lives today. Just as surely as there was need for courage at the Red Sea, just as surely as there was need for courage on Jesus’ last trip to Jerusalem, there is need for it here and now, as well. (Joan Chittister, in “The Road to Jerusalem is Clear:  Meditations on Lent”, National Catholic Reporter, March 30, 2001)

Grace and Peace,

 Shelli

One thought on “A Procession Through the Back Door

  1. This Sunday I experienced what will go down as a regret. I was not able to experience Psalm Sunday in my house of worship, There was a good service presented with the use of modern technology, but it was not the same.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the beginning of Holy Week with the entry of Jesus on a donkey into Jerusalem to the Hosannas of a welcoming crowd of his followers.
    Yours in Christ,
    Larry

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