“The Last Week: A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus’s Final Week in Jerusalem” is the title of a book by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan published in 2006 three years after I graduated from Seminary. I have used that little book on several occasions as a Lenten study, both personally and with churches I have served. This day-by-day account tracks the events of Jesus’s last days and nights according to the Gospel of Mark.
I remember hearing the Gospel of Mark read out loud, in a dramatic reading by a man dressed in a homespun looking robe, read as if he were one of the disciples, one of the eyewitnesses of Jesus’s life from baptism to death on the cross, then entombment. The reader’s voice rose and fell, again and again, as he presented the stories, his body language as dramatic as his voice. I remember being mesmerized, entering the story line and almost visioning myself deep in that long ago time, that long ago place with that long ago man named Jesus. Following along, not just the story, but the way of Jesus brought to life in the story telling.
The Last Week begins with Palm Sunday, then travels through the Gospel stories of what happens on the next four days of that week. We find ourselves visioning, as if we were there, a last supper in an upper room. The intimacy of that last time Jesus is with his disciples is shattered as he is arrested, tried, and sentenced to death. We are confronted with the intensity of Jesus’ pain, suffering and terrible death on the cross mid-afternoon on Good Friday as he cries out: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Despair takes over as Jesus is laid in the tomb. All, including the tomb, is silent till Easter morning breaks into the story. It is a long week.
Over the centuries it has become customary in the church on Palm Sunday to combine the story of Jesus entry into Jerusalem to the palm waving celebration of crowds lined up to welcome him as king, along with what is called “The Passion of Christ” with a major focus on the Good Friday story. It’s as if we totally skip the days in between these two stories. A strange juxtaposition of stories that stuns and perhaps shocks us, if we really think about what is happening. In the story of that first day of the last week of Jesus’ life, we find ourselves in a crowd shouting “Hosanna” and waving palms to the sounds of “All Glory Laud and Honor”. A few minutes later we are in a crowd shouting “Crucify him! Crucify him!” And wonder “Were we there when we crucified our Lord?” as we hear Jesus’ last words on the Cross about being forsaken.
This year as the congregations of Farnham and St. John’s gather on Palm Sunday, the morning was dedicated to the celebration of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, the geographic heartscape, the center of the worship, praise and prayer life of the people. A time of joy as we greet our Lord and Savior, welcome him into our hearts. We have passed through a Lenten season when we ask of the Holy to “Create a clean heart in us and renew a right spirit within us.” The season draws to a close within the climax of the week we call Holy Week. Palm Sunday we celebrated. Now we are called to walk with Jesus the remaining days of this last week of his life. As well we need to walk this path towards Good Friday contemplating the part we play in the story line that leads to denial by those even closest to Jesus. As we face the question, where will we, each of us, be on Good Friday? Beneath the cross on that cross shaped day? Or forsaking him, by our absence denying his significance in our lives and relationship with him?
By God’s amazing grace may we find the courage to walk with Christ through this time and into new life!