Summer 2019: Places
Jerusalem – O What A Beautiful City
August 18, 2019
Rev. Steve Cramer
Your theme for this summer worship has been pilgrimage. Earlier this summer Meta and I shared with you images from the beginning of the ministry of Jesus in the Galilee.
Meta’s and my life have been profoundly influenced by experiences we shared in the Holy Land. It all began 35 years ago when we ere in the early days of our ministry together serving as co-pastors of the Good News Presbyterian Parish. There was a wonderful woman in the New Waterford Presbyterian Church named Agnes Lyons. Agnes asked if Meta and I would mind if she paid for both of us to go to Israel. We did not have to think tool long about the answer to that question.
We have now been blessed to take part in 7 pilgrimages to Israel. These trips have deepened our faith and enriched our spiritual lives in ways that words cannot describe. Twice recently individuals have told us that the trip to Israel was the greatest moment of their lives.
Last month there were Christmas in July celebrations at the Hallmark stores. Today is going to be Easter in August. We will see sites that connect us with the passion of our Lord.
The last week of the life of Jesus is of disproportionate importance. Mark devotes 6 chapters to this one week; Matthew spends 8 chapter; Luke 5. But, John outdoes them all. 11 of the 21 chapters – more than half the gospel is just about that one week of the life of Jesus. Half the gospel is devoted to the first 33 years of the life of Jesus and half to just one single week. It is impossible to overstate the importance of Holy Week in the message of the gospels.
Holy Week begins with the pilgrimage of Jesus to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. Our Old Testament lesson speaks of the centrality of Jerusalem in the life of the faithful:
I was glad when they said to me,
‘ Let us go to the house of the Lord!’
Our feet are standing
Within your gates, O Jerusalem.
Jerusalem – built as a city
That is bound firmly together.
God rejoices in Jerusalem and considers it to be a great delight. As a baby Jesus was taken to Jerusalem, and it was to Jerusalem he returned to celebrate Passover in the end of his life. The life of Jesus begins and ends with trips to Jerusalem. Holy week begins on Palm Sunday. Jesus was greeted as a conquering hero and the crowds surrounded him. By Good Friday he was a loser and everyone deserted him.
On Palm Sunday Jesus was the most popular man in town. The crowds cheered him shouting “Hosanna.” They chanted the Hallel Psalms – that is Psalm 114-118. Some of those words include “Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord.” And sure enough Jesus entered the golden gate of the temple to enter the Most High. Jesus went to the holiest spot on earth, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
In fact, Jesus would spend much of the next week inside the Temple grounds. It was there he taught, healed, argued, got into controversy and earned his share of enemies. Jesus entered the gates of righteousness to preach teach and heal.
The 118th Psalm is not just about a celebration. For the Psalm also includes these prophetic words: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” Jesus did not get out of the gates of righteousness alive. Before the week was over the adoring crowds became a lynch mob.
Jesus attacked the religious authorities head on and they responded in kind. Jesus took on those closest to him, the Pharisees and those furthest away the Sadducees with equal determination. Wherever he saw sanctimonious self-righteousness or hypocrisy he opposed it.
All this created turmoil and the Romans despised turmoil. The Roman government viewed Jesus as a dangerous revolutionary, a loose cannon who could disturb the peace. Rome was not just a super power. They were the only power. There were no rivals to their supremacy. Get in the way of Caesar and you were squashed like a bug. There was the way of Rome and the way of death. Cross them and they would put you up on a cross.
The disciples fought and fumed all week. Judas betrayed Jesus, the other disciples fought amongst themselves, argued with Jesus, fell asleep when Jesus wanted them to be awake. Peter denied him.
On Maundy Thursday Jesus shared his last supper with the disciples, using that opportunity to set the example of humble service. Jesus took the role of servant and washed the feet of the disciples.
Then Jesus went to the bottom of the Mount of Olives to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane. Here Jesus asked the disciples to stay awake. As so often happens the disciples failed him, falling asleep on the job. As Jesus prayed for God to remove the cup of suffering from him, and according to Scripture sweating like blood, the disciples snoozed.
Judas came into the Garden and betrayed Jesus. The authorities took him to the House of Caiaphas where he was held for the night and tortured.
Jesus was taken from his prison cell and forced to carry his cross on what we now know as the Via Dolorosa which means the way of Sorrow. Today that place is the Arab market where merchants will sell all kinds of wares and trinkets. In Jesus day this was also an ancient market.
On Good Friday the chant of the crowd had changed from Hail to the Chief to crucify him. The people wanted him to be king were happy to see a crown of thorns on his head. It is amazing how fickle we are, how quick our cheers turn to jeers, how suddenly we are ready to abandon a cause at the first sign of trouble.
They took him outside the walls to a place of public executions. The place was called Golgotha, or the place of the skull. We also know this place by the name Calvary. Here he was crucified and died an agonizing death. I have often thought that one of the worst things imaginable would be to witness the death of your child, and this is precisely what God endured here. The Father watched in agony as his beloved son died. He was buried in a nearby tomb. The enemies of Jesus were glad that they were done with him. They had finally silenced this troublemaker, or so they thought.
But, as the advertisement says, “Wait there is more.” The horrible defeat turned into the great triumph. When all hope was lost God turned our world upside down and the place of death became the place of new life.
Easter morning began with disciples grieving, hiding behind closed doors. Women filled with grief went to the tomb to care for a broken lifeless body and found an angel.
Jerusalem is the place where all this happened, the site of the triumph of good over evil, the defeat of death and the place where God’s glory was fully revealed.
As Isaiah proclaimed:
But be glad and rejoice forever
In what I am creating;
For I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
And its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem
And delight in my people;
No more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
Or the cry of distress.