April 1, 2010
Dear Grace Friends,
A blessed Holy Week and Easter to you! I encourage you to take part in Grace’s Holy Week worship services and activities.
We are Easter People!
During the Easter season, we celebrate the gift of God’s grace revealed to us in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord. We know love by this: Jesus laid down his life for us, and God raised him to new life for the sake of the world that God loves so much. During Holy Week, we remember some of the details of Jesus’ final week before his death. There’s not a week in the life of any other person that is remembered, mourned, and celebrated as much as Jesus’ Holy Week. Jesus traveled to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration. The King of kings riding on a donkey. Riding to his coronation, his enthronement – on the cross. Of course, the people don’t know that. They welcome him with a patriotic parade, waving palm branches. They give him a royal welcome, laying their coats before him.
To be clear, the crowd that welcomed Jesus was not the same crowd that shouted, “Crucify him.” We hear in Luke 22:2, “The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to put Jesus to death, for they were afraid of the people.” The people, the crowds of Jews who gathered for the Passover, protected Jesus. That’s why the officials did not try to arrest Jesus when he was teaching in the Temple. They waited until night, and they paid off Jesus’ disciple Judas to betray his location. The crowd who shouted “crucify him!” was a mix of “the chief priests, the leaders, and the people.” The crowd was not all of the 150,000 Jews gathered in Jerusalem, but a small, hand-picked crowd. And, according to Matthew 27:20, “the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed.”
In hindsight, it is not surprising that the religious leaders of Jerusalem wanted Jesus dead. From his palm parade entrance to the city at Passover, to his clearing the money changers out of the temple, to his public criticisms of the Temple system, it is no wonder they conspired against him. Jesus was rocking their world, shaking up the people against them. He stood with the common people against the corruption of the Roman imperial system and the Temple officials that supported it.
Many of the Pharisees opposed Jesus because, while they rigidly held to the letter of the biblical law, Jesus recast the biblical law in terms of love and justice. In Matthew 23:23, Jesus said to them, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!” Some of the Pharisees were so obsessed with boundaries, deciding who was in and who was out, who was welcome in God’s presence and who was not, that Jesus’ habit of breaking down of those boundaries and openly welcoming all people offended them deeply. They were legalists, and Jesus upset their prejudices and the traditions they grew up with by his radical openness to tax collectors, sinners, women, non-Jews including Samaritans, and everyone who did not follow the letter of the biblical law.
Jesus was more interested in the spirit of God’s law – God’s Spirit of love and mercy, justice and faith. That’s why Jesus summed up the law in two commandments: Love the Lord your God with all you heart, soul, mind, and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself. That angered the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. So, the rulers of Jerusalem arrested him, beat him, and crucified him between two criminals. Yet, how did Jesus respond? Not with violence. Not with fear. He prayed for his tormentors. He comforted the criminal who was crucified with him. He commended his spirit to his divine Father. And, as Jesus was dying, “the curtain of the temple was torn in two.” The dividing wall between God and all people was breached. Jesus’ willing sacrifice of himself bridged the gap between God and the world, and made us Easter People, a people called to proclaim the good news of God’s grace shown us in Jesus!