Summary: The process of recognizing where we are on the road and why we are cheering is exactly what lent has been all about - recognizing Jesus willingness to enter into our pain is a reason to celebrate as well as mourn. We celebrate because of His willingness and mourn because of inability to not sin.
“Lent is one of the oldest observations on the Christian calendar. Like all Christian holy days and holidays, it has changed over the years, but its purpose has always been the same:
demonstrated by self-denial,
in preparation for Easter.
Early church father Irenaus of Lyons (c.130-c.200) wrote of such a season in the earliest days of the church, but back then it lasted only two or three days, not the 40 observed today.
In 325, the Council of Nicea discussed a 40-day Lenten season of fasting, but it's unclear whether its original intent was just for new Christians preparing for Baptism, but it soon encompassed the whole Church. It was then the idea was connected to the beginning of Jesus' public ministry right after his baptism and his 40 days in the desert where he was tempted. Matt 4:1-2 says:
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights and afterwards he was famished.
How exactly the churches counted those 40 days varied depending on location. In the East, one only fasted on weekdays. The western church's Lent was one week shorter, but included Saturdays. But in both places, the observance was both strict and serious. Only one meal was taken a day, near the evening. There was to be no meat, fish, or animal products eaten.
The goal of which was to reorient our lives by focusing our lives on the disciplines of the Christians are urged to refrain from business as usual in order to attend to the body, spirit, mind, soul, and heart. It is a time set aside for worshipers to connect their faith walk with the ways in which they live, move, and have their being throughout daily life. Thus, the Lenten journey is a renewed spirit and a genuine desire to become an incarnational presence in the world.
The scriptures read earlier we have heard before. The entrance into Jerusalem was a major event in Jesus’ life and of our understanding of who He was, is and shall ever be.
This week, we finish this series and move into “Holy week” which is what the ancients call the “great week.” It is the holiest of the Christian year.
The great week begins today with Palm Sunday –the triumphal entry into Jerusalem,
Monday is the Jesus cleansing of the temple,
Tuesday is the controversies with the Jewish leaders,
Wednesday is a day of rest,
Thursday begins the preparation for Passover
and Friday is the trial and crucifixion,
Saturday Jesus rests in the tomb
and Sunday – well, you now the rest of the story!
So let’s back it up and talk about today’s traditional Scripture. Jesus comes into Jerusalem and allows his followers to give a public demonstration of support. In doing so, he fulfills a 2500 year old prophecy from Zechariah. The moment He announces his intent to be Israel’s true king, He forces the Jewish leaders to act. Hence, the contrast between the celebration of His entry and the depression of His exit on the cross.
It’s been said, the best way to understand another is to put yourself in their shoes so let me set the stage:
I think we all have been to a July 4th parade in our life. Everyone’s smiling and waving their flags wondering who the guy is that’s sitting on the 1952 convertible Cadillac. The only differences in Jesus’ parade are:
there are the palms being used as flags, symbolizing the nation of Israel
There was donkey (a luxury over the ankle express ) instead of the Cadillac
A relatively young man instead of that old geezer
And finally excitement from the crowd. Not because there was a badly decorated float launching candy into the crowd or a celebration of past victory, but an anticipation of a future rebellion and victory over Romans.
As I reread the scriptures, I wonder if I would have been on the roadside cheering. There were plenty of folks who knew Jesus and had experienced Him personally. There were plenty of others as well who heard about this super human man, this prophet and hoped to get a glimpse of him.
It starts off simple enough and grows in momentum as Jesus makes his way into Jerusalem.
They are waving their palms, throwing down their cloaks and screaming at the top of their lungs. They came to shout about It! They have stories of love, grace and mercy and most of all, they have stories of compassion. They came to shout praises to God.
There, over in the corner, is the widow from Nain. She remembers the moment she bumped into Jesus. It was at her son’s funeral. Her husband had died years before. She was a single mother. Her son was everything. He was her love, her provider, her social security policy for her old age. But in that moment, she remembers crying. The pain of the loss almost too much for her to take as her son’s funeral procession had reached the edge of town and the bump into Jesus and his entourage. Imagine the scene. Jesus goes forward to the casket and lays his hand on it. He sees the grief. He feels the woman’s pain. He has seen his mother have to deal with the fear of being alone and then the miracle. The woman can’t do anything but shout about it - praising the Name of Jesus. The crowd begins to cheer.