Summary: Travel in your imagination back to the last days of Jesus's ministry...
The idea for this narrative sermon came from a short story I heard described to me (though I haven't myself read). Unfortunately, I can't remember who wrote the original.
“Good morning Sir and Welcome to Holy Land Time Tours…”
This was what I had been looking forward to for years – to travel back in time and see the very events when Jesus walked the earth. “Holy Land Time Tours” – I never thought I would be able to do this. Even when the government had first derestricted time travel and allowed commercial firms to operate to a limited number of destinations – well it was so prohibitively expensive. It was the concorde of our generation.
And then – well Aunt Matilda had died and left me that unexpected legacy – Well what else could I spend my money on than to travel back in time and see Jesus, to travel back and see the final week of his life.
So here I am in the departure lounge, being briefed for the trip of my life. The technician attached the Universial translation device to the inside of my ear. Now both Aramaic and Latin sound as English to me. I was given a quick injection to immunise myself against the plagues and diseases of first century Palestine. Almost ready for departure.
Now the briefing. It went on quite long. Quite tedious really. But the one thing that was said over and over again was “Don’t try to change history. Don’t stand out from the crowd. Just blend in and do what everybody else does. Just blend in and do what everybody else does.”
Eventually they cleared me for takeoff. I entered the time tunnel and took the plunge. As I fell through the waters I could see in the distance other time travellers whizzing past me, the many different customers of this organisation going back to their chosen destinations.
I arrived with a thump. It was hardly a gentle journey. The sun was high in the Sky. It was a sweltering spring day. A little way off to my right I could see a city wall. I must be just outside Jerusalem. In the distance, ahead of me, I could see a crowd gathered around what must be the main road. I walked up to join them.
As I get close to the crowd I get a bit of a sense of Déjà vu. There’s something about them that seems familiar. There’s a man with a long bushy beard, a woman with a rather prominent chin, a woman with a mole on her left cheek… As I look around at the vast gathered crowd, its somehow as if I have seen them all before. “Don’t be silly,” I tell myself, “Its 2000 years ago: there’s no way I could have seen any of these people before.”
Then he appears in the distance, slowly riding towards us on his donkey. The excitement is immense. Everyone is waving palm branches that they’ve torn from the local trees. I remember my instructions, “Don’t stand out from the crowd. Just blend in and do what everyone else does. Just blend in and do what everyone else does.” I quickly grab my branch and start waving it furiously just like everyone else does. Someone starts cheering. We all join in: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Hosanna to the King of Kings! Hosanna! Hosanna!” Its like being at a Jubilee or a royal wedding.
Later, the atmosphere calms a little and we all follow him to the Temple. Its the same crowd. The man with the long bushy beard, a man with sideburns, the woman with the mole on her forehead …so many people and I could describe them all. They look so familiar.
Then in the Temple, Jesus does something extraordinary. He doesn’t preach to us. He doesn’t kneel down to pray or worship. He goes gently up to one of the dove-sellers stall, and then suddenly hurls it over. And he shouts. Something about “my Father’s House should be a house of prayer for all nations, but you have made it a den of thieves.” He’s chucking tables everywhere. Dove’s flying. Money scattering. The Temple guard begin to react, but I see a priest stop them. He’s pointing to us, the crowd. He’s afraid we will riot. A baying crowd can be a dangerous thing.
And then Jesus melts away as if he’s never been there.
Through the week I follow Jesus, listening to more and more of his amazing teaching. So different to hear it first hand. So much more of it. And so practical. And all around me are the same crowd: The man with the sideburns, the man with the long bushy beard, a woman with a cut above her eye, the woman with a prominent chin… Its vast, the crowd, and yet its almost as if not a single person changes. As the week goes on I recognise so many faces. And I know they have been there all along.