Art by Rev. Lauren Wright Pittman @sanctifiedart
Today, Palm Sunday, marks the beginning of Holy Week; a week where we join with the global and historical church in the practice of remembering and re-enacting Jesus' journey towards the cross.
Historically, the last week of Jesus' life coincided with the Jewish festival of Passover. At the time of Jesus the Passover would have been marked by a yearly pilgrimage to Jerusalem where the Israelites would gather together and recount the story of the Exodus, remembering when Y-H-W-H rescued them out of their slavery from Egypt.
For those who started in the region of Galilee, a pilgrimage to Jerusalem would have been a journey of up to 100 miles. Can you imagine the scene? Crowds of people leaving their small villages and towns, joining together on the roads as they would make their way to Jerusalem. They would typically arrive a week before Passover so as to have time to partake in the proper cleansing rituals.
Some say there would have been tens of thousands on the journey. Josephus, a first century historian, writes that during the festival the population of Jerusalem would swell to 2 million. We don't know for sure, but it would have been a great spectacle to witness and be a part of. A peasant procession, singing together from the Psalms,* remembering God's faithfulness and historic rescue, and prophetically proclaiming and anticipating God's future coming rescue.
It was in the context of this journey that we read the gospel accounts of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem (Matt. 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:28-44, John 12:-19). If we look over these stories we can track the path that Jesus would have taken: through Jericho, to Bethany, to Bethpage to Jerusalem, Jesus would have been entering Jerusalem from the east.
As you can imagine, this steadily growing mass of peasants would have made the Israelites feel stronger, and would have made Rome feel nervous. So there would have been a second procession heading towards Jerusalem; an Imperial Procession. The top Roman authority of the region, Governor Pontius Pilate, along with thousands of armed soldiers on chariots and war horses would have also been journeying towards Jerusalem to keep order and protect the city during this time of increased activity. As Pilate normally resided at Cesearea (by the sea), about 60 miles west of Jerusalem, this imperial procession of armed men would have been entering the city from the west.
Here, on holy week, we witness two kingdoms collide.
Pilate, from the west, representing the Kingdom of the world with imperial, military, and political might. Using power, strength, and violence to intimidate the masses. Marching towards the magnificent Roman Palace. Coming to rule and reign by domination and oppression.
And Jesus, from the east, representing the Kingdom of God, heading towards the temple. Yet instead of might, power, wealth and intimidation we read that Jesus entered the city "gentle and riding on a donkey" (Matt. 21:5), surrounded by crowds of peasants who took off their outer robes and laid them on the ground as symbols of honour, who waved palm branches and began to shout "Hosanna!" (Lord save us, rescue us), "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord" (Matt. 21:9).
Throughout this holy week we are invited to reflect on the remarkable and other-worldly nature of Jesus our King. Rather than emoting brute confidence and indifference, our King weeps with compassion (Luke 19:41-42). Rather than declaring superiority and dominion, our King washes feet (John 13). And rather than fortifying himself in might and protection, our King vulnerably walks towards a violent death on a cross. "My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done" (Matthew 26:42).
This Holy week may our hearts be attuned to the layers of contrast in our gospel stories, letting ourselves feel the tension as two opposing kingdoms collide.
O God, let your kingdom come.
*Psalm 120 - 134 are the Psalms of Ascent that were sung on pilgrimages to Jerusalem.
Krista Heide is a visual artist, certified spiritual director, and pastor with Winnipeg Centre Vineyard Church. She has been part of the Vineyard Canada family for 20 years and serves as part of our Vineyard Creative Catalyst team.