by Rev. John Farmer
Visit the Irvington Baptist Church website
A Pageant Holy
Film producers, dramatists, musicians and poets have all had a go at trying to capture the grandeur, the majesty of Christ’s final days in human form. It is heady stuff. It is ripe with passion. It is a raw tale—a handsome young guy identified with all the sin in the world, hung up to ridicule, pain and death.
It is a story of magnanimous proportions. It is a tale oft told, yet oft misunderstood. In all the aura of the story, the complexities unfolding have little to do with history. It happened so long ago.
It is a pageant most awesome, a saga glorious. It wrings loose from powerful suffering, our salvation. It has all the proponents of a first century soap opera. Jesus, falsely accused, nailed to the cross for us.
The pageant unfolds with that wonderful account of Jesus returning to Jerusalem. His earthly reputation has grown to legendary status. The gathered throng awaits a hero’s return. The lathered mob presses against the dirt path over which Jesus rides. No white charger for this young man: He sits astride a young donkey, that humble little animal much like the one that bore his mother to Bethlehem some three decades prior.
Who could have imagined such a tumultuous thirty-year span? A mere teen herself, Mary, married to a chap of some seniority, would lay in a straw-filled manger the “Body Beautiful.” Fresh picked skin, eyes that glistened, fingers reaching for life’s opportunity, the babe was on a mission, a pageant holy.
In an epoch without newspaper, television, radio and/or movies, the rulers of the world heard the secret. Though they did not believe, they had been warned. That babe, wrapped in swaddling clothes would rock religion and politics to their very core. Every earthly value, every human emotion, every sensual action, every moment of truth, compassion and hope would be redefined by the man he would become. Folks of importance were terrified. God shook his fist at his chosen. The halls of government trembled. Creation groaned.
Palm Sunday, ah, yes, let the pageant begin: “As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethpage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, ‘Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here.’
“If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ Tell him, the Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly. They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” They answered as Jesus had told them to and the people let them go. When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it.
“Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, ‘Hosanna!’ ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ‘Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!’ ‘Hosanna in the highest!’”
The words are found in the book of Mark 11:1-11. Another account reads from the Gospel of Matthew (21). Sprinkled through holy text are references ripe to every reader who understands that the pageant is about opportunity. It is about hope. It is about freedom. It is about choice. It is about consequence.
It was the longest week in history: towards its end Jesus gave an invitation-only dinner. He would break bread one more time with that ragged-tagged bunch of his chosen disciples. It was a handpicked army, conscripted from among all walks of life. The dust had caked between their toes as they’d followed the man from Nazareth on his formidable journey. Sunbaked heads had grown weary. It was over now. Jesus needed to feed his troops, to encourage them, to equip them for that which was to follow.
History, tradition, demanded a young lamb, as innocent as Christ himself, slain for the main course. The embellishments of the meal were reflective of the journey of the Jews from slavery to the promised land. Around the Jewish table, the Seder was pronounced. The trip finally had a destination. Moses’ map could finally be folded. In Jesus, all could find passage. You see, the pageant is about a Holy journey, not just an earthly one.
The crowds dissipated. Jesus sequestered himself in a garden to pray. There is no question but that he wavered in his propulsion toward the cross. He begged God for mercy. God couldn’t, wouldn’t hear over the multitudinous roar of our personal sin. We caused his death, the Jews and Romans were simply instruments in the hands of an angry God.
Peter slept. Jesus and Mary had a death vigil to keep.
Our eternal hope lies in our ability to assess the pageant upon ourselves. It is, after all our story too. It was for us, you, me, that he died. It matters. Believe.