Today’s Word from Pastor Jim…
Tomorrow we descend the Mount of Olives in a parade of palms, as Jesus enters the Holy City of Jerusalem for the last time.
There were thousands along the pilgrim path that day, peasants from small villages, and religious zealots with an appetite for revolution. They had traveled days or weeks to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem. Most had heard of, but never seen, the Rabbi and miracle worker from the Galilee named Jesus.
The clip-clop of the donkey’s hooves was drowned out by the shouts of the hopeful parade goers. “Hosanna, Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna to the Son of David.” As they raised their palms in anticipation, there were many who would have risked a Roman sword if Jesus had given the word.
The actual followers of Jesus were small in number; the disciples, women from the Galilee, Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. Three years after the movement began there were perhaps twenty people who accompanied Jesus on the Palm Sunday parade 2,000 years ago. Five days later Jesus would be on a cross, executed as a criminal. One disciple would be dead, the rest were hiding out and afraid of their shadows believing, for good reason, that a cross might be waiting for them.
On Good Friday, the Jesus movement was without movement. It was dark, hopeless, everything worth living for was dying on that cross. It seemed that violence, greed, betrayal, and now death, would have the last word in the human story. The adoring crowds were gone. The only one of the twelve to stay around until the end was the Beloved Disciple, John. “Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary, the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.” The criminal Jesus had been executed, four women and one man remained by his side. There was no movement, there was no leader, no money, no educated clergy, no churches or Sunday Schools, no real reason for hope.
Is there any plausible explanation for the years that followed? How is it that the entire world was changed by Jesus? How is it that this hopeless, illegal, persecuted movement would touch every corner of the Roman Empire, and ultimately every corner of the world? On Good Friday there were four heartbroken women and one man following Jesus. 120 years later there would be 40,000 Christians… by the year AD 200 there were 250,000 Christians… by the year AD 250 there were over a million followers of Jesus.
In the year AD 313 the Edict of Milan, also known as the Edict of Toleration, declared for the first time that Christianity would be tolerated along with other religious movements. After nearly 300 years of persecution, three hundred years after Jesus had been crucified, Christianity was no longer illegal. Eight short years later, in 321, by order of the Emperor Constantine, the Empire that had executed Jesus would embrace his teachings, and Christianity would become the official religion of Rome.
From a Palm Sunday parade to the despair of Good Friday, to a small church in Freeland 2,000 years later, it is impossible to explain it absent the movement of God.
God is mysterious, mostly unknown to us, hidden in the pages of history, and in the story of our lives. God is bigger than any religion, denomination, or movement, but God is working, God is present, God is loving and faithful.
May our lives be lived joyfully and generously as a response to God’s abundant grace.
One day closer,