Week of March 13, 2013

Todd JonesMy Dear Friends,

This past November our group of Holy Land Pilgrims from First Presbyterian Church stood inside the courtyard of a beautiful church in Bethpage, upon the Mount of Olives. The church is the work of the great Franciscan priest and architect, Antonio Barluzzi. It is the place where each year Roman Catholic Christians in Jerusalem gather to begin their observance of Palm Sunday. All four Gospel writers mention this event, where Jesus instructed his disciples to go to a place where they would “find there tied a colt that has never been ridden.” To the owner of the donkey, they were to say, “The Lord has need of it.”

This began a procession down the Mount of Olives into the Kidron Valley. As Jesus descended the mount, a walk we followed, He stopped at one point and looked out over the city of Jerusalem and wept over it, saying, “Would that you know the things that make for peace.” Jesus forsaw the destruction of Herod’s Temple on the Temple Mount that would come in 70 A.D., an event that is marked today upon the Arch of Titus in the Roman Forum, so memorable was this tragic event to the whole Roman Empire. Jesus’ words haunt us to this day, as peace in Jerusalem, and peace throughout our planet is elusive and often seems a far off dream.

The spontaneous parade must have gathered its own momentum, because as Jesus approaches the Eastern Gate of the city, a large crowd had amassed, and John alone among the Gospel writers tells us that they waved palm branches before Jesus, and shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord — the King of Israel!” These were politically volatile words for a crowd to shout in Roman occupied Palestine. For most Jews, they were likely a cry for a return to the glory days of King David, who led Israel through its greatest era of prosperity and self rule. Scholars estimate variously the size of this Palm Sunday entry by Jesus on that donkey, but surely it was in the thousands, and large enough to get the attention of both the Jewish and the Roman authorities. For Christians, this event has become an important part of the story of the Gospel. It is for us a sign of Jesus’Messianic calling, and a proclamation of what we have believed ever since, that is that Jesus is King. The window in Barluzzi’s beautiful church in Bethpage, where the annual procession remembering Palm Sunday is begun, has these words stencilled above it, “Hosanna…Jesus…Rex.” It is the faith statement that Jesus is King, the Savior of the world, and the fulfillment of Israel’s long time hope for a Messiah to deliver them.

This hope is enshrined in Psalm 130, which has served as our guide through this Lenten season. The Psalmist, who cries out to the Lord “out of the depths,” and who “waits for the Lord” to come, bids Israel, and us, to “hope in the Lord!” “For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with Him there is plenteous redemption, and He shall redeem Israel from all its iniquities.” This is our basis for hope, and this hope is found in the very character of the Lord God. Palm Sunday remembers an event that happened over two thousand years ago, where for a moment a large gathering of people saw in Jesus the One who would deliver and redeem them. We remember Palm Sunday, but as we do we look ahead to the day when God will redeem, restore and reconcile all things. This is Easter faith, and I urge you not to miss the grandeur, the majesty, the hope and life that it holds.

With Love and Prayers,

Todd Jones

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