By Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Now comes the beginning of the end – but not really the end. Now come the last few days of the carpenter’s life, the few, precious moments he has left with his disciples.
Time grows short, and tension grows strong.
John’s gospel says that Jesus has just raised Lazarus from the dead. Now the rabbi goes to meet his own death.
He sends his friends ahead to procure a colt.
“The Old Testament, Zechariah 9: 9, said that he would come riding,” said the Rev. Bert Harper, pastor of West Jackson Street Baptist Church in Tupelo. “This is the fulfillment of prophecy. He’s completely sovereign, completely in control.”
“In this simple act of riding the colt we see God’s use of common things for a glorious purpose, and we’re reminded of the beauty of the sacraments,” said the Rev. David Mac Kain, pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, in Tupelo.
Jesus enters Jerusalem in a throng of his followers. They spread palm branches before him and lay down their cloaks.
“This is a portrait of the Lord’s final return,” Mac Kain said. “There are two crowds here. Some people come with Jesus from Bethany, others come out from the city gates to greet him.”
The crowds surround Jesus and sing for joy.
“If they didn’t sing the very stones would cry out,” said Mac Kain. “I’m always moved by the triumphant ‘Hosannas.’”
“We imitate this in our Palm Sunday liturgy,” said Sister Mary Jean Morris, a Franciscan nun and pastoral coordinator at St. Luke the Evangelist Catholic Mission in Bruce. “We bless the palms, usually outside, then have a procession inside, singing and waving the palms.”
The smiles and joyful faces, Morris said, are a perfect contrast to the dark hours that lay ahead during Holy Week.
Almost immediately Jesus clashes with the scribes and elders. They demand to know where he gets his authority. Jesus offers only a cryptic response.
“I’ve done everything out in the open. I’ve hidden nothing,” said Harper, paraphrasing the words Jesus will soon speak at his arrest.
The three Synoptic gospels now record a fascinating event, Jesus expressing his anger physically. Jesus doesn’t lose control, however, because, although the gospel writer John places “The cleansing of the Temple” earlier in Jesus’ ministry, he says that the rabbi takes time to braid a whip.
One can hear thunder in Jesus’ voice as he flips over the money changers’ tables and drives out the merchants.
“My house shall be a house of prayer,” Jesus shouts. “You have made it a den of thieves.”
“We forget that he was a man as well as God,” said the Rev. Sapada Thomas, who recently joined the staff full-time at Tupelo First United Methodist Church.
“I’d call this righteous anger,” said Morris, laughing.
“There’s a kind of vulnerability here,” said Thomas. “Jesus didn’t come simply to teach but to show, to set an example of how to deal with human emotions.”
“These passages are unique,” said the Rev. Mike Price, pastor of NLC (New Life Church) in Tupelo. When Jesus weeps for Lazarus, in John 11:35, then cleanses the Temple and soon after prays in the garden, Price said, we get a glimpse of the Lord’s inner struggles.
The tension continues to mount.
Morris likes the movie “The Passion of the Christ,” which opens with a haunting, desolate shot of the moon. We hear Jesus praying, whispering, frantically, in Aramaic. Tears of blood fall. “Many people who’ve read the gospel for years love that movie for its graphic portrayal of Jesus’ intense agony and suffering,” said Morris.
At St. Luke, as in many churches that follow a yearly cycle of readings, the passion narrative is read on Palm Sunday.
The events of Holy Week are recounted, including Holy or Maundy Thursday, when Jesus ate his last supper with his disciples, as well as Good Friday, the day on which he died, and Holy Saturday, the three days collectively known as the Triduum.
The services take worshipers to valleys and summits of emotion, part of the genius of liturgy, Morris said, that allows the faithful to walk with Jesus toward the cross.
They walk also in faith, however, that the joy of Easter comes with the rising of the sun.
As a Southern Baptist, Harper doesn’t worship with liturgy, but his experience of Jesus’ journey through fear and agony into glory is just as intense.
“There’s nothing like the cross,” he said, “to bring extreme sorrow and extreme joy in the same event.”
Contact Daily Journal religion editor Galen Holley at (662) 678-1510 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Holy Week dramas
– Watch the events of Holy Week portrayed in dramas at area churches:
– Verona Christian Church, 1282 Palmetto Rd., will present “Living Pictures” April 21 and 22, from 7:00 p.m. until 8:30 p.m. nightly. Drive-by or walk through and view scenes from the gospels including the Last Supper, Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, the scourging at the pillar, the crucifixion, Jesus in the tomb and the ascension.
Two church members portraying Jesus will also carry a cross from Verona City Hall to the church parking lot on April 21, starting at 6:40 p.m.
– Tupelo First Presbyterian Church, 400 W. Jefferson St., will host a living representation of the Last Supper, on Maundy Thursday, April 21, at 6 p.m. Actors will portray Jesus and the 12 Apostles. The representation will be followed by communion.
– Wesley United Methodist Church, 2010 W. Main St., Tupelo, will also host a living representation of the Last Supper, with actors speaking for each of the 12 Apostles and Jesus, April 17 and 21 at 6:30 p.m. The representation will followed by communion.
– The Hispanic community at St. James Catholic Church in Tupelo will present an outdoor, living Stations of the Cross in English and Spanish on Good Friday, April 22, at 2 p.m. Stations of the Cross is a series of 14 devotions which trace Jesus’ final hours from his condemnation to his entombment. Actors will portray Jesus, Mary, Pilate and many of the other characters in the biblical accounts. Stations will begin in the parking lot, halfway between the Family Life Center and the offices of the Mississippi Department of Transportation on North Gloster.