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Join Jesus’s journey in heart and mind

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WE are about to enter the most holy weeks of the Christian year. They are the climax of Our Lord’s work on Earth. What we see first is the fickleness of crowds as they cheer and wave palm branches for his triumphal entry into the capital city. A few days later he is arrested, given a show trial, tortured and suffers a criminal’s death on the cross. Will you join me in thinking of these events on these three Sundays?

This is the supreme time to draw nearer to Jesus, to follow him and to learn to love him. And it is crucial that we all understand the nature of the Christ we are trying to follow and love. He’s not just an exceptionally decent chap – the Honourable Member for Galilee South. We are to turn to him as God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, striding the hills of Galilee and going up to Jerusalem to die for us.

But there’s another thing we must not forget. Jesus is God and Man. He is the supreme representative of our human nature. He is the manliest man. He is the most human of all human beings. And it is this man in his flesh who suffers and dies for you.

His trade was sometime carpenter and country rabbi. You can picture him in the green fields above the Sea of Galilee – very much like English meadows, though 600ft below sea level. And the names of the little towns are magical too: Magdala, Capernaum, Tiberias. But this country rabbi has another destiny, and it is to go up to the great city of Jerusalem and be crucified outside the city wall.

Jerusalem was the 900-year-old City of David, the capital of Israel and Judah. It was a centre of pilgrimage for Jews from all over the Mediterranean. It was also the centre for sacrifice. And now comes Jesus who is to be the supreme sacrifice. In these last weeks before the Crucifixion he teaches daily in the temple, he drives out the swindlers who overcharge for sacrificial pigeons and religious Kitsch. One could hope for his return if only to visit some of our cathedrals today. Can’t you just hear it?

‘And behold he cast out them that slouched and sauntered through the cathedral and he saith, “It is written my house shall be called the house of prayer but ye have turned it into a jingle of mobile phones and a thousand selfies; and have defiled the sacred space with thy chewing gum and burger bars innumerable. And, by the way, what’s that helter-skelter doing here?”

He is in the big city but still there is the countryman about Jesus as he returns from the temple each evening to the house of Simon the Leper at the little village of Bethany, where Martha lived and Lazarus. Lazarus – that bears thinking about! The walk from the temple to Bethany is about one and a half miles. You go from the temple mount, down the stone steps, past the house of the High Priest, across the brook Kidron and up a long hill that passes the garden called Gethsemane, which means oil press.

In Gethsemane I have sat where he sat, under the 1,000-year-old olive trees that were just like the ones under which Christ knelt and uttered his agonised prayer for God to spare him: ‘Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless, not my will but thine be done.’

From above Gethsemane you can look down over the whole city, the great temple,1,000 years of sacred history. And what would be in your heart as you looked down over Jerusalem? In Jesus’s heart there was sorrow. And he wept. Not for himself, but for the city: ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem! Thou that killeth the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings – but ye would not!’

Jesus is true God of true God. But in this scene where he weeps over the city, you can see the very human person. I want us to follow him closely on these three Sundays – and not as mere spectators. Use your imagination to enter his story in heart and mind until it takes you over, until you become a part of it. See him as he rides into Jerusalem to receive the deceitful adulation of the crowd. Draw near to him at the Last Supper, be one of the disciples sitting at the table with him. Are you Judas, who betrayed him? Are you Peter who, cursing and swearing, denied him three times? Or one of the others who ran away to save their skins – as they all did?

Imagine you are halfway up the hill towards Bethany. You are in the Garden of Gethsemane among those same olive trees. It is night and he is alone in agony of spirit but sublimely resolute. And here comes his betrayer: But Jesus said unto him, ‘Judas, betrayest thou the Son of Man with a kiss?’

Be there in the High Priest’s house and hear the supreme irony as the Son of God stands accused of blasphemy. Stand with him before Pilate and hear Pilate, sophisticated, cynical, ask: ‘What is truth?’

All the time Pilate is speaking, there is the Truth, the Way and the Life standing in silence before him.

Then the soldiers mocking and the gorgeous robe. The flogging within an inch of his life. The Way of the Cross past where the Roman soldiers played dice on the pavement. There is a traffic sign in Jerusalem: ‘The Via Dolorosa is a one-way street.’  

And Golgotha, the place of a skull. There’s a hill in the shape of a skull. You can still see it today. It was raw and banal then, not far from Gehenna, the Hebrew word that translates into English as hell. This was the Jerusalem rubbish tip from which filthy smoke poured by day and night, and the Jerusalem housewives complained it dirtied their washing. It is banal today too, for now it overlooks the bus station.

Finally, there is darkness over the whole land from noon until three o’clock. And his terrible cry: ‘Eli Eli lama sabachthani? My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’

Know this: those terrible words are the beginning of Psalm 22. It goes on: ‘They pierced my hands and my feet. I may tell all my bones. They stand staring and looking upon me.’

Know that those words were written hundreds of years before the time of Jesus. And thereby understand that there is such a thing as true prophecy. But note this: that Psalm is not finally a lament but a triumph song. And the triumph it prophesies is the Resurrection of Jesus from the tomb: ‘They shall come and the heavens shall declare his righteousness: unto a people that shall be born, whom the Lord hath made.’

You are that people. If you follow in your heart his Cross and Passion, you will rejoice with him in his Resurrection.

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Peter Mullen
Peter Mullen
Peter Mullen is a Church of England clergyman, writer and broadcaster

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