Jesus is on a mission. Blues Brothers fans will not need to think twice about what kind of mission this is: he’s on a mission from God. He’s on a mission to Jerusalem, a mission for the redemption and salvation of the world. We’ve seen signs of this mission every Sunday for months.
* Mary proclaimed God’s mission before Jesus was born, to fill the hungry, to topple the powerful, to exalt the lowly
* After his baptism, Jesus is driven into the desert as part of this mission. There he refuses to be tempted, because that would be a distraction.
* When he returns to Nazareth after withstanding temptation he announces his mission: to bring good news to the poor and proclaim release to the captives, and sight to the blind.
* He comes down from Mt. Tabor and again reminds those around him that he has work to do. He sets his face to Jerusalem.
There are, of course, distractions along the way: the devil, the people in Nazareth who are perplexed, Peter who wants him to stay where he is, and, today, the Pharisees threatening the wrath of Herod. Of course Herod wants to kill Jesus. Jesus, with his teaching of economic justice, his outreach to the poor and powerless and his penchant for healing on the Sabbath. Jesus is a threat not just to the religious authorities but also to the civic authorities. He doesn’t work for Herod’s emperor; his citizenship—his allegiance—is elsewhere. Jesus may be a threat to Herod, but Herod is no threat to Jesus, no matter what the Pharisees may think. You tell that fox that I’m doing my thing, and I’m on a mission. Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem is not about Herod’s plan, but about God’s plan for redemption of the whole world.
The 5PM community has a little art project of creating protest signs as part of our homilies in Lent. Signs for today’s gospel might say: “Stay the Course.” Or “Jerusalem or Bust.”
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills its prophets and stones those who are sent to it! Jerusalem is, for Luke, the heart of the Kingdom of God. Jesus says “how often have I desired to gather your children as a hen gathers her brood under her wings” although as of this moment, according to Luke, Jesus has never actually been to Jerusalem. Jerusalem means more than the physical city midway between Egypt and the Euphrates.
Jerusalem is a center of pain and hope, the heart of the kingdom God came to redeem, the Holy City desperately in need of redemption, as true today as it was in Jesus’ time.
There is a song people sing in Jerusalem, based on Talmudic wisdom:
God gave to the world ten measures of beauty: nine for Jerusalem; one for the world.
God gave to the world, ten measures of pain: nine for Jerusalem, one for the world.
For Jesus, Jerusalem is a particular place. It is also is every place and every time that suffering and joy, sorrow and hope coexist and make us long for God’s redemptive work. Jerusalem, the place where God longs to gather us like a mother hen, is where we are. Jerusalem is that place where, because of our varied and besetting sins, we resist God’s gathering, protective love.
The Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani wrote:
O Jerusalem, fragrant with prophets
The shortest path between heaven and earth…
A beautiful child with burned fingers and downcast eyes…
Your streets are melancholy,
Your minarets are mourning…
O Jerusalem, city of sorrow,
A tear lingering in your eye…
Who will wash your bloody walls?
O Jerusalem, my beloved
Tomorrow, the lemon-trees will blossom;
the olive-trees rejoice.
This could be anywhere. Everywhere.
Jerusalem is the Al-Noor Mosque and the Linwood Mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. It is the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, and Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. Jerusalem is this country, polarized by hate. Jerusalem is our own spirits caught between the tug of scarcity and generosity, between despair and hope. It is the place where we are overwhelmed by suffering, filled with fear, and aware of our own cavernous longing for peace, a Jerusalem of the heart.
Jerusalem is seeking hope and redemption in places of suffering; it is our own experiences of beauty and courage in the midst of loss. We see it when people respond to disaster by moving toward those in need rather than running away from them, whether they be fire-fighters climbing the World Trade Center towers or Constance and her Companions nursing those struck by yellow fever in nineteenth-century Memphis or our own handful of parishioners who prayed outside the Isdris mosque last Friday.
Maybe we find Jerusalem when sorrow is healed in beautiful music, or in a painting, or a line from a poem, a shadow or a turn of phrase that opens our eyes to beauty in a new way. Maybe we found a bit of Jerusalem at Brother Basil’s funeral yesterday and every time we celebrate that beautiful Easter liturgy in the midst of grief and mourning.
If we think of repentance as turning, consider that that Jerusalem of the heart, that place of suffering and of beauty, of pain and hope, as the direction we turn when we travel with Jesus to the cross. When we are at once filled with sorrow and with hope, this is the place where we have our citizenship. Jerusalem is our center, the heart of who we are as followers of Jesus, the place we need to go to fulfill God’s mission.
Every time we share Eucharist together, we sing the words from Psalm 118 that Jesus quotes in today’s gospel, the hymn sung by generations of God’s people entering the Holy City: Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna! May we be blessed as we travel to Jerusalem.