|Saint John Baptist de la Salle,
Jeremiah 31:10, 11-12, 13
The readings for today all speak of the promises and power of God to gather into one the people of God to celebrate God's blessings. This lesson is particularly important to us during Lent when we focus on what Jesus' role in the covenant of peace God makes with us.
As Christians, we know that the Old Testament promise to bring God's people to their own land to bless them does not depend on a historical event that establishes a territorial kingdom with a political leader in this world. As I reflect on the promises in Ezekiel 37:21-28, I can easily see why the people of Israel looked for a political solution to their spiritual anxieties. Sanctification, or freedom from sin, appears to be assured when God makes a covenant of peace and brings the scattered people together in one place of refuge where we will no longer defile ourselves or do anything detestable. In Jeremiah 31:10-13, we might also interpret redemption, or the recovery of what is owed, as a political process. Jeremiah says the Lord gathers us together and pays a ransom for us, redeeming us from whatever is too strong for us. We can imagine how it would be if we no longer were required to pay taxes, publish to get tenure, or do homework. What if we no longer experienced guilt, jealousy, loneliness, sickness, old age, or fear of death? If there were only the goodness of the Lord, giving us everything we needed, we would certainly rejoice with singing and dancing!
Given these Old Testament promises, it is not difficult for me to understand why the Jews were confused about what Jesus was saying and doing. Surely Jesus was not about securing for them their own land and gathering them together in a place of refuge. In John 11:45-57, we read that the chief priests and the Pharisees were concerned that the Romans would destroy what tenuous control they did have over their holy places and political territory if Jesus were to continue to attract believers through his teaching and healing. So, when Caiaphas, the high priest said "it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish....and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad," the rest of the chief priests and Pharisees put out a warrant for Jesus' arrest. With only a week before the feast of the Passover, when the Jews purified themselves, they wondered whether Jesus would dare enter Jerusalem.
It is my reflection on the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem to attend the Feast of the Passover that is the source of spiritual growth for me this Lenten season. Today is the day before Palm Sunday, which is also the Feast of the Passover this year. I reflect on the power of God to gather God's people together in one place of refuge were we will be cleansed. Jesus was the main attraction at the Feast of the Passover in Jerusalem that brought so many people together nearly 2,000 years ago. Jesus is the agent of our redemption today, as people gather together to be cleansed, to be healed, and to be blessed in religious sanctuaries all over the world.
It has taken me many years to understand Palm Sunday in the context of redemption. Over the years, through the practice of Lenten devotions, I learned to think about my sinful human nature, the consequences of my sin, the need for repentance, and my absolute dependence upon God's grace in cleansing me of the suffering from that sin. I do spiritual exercises during Lent to develop my inner spiritual life and look forward to Easter Sunday as the celebration of the certainty that Jesus did not suffer and die in vain to pay a ransom for my sins and the sins of other believers. But Good Friday is still ahead of me, and if I take my personal penitence seriously, rejoicing with singing and dancing on Palm Sunday seems inappropriate. Death must be faced.
Maybe spiritual exercises help, or maybe it is accepting the reality
of death, and maybe it is just all about grace, but as I grow older, I
am better able to understand Palm Sunday as a vital celebration of life
in the midst of death. If I believe that God ransomed my soul through
the death of Christ, I can also enter Jerusalem with triumphant singing
and dancing. Palm Sunday has become, for me, a celebration of Christ's
willingness to face death. In the midst of doing repentance workouts
that acknowledge the burden of my sins and how difficult it is for me to
change my life, now is also time for me to celebrate not being afraid of
my own death and new life. There is one more week of Lenten spiritual
growth exercises before the Easter celebration, but during this week, I
focus on my spiritual strengths, not my weaknesses. Tomorrow, I go
to Jerusalem with singing and dancing, not fear...and I join with all the
people of God who are gathered together to celebrate God's blessings.
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