March 25, 2018

Mark 11:1-11
Mark 15
Philippians 2:5-11

“The Reason You Walk”

It was the choir’s anthem for today, the American Spiritual “Ride On, King Jesus,” that got me thinking about Jesus’ journey through Holy Week. It was chosen innocently enough, as an anthem about the Triumphal Entry. But when Bill invited me to share with the choir about how the anthem would fit into the service on Palm Sunday, I started to realize that it was about more than just the Palm Parade.

“Ride on, King Jesus,” we sang, “No one can hinder him.” And we pictured Jesus on the donkey and the crowds laying down their cloaks and branches like a red carpet for the King.

But the repeated words, “No one can hinder him” seemed odd, because no one was trying to get in his way or stop him from entering Jerusalem that day. The crowds cheered for him and hailed him as their King! They cried out “Hosanna!” – “Lord, save us!” because they believed (at least for a moment) that he was the ruler who had come to save them from their oppressors.

What I suggested to the choir was that the journey of Jesus in the song is not just the entry into Jerusalem. It points ahead to the next part of his journey, through betrayal, arrest, denial, and all the way to the cross. And do you remember who tried to hinder him in making that journey? His own disciples did!

When Jesus told his friends back in Mark chapter 8 that “the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again” Peter began to rebuke him. Peter didn’t want him making THAT journey! He probably hoped for the kind of king who would take power and reign… probably the same kind of king for whom the crowds waved their palm branches and sang as he entered Jerusalem.

Anyway, no one hindered Jesus’ Triumphal Entry. And then, as the journey of his passion (his suffering) continued, the disciples reticence to accept the kind of King he came to be did not hinder him either.

The words of the American Spiritual are interesting. First, we hear, “King Jesus rides on a milk white horse” which seems very odd because in the Triumphal Entry Jesus rides on a lowly donkey, not a horse of any colour. As it turns out, it’s probably a reference to one or two mentions a white horse in the Book of Revelation.

In the first, the rider carries a bow, wears a crown, and comes out to conquer. Some theologians (beginning with Irenaeus in the 2nd century) interpreted the first of the four horsemen in the Book of Revelation – the one riding the white horse – as Christ himself, with his horse representing the successful spread of the Gospel.

And later in Revelation, there’s another reference to a white horse – this time with the horse coming out of heaven and Christ clearly identified as the one riding the horse. Its rider is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.

So, the author of the song wants to say more than just that Jesus rode into Jerusalem one day and no one stopped him. But he wants to say that Christ will ride all the way to the end of time and the final judgement, and no one will hinder him.

As the song continues, we hear “The river of Jordan he did cross,” and we might think of Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan river. But I think it’s more than just a reference to that Gospel story. We need to remember that Baptism not just a blessing or a welcome into the church community. Baptism means being willing to die, letting go of our personal control and giving ourselves fully to God.

After physically going down under the water to the place of death, the baptized person is raised up again from the water where there is breath and new life. So this reference to crossing the River Jordan and to Baptism is once again a reference to Jesus’ passion – to his willingness to suffer and die, and the good news that God raised him from death on the third day.

Next, we have a line that is a little easier to interpret: “The trumpet shall sound and the dead shall rise.” Clearly, Jesus’ ride is not only through the dark and difficult days of suffering, but all the way to resurrection and joy! And the reference to the trumpet sounding and the dead being raised does not only refer to Jesus’ own resurrection, but to our resurrection as well at the end of time.

Finally, we hear “And go to that mansion in the sky,” and it is abundantly clear that the journey of Jesus which no one can hinder is not only into Jerusalem, not only through suffering and death, and not only to resurrection and eternal life for Jesus, but also for all of us who seek to follow his Way.

During this Holy Week, we are invited to walk with Jesus on his difficult journey. As I talked about with the children this morning, there will be some good days and some very difficult days ahead.

After the celebration of the Triumphal Entry, Mark’s Gospel continues the story of Jesus’ journey…

  • The chief priests and scribes look for a way to arrest and kill him.
  • He is anointed with costly oil by Mary of Bethany – both an act of kindness and a foreshadowing of his death.
  • Then Judas starts looking for a way to betray him.
  • He shares the Passover meal with his disciples, during which he speaks openly about the fact that he is going to be betrayed.
  • They break bread and share wine together, and all the while Jesus knows that soon his own body will be broken and his blood poured out.
  • Jesus then goes out to pray, struggling with the path that lies ahead and the pain that he knows it will involve. Meanwhile, his disciples keep falling asleep. They cannot even watch with him for one hour.
  • Soon he is betrayed with a kiss by Judas, and all the others desert him and flee away.
  • He is taken to the High Priest where people offer false testimony against him. When Jesus says, “Yes, I am the Messiah,” they call it blasphemy.
  • And before the cock crows, Peter denies knowing Jesus three times.
  • Then he is taken to Pilate, the Roman Governor. Pilate gives the crowd the option of releasing one prisoner, but they choose Barabbas and they call for Jesus’ crucifixion.
  • The soldiers mock him, strike him, and spit on him.
  • Then they crucify him, and he calls out in pain, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
  • When Jesus dies, some of his friends make sure that his body is properly laid to rest in a new tomb.

In short, that’s the journey that we are invited to walk with Jesus during this Holy Week – a journey through suffering, betrayal, and pain. Of course, we will tell the stories and walk the journey in our special worship times on Thursday, Friday, and next Sunday. But I’m also suggesting that you might choose to read and reflect on the story each day this week in your personal times of devotion and prayer.

I included a list of readings and some questions for reflection in an email to the congregation on Friday, and there are hand-outs on the table in the narthex with that list of readings you can pick up today.

There are three things that I want you to remember as you “walk” with Jesus on his journey. First, this difficult path that Jesus walked is a reminder that God loves us so much that he entered into human life with all its joys, sorrows, and struggles. God didn’t just “masquerade” as a human, taking on a human body, but retaining the power to avoid the struggles of human living. Instead, God willingly entered into the fullness of human life, and Jesus humbled himself even unto death on a cross.

Second, I want you to remember that just as we “walk” with Jesus on this Holy Week journey, he “walks” with us in our lives. We also experience good days of celebration and hard days of disappointment, suffering, fear, and pain. I know that many of you have been through more than a fair share of those days, brought about by illness, tragedy, loss of loved ones, or other terrible circumstances. And you must know that God is longing to walk beside you and help you through whatever challenges you may be encountering.

And third, and most importantly, please remember (on the hard days) that a good day will come again soon. The best day is coming, and it’s not long from now. Next Sunday we will celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and place our trust in the promise that we also will be raised. As the choir sang this morning, “Ride on, King Jesus! No one can hinder him!”

I want to end this morning by sharing some wisdom that I learned from a book by Wab Kinew, The Reason You Walk. In telling the story of his father’s life, Wab shares about a travelling song that was traditionally sung in his Anishanabe Community near Lake of the Woods in Manitoba.

The words of the song (as translated into English) are “I am the reason you walk.” And Wab’s father explained that they are sung from the perspective of the Creator, as though God himself were singing to you, saying “I am the reason you walk.”

Like many teachings from the Bible, the words of this traditional travelling song have four layers of meaning, four ways of understanding what God is saying when he says, “I am the reason you walk.”

I am the reason you walk. I created you so that you might walk this earth.

I am the reason you walk. I gave you motivation so you would continue to walk even when the path became difficult, even seemingly impossible.

I am the reason you walk. I animated you with that driving force called love, which compelled you to help others who had forgotten they were brothers and sisters to take steps back towards one another.

I am the reason you walk. I am the destination at the end of your life towards which you are walking.

May God be the reason you walk this week, and in the weeks ahead. And may God bless your journey. Amen.