Friday, March 27, 2015

a pilgrimage to Jerusalem

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our readings today mark the beginning and the end of an extraordinary week in Jerusalem almost 2000 years ago. It began with Jesus' triumphal entry into the city, with people cheering, crying hosanna, and waving palm branches in the air. It ended with the same crowd crying out for his blood, and the man they had cheered being beaten, condemned to death, and dying on a cross.

I'd like to tell you the story of something that could have taken place in between those two days, the story of a Jewish boy living in Greece who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover festival, which was taking place at this time. The boy, let's call him Reuben, was very excited by it all. His mother had worried he was too young for such a long journey and for many weeks he had thought he'd wouldn't be allowed to come. But at last his father had persuaded her and he had set out with his father and another group of men and boys from the city they lived in.

Their family had lived in Greece for many generations. They were part of what was called the diaspora, Jewish people living away from the Holy Land, but still never forgetting who they were, keeping to their religions traditions, and only marrying from among their own community. Because of this, they all dreamed of some day visiting the home country, worshipping in the great temple in Jerusalem, offering sacrifice there, and celebrating the great festival of Passover in the city that all Jewish people wished to do so.

The journey was long and hard. First they had to walk a long distances by road to the port. Then when they got to the sea, they had to find a ship that would take them to the Holy Land. And when they got there, they had to walk many miles more. It was exhausting; early starts every morning, sleeping by the road side or on the floor of some inn, for they were poor people. Ruben wondered at all the Roman soldiers he saw everywhere; for even though Greece was also part of the Roman Empire, soldiers weren't all that common. They were something for the frontiers, the borders of the empire where invasions might occur. Why so many in the Holy Land?

His father told him that this was a troubled land; the Jews hated being under the control of gentiles, people who didn't believe in the One, True God. Because of that, rebellions were always breaking out. Worse, often rebel leaders arose claiming to be the Messiah, the one God had promised would save Israel; people would believe them and follow them only to be destroyed by the Romans.

Ruben found this idea fascinating, the idea of a leader sent by God to rescue his chosen people. Wouldn't it be wonderful to meet such a person? But his father said not to be foolish, it would be too dangerous.

But to Ruben's delight, when they got to Jerusalem the city was buzzing with the news that the Messiah might actually be there! A man called Jesus had been performing all kinds of signs and wonders. People said he healed the sick, drove out demons, raised the dead, walked on water, calmed storms, and had even fed thousands with just a few scraps of bread. He was also a rabbi, a teacher, and what he had to say was deeper and more wonderful than any of the prophets in Sacred Scripture. The religious leaders didn't like him: they said he was a fraud and a blasphemer because he claimed to be the Son of God; but when they tried to argue with him, he always silenced them, winning every discussion with ease. Only a few days earlier the whole city had risen up when he entered the city, greeting him with cries of joy, and breaking branches from trees to wave in the air.

Of course, Ruben wanted to meet him! And even his, father, despite what he said about it being dangerous, couldn't resist the idea of speaking with the Messiah. But how could they, in a city that thronged with tens of thousands of people at the time of the festival, all crowding around Jesus; especially as they were strangers in the city? But then one of his father's friends who had travelled with them, said that one of Jesus' closest followers, called an Apostle, came from a Greek background like them. Well, he had a Greek name, anyway – Philip. Perhaps he would help them?

So they went to him. He said he'd talk with Andrew, another of the Apostles. And together they went off to speak with Jesus. Breathlessly the whole group of Jews who had travelled from Greece watched the two men squeeze through the crowd. From a distance they saw they go up to a man sitting in the middle of a large group of people and speak with him. Ruben supposed this must be Jesus. They waited for Philip to return. But instead he sat down, clearly listening to the rabbi as he began teaching again. They waited a long time, in case he came back to them. Finally, disappointed, they returned to their lodgings.

Perhaps we'll meet him another day, his father told him. But that day never came. Because soon Jesus was arrested, put on trial, and executed in the cruellest way possible, death on a cross. I guess he wasn't the Messiah, said his father; and Ruben agreed. But even before they left the city a few days later to head home to Greece people were saying he had risen from the dead, that he was truly the Son of God, and he was indeed the Messiah.

A few years later, when Ruben was almost fully grown, a man called Paul came to their city in Greece. He was a follower of Jesus and shared his teachings with them, and preached of his resurrection from the dead and how his death had been for the salvation of all mankind. Ruben became a believer in Christ and was baptised, and able to join in the special meal Christians called the Eucharist where after prayers by a priest like Paul bread and wine became the body and blood of Christ.

One day, just after one of these sacramental meals, Ruben told Paul how he had almost met with Jesus in Jerusalem years before, and how disappointed he had been not to.

I'm even more disappointed now, he said. Paul laughed. You think you have never met with Christ? You have met with as much as I have. I never met him face to face either; yet I meet with him every day in prayer, in the reading of Sacred Scripture and his holy Gospel, and especially in the Eucharist when he is present in his body and blood. Christ did not refuse to meet with you that day: he meets with everyone who believes in him and accepts him into their hearts. And he will meet with them in those ways until the end of time itself when they meet with him in heaven and see him standing at the right hand of the Father in glory.

And the disappointment that Ruben was feeling at that moment, and the disappointment he had felt all those years before in Jerusalem, melted away to be replaced with a sense of joy. For he knew what Paul said was true. He had met with Jesus, just as much as any of his Apostles who had walked with him in the Holy Land. He could meet with him any time he wished in prayer, the reading of Scripture, and most importantly in the breaking of the bread. For he knew then that the Lord Jesus will always meet with those who love him and follow him. Amen

as preached/told to the children of the Wandesforde National School on the occasion of their end of term service prior to the Easter holidays. 

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