The light is different in Holy Week. And I’m not just talking about the light during this spring equinox time which is a kind of border light–on the border of the sun’s journey in our sky between the equator and the northern pole, though there is something to that. I’m talking about the atmosphere in these stories of the last week of Jesus’ life, from the entrance into Jerusalem, to the cleansing of the temple, to a dinner in Simon the Leper’s home where the unnamed woman pours perfume on Jesus’ head to anoint him for his death, to that upper room where the supper took place, to the dark garden and the torchlight of soldiers and betrayal. The light is different, harsh as the council meets, and then again in the governor’s palace, where Pilate interrogates this intrusive prisoner and then releases him to the soldiers’ early morning abuse and torture. By the time we get to the 9 a.m. crucifixion, it’s as though the sun will never shine in the same way again, as the adrenaline and horror pounds through our heads and distorts our vision. We can hardly begin to imagine what it must have been like for him. Then of course there’s that darkness from noon until 3; and only after that do a few rays of twilight dare to return while they bury him.
As we listen to these stories, not only is the light different, but it’s almost as if our attention is drawn into focus and then out again. There is a circling around the center, a going out and a coming in, a contrast between inside and outside, until at last everything is gathered in, like a great stone sinking in a pond.
We start outside the city, in Bethany and Bethphage, where Jesus finds the colt he is to ride. Then the great, riotous procession into Jerusalem, with that odd figure somehow out of place, riding on a donkey. He comes into the city and enters the Temple, where he looks around, Mark tells us, but, “as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with twelve.”
You see, Jesus and the twelve were outsiders, not residents of Jerusalem, so they had to be out of the city before dark, when the gates were closed. They had a place to go in Bethany, to Mary and Martha’s house, but all the others, the poor, the powerless, those who worked in Jerusalem but couldn’t afford a house there, those who begged or set up stalls at the gates, all these “others” had to go outside the protection of the city walls at night. They were called “the daughters of Zion,” the unprotected, the vulnerable.
The next day, according to Mark’s account, Jesus and the twelve came back into the city, into the Temple, which was supposed to be the seat of God, and Jesus threw out the money-changers and animal sellers. “And when evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.”
At the dinner at Simon the Leper’s (that phrase in itself blurs our focus a little), the quintessential outsider–a woman of questionable reputation–enters into the house and anoints Jesus’ head with costly perfume. Everyone else wants to throw her out, condemn her for wasting the ointment that could have been sold for the poor, they said, but Jesus says that this outsider, this woman whose name we are not even told, will be remembered –by name–whenever the gospel, the good news, is told.
The circle gathers around Jesus and the table for the Passover dinner, and one within the circle goes out to betray him. After dinner they go out to the Mount of Olives, to the dark garden there, and Jesus goes apart from the sleepy circle of disciples, to pray, to plead that a different path might open up, another circle might swallow him in.
Then as the soldiers come, and the betrayer walks into the middle of the circle to identify Jesus with a kiss, the circle disperses and Jesus is taken into the inner Council circle. This place is a false center, Jesus knows, and so he does not really engage with them, centered as he is in a true-er, deeper Reality, and even as he is taken into an even more inner circle, he knows that this is not the true center. Pilate thought he was the center of power; Jesus knew he wasn’t even in the same circle.
We know what happens next. Jesus is nailed to the center of a cross, at the intersection between heaven and earth, and tradition says, his is the cross in the middle of two thieves. More likely, there were hundreds of crosses up along that hill, billboards for the Empire as warnings. And finally, Jesus enters into the Heart of Darkness, into death, placed into the tomb of one who had finally recognized which circle was the true center.
The challenge for us this week is to discover where this story–the whole story– lies in our lives. Is it at the center, or will we keep it at a distance? Do we only dabble in it for an hour or so on Sunday mornings and then step out of it as we “re-enter” our lives? Or is it a story that we know “by heart,” in our core, so that our eyes can adjust to its focal length, the center of its circle radiating out from our center? Will we let this One whose wave length, energetic signature, and harmonic vibration comes from the very heart of Reality, will we let this One in? The door only opens from the inside. It’s up to us to let him in.
So come to the table. Come take this One in. Let the story and its power become part of you. Let us keep the feast. Amen, and amen.
Rev. Mary H. Lee-Clark