Returning to Jerusalem

One of the great joys of being a children’s pastor is the opportunity to experience our sacred stories through the eyes of our children. Each class holds different parts of the story as sacred; different pieces are catalysts for deep theological questions. On Sunday, after the palm fronds are put away and we are regrouped in our classrooms, we will remember the story of Holy Week. From Jesus riding into the city, to the temple with overturned tables. We will talk about betrayal and denial. We will remember feet washing and bread breaking. We will remember that Jesus was crucified and buried. That he rose again. 

It’s a big story, and each year we repeat it and add to it, allowing students to grow in their understanding. I know that it will be the three-year-olds who will ask, “Where was Jesus’ mom?” when we look at the picture of a cross against a grey sky background and remember that “on Friday Jesus was crucified, and he died on a cross.” Sometimes they even ask, “Where was his dad?”

Fourth and fifth graders will agree with the Apostle Peter that it was “really strange” that Jesus washed their feet, and wonder together if the disciples even knew that the Last Supper was indeed the LAST supper. Third graders will wrestle with the fact that each of the Gospels tell a different story, that they all remember different words that Jesus spoke, and wonder how the pieces make up the whole.

The two-year-olds will continue to shout their own interpretations of “Hosanna!” even when asked to be quiet. These students become my teachers, forcing me to see the story of Jesus’ Passion through new eyes each year. They invite me to be a better pastor, as I know there will be children with wide eyes and concern on their faces asking the question, “Why?”

Why do we tell this story again and again? The Gospel writers all focused on it, dedicating significant sections of their writing to this strange week ahead. Our theology is dependent on it: His new commandment, the meal he shared, his final act of sacrifice, and his resurrection change how we understand and explain the world around us and our place within it. But perhaps it is through the lens of my teachers that I am reminded of something else about this week. It is a story that feels uncomfortably familiar, even prescient: People are fickle, injustice seems to win, danger is around every corner, friends fall short, and prayers seem unanswered. I am humbled by the fact that Jesus chose to be a part of this particular story. He chose to face ridicule, betrayal, denial, and death. He chose to do so out of love.

That is the why. God loves us enough to send Jesus. Jesus loves us enough to go into Jerusalem. I do not think it is by chance that it was there he gave the new commandment that we too are called to this unfolding work of love. Why do we tell the story? Because if Jesus could ride into Jerusalem knowing what might come, then we are called to follow him. To take this incredible love that has been poured out for us and use it – in places of danger, in the face of injustice, when prayers seem unanswerable, and when the cross looms large. We carry this love and we whisper the hope of resurrection.