(Every year Brian writes a pastoral letter to the Wine Before Breakfast community at the University of Toronto in which he calls the community to be intentional about keeping Holy Week. We share this letter with the broader Empire Remixed community.)
by Brian Walsh
We have spent the last year at Wine Before Breakfast looking for a better city.
It all began with the urban contrast of all urban contrasts:
the fall of Babylon and the descending of the New Jerusalem.
The city of man meets the city of God.
The imperial regime of luxurious wealth
built on the solid foundation of oppression and idolatry
meets a city of radical hospitality, healing and joy
built on the solid foundation of the homecoming God.
Babylon and Jerusalem.
The contrast echoes throughout the biblical story.
And they find deep resonance in our own urban experiences.
But the contrast that is stark at the end of the story,
is much more ambiguous in the midst of the tale.
At some points we are called to seek the peace of Babylon.
And at other times Jerusalem starts to look suspiciously like Babylon.
Jerusalem, the “Rain of Peace,” seldom lives up to its name.
And this week of all weeks,
this Holy Week that is at the very heart of any Christian faith,
is all about a Jerusalem that rains blood, not peace.
It is all about Jerusalem not living up to its name.
We seek a better city.
Maybe even a city of refuge.
A city where there would no longer be the sound of weeping,
or the cry of distress;
where infant mortality would be unheard of
and old folks would live full and rich lives;
where folks would build houses
and inhabit them;
where they would plant gardens
and have community feasts;
where people would have fulfilling labour
and child protection agencies would be irrelevant.
A restored city of shalom,
where there would be no homeless neighbours,
where people would no longer need to numb themselves
with cheap wine,
where the vulnerable and broken would be held in love
and find their refuge in a community of justice.
But that is not the city that Jesus entered on Palm Sunday so long ago.
Carl Daw Jr.’s Dakota inspired hymn “Into Jerusalem Jesus Rode” understands this well:
Into Jerusalem Jesus rode,
triumphant king acclaimed;
palm branches spread to honor his way
garments laid down as tokens of praise;
shouts of “Hosanna” surged through the throng
Maybe it looked hopeful when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the foal of a donkey.
But he knew what was up.
He knew what kind of city this was.
Within Jerusalem Jesus stood,
masquerade king reviled;
thorns made a crown (grim satire of truth),
robe like a wound thrown over his back;
echoes of “Crucify” filled the air
From “Hosanna” to “Crucify!” That is the story of this week.
That is our story.
Outside Jerusalem Jesus hung,
crucified King despised;
wood formed a cross suspending his life;
soldiers cast lots to deal out his clothes;
his lonely cries: “My God”;”It is done,”
So much for Jerusalem being the City of God.
Death in the city.
The death of the Son of God.
And yet …
And yet, there is no hope of a New Jerusalem,
there is no ‘better city’
there is no fulfillment of our deepest urban dreams,
without this path of into, within, outside;
without this story of rode, stood, hung.
The city is steeped in violence.
From Babel to Sodom to Jericho to Jerusalem
to Babylon and to Jerusalem again,
the city is steeped in violence.
And at the heart of biblical faith,
at the very denouement of the story,
is a path that goes into this city,
to stand for trial, beating and humility,
and ultimately be taken outside of that city to hang on a cross and die.
There is no restored city,
no city that rains peace,
no city of joyful homecoming,
no New Jerusalem,
that does not go through the violent streets of the old Jerusalem,
that does not go to the cross outside of the city.
And so this week we return to Jerusalem.
It’s called “Holy Week” for good reason.
If you mark time, then this week is the holiest of all weeks.
Jesus went into Jerusalem,
stood within that city,
and hung on a cross outside of city walls.
We are called to go there with him.
Holy Week is not optional, my friends.
If you want to follow Jesus,
if you want to take discipleship seriously,
if you really long for a better city,
then to Jerusalem you must go.
So as a brother and as a pastor, I make bold to call us to keep Holy Week.
Go to Jerusalem this week by reading, meditating and praying
over the passion narratives in the four gospels.
Read the stories and read them again.
Have this story permeate your consciousness and transform your imaginations.
Never allow this story to be too far from you as you go about your daily tasks.
And go to church.
Maybe Wine Before Breakfast is about all that you can handle at this stage of your life.
Maybe the closest that you come to church is reading these blogs at empireremixed.com.
Well this week, I call you to church.
Don’t miss out on the services of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
And if there is a Great Vigil service happening near you on Saturday night, go there too.
All of these services call us to follow Jesus to Jerusalem.
They invite you into the story of all stories.
Going to church this week just might save your life.
In prayerful humility and pastoral boldness,