Holy Week and Dismantling Atomic Bombs

The pilgrims on the Jericho road always sang the same song as they made their way to Jerusalem on the first day of Passover Week.

They always sang Psalm 118.

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, his steadfast love endures forever.”

And when they got to the end of the Psalm they would sing,
“Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”

And they would add in “Hosanna, Hosanna” “Save us, come and save.”

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord – to save!

And these were, of course, revolutionary words in the context of the Roman empire, especially at the beginning of Passover Week.

“Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord, to save” means “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord to release us from imperial bondage, to set us free from the repression of the empire.”

And it was clear from the singing of this psalm precisely what kind of salvation these folks had in mind.

Earlier in the psalm the pilgrims would have sung:

All nations surrounded me:
in the name of the Lord I cut them off.
They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side;
in the name of the Lord I cut them off.
They surrounded me like bees;
they blazed like a fire of thorns;
in the name of the Lord I cut them off.

And so when they sang “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord” it is clear that they are singing “Blessed is the one who cuts off the nations, defeats the nations, destroys the nations in the name of the Lord.”

And they sang this song to the one riding on the foal of a donkey because they saw in him the coming of the kingdom of David, coming, indeed, into the City of David, to reclaim Jerusalem, the City of Peace, as the City of God.

Jerusalem had never lived up to its name. This city had never been a “Rain of Peace.”
Rather, the streets of Jerusalem knew more of the flowing of blood than the gentle rains of shalom.

For these pilgrims it was time for Jerusalem to live up to its name, but there would need to be some more blood before that could happen.

If the kingdom was at hand for this city, then it would have to be bought with the price of blood – the blood of our oppressors, the blood of the nations who do not know God!

That’s what those folks were singing on that Sunday afternoon coming down the Jericho road.

And Jesus takes their hopes and longings,
he takes their kingdom enthusiasm
and vision of a liberated Jerusalem,
and turns it all on its head.

If Jerusalem is to be the City of God, the City of the Great King,
then both the king and God need to move in.

But when Jesus, this recently heralded king walks into the temple,
he kicks over the furniture and exclaims,
“My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations,
but you have made it into a den of robbers.”

And by bringing together Jeremiah’s sermon against the temple with Isaiah’s vision of a house of prayer for all the nations, Jesus undermined precisely the vision of violent destruction of the nations hoped for in Psalm 118.

Jerusalem will not be the City of God because God will no longer live in a Temple of exclusion and privilege.

And then when the religious elite ask him, “by what authority do you do these things?” he tells them the parable of the vineyard.

By what authority do I do these things?
By the authority of the son of the vineyard owner,
by the authority of the one who is killed by the tenants of the vineyard.

And then he quotes from the very Psalm that the pilgrims had been singing, but he quotes a line in the psalm that in fact subverts the very meaning that they had invested in this psalm.

Instead of saying, “I do these things as the one who comes in the name of the Lord,” he says, “Have you not read this scripture,

‘The stones the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’?”

By what authority do I do these things?
By the authority of the cornerstone that is rejected.
I am the rejected one.

There is a city to be built
– a city of shalom,
and there is a Temple to be constructed
– a place of divine presence and forgiveness, a house of prayer for all nations,
and it will be built upon the foundation that you have rejected.

So they plot to kill him.

This man is a threat to the peace of the city.

He is a threat to the peace of a city that has never known peace.

Jerusalem is the city of the great king,
and so it is that the pilgrims were also reported to have sung,
“blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David,”
indeed, “blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.”

If Jerusalem is to be restored as the city of the great king, then the king must return to claim his throne.

And so it is that the trial hangs on whether Jesus claims to be the king or not.

Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?
Are you the King of the Jews?
What do you want me to do with the man you call “king of the Jews?”

Crucify him!!

And so on the cross they put a sign above his head that read,
“King of the Jews.”

The irony is bitter.

A king hanging on a cross.

A crucified king.

Jerusalem can for a time experience the peace evoked by its name,
a peace assured by its Roman overlords,
the peace of the cross,
as an other trouble maker is dispatched to his death,
hanging on a cross outside of the city.

If there is to be a king who will restore this city,
then he will be installed on the Temple mount,
he will be installed on Mount Zion.

Jesus, however, is enthroned outside of the city,
on another hill,
not Zion but Golgotha, the place of the skull.

But there is a clue in the story as to what all of this might mean.

There is a clue in the story that indicates the kind of king that this crucified one is,
and the kind of kingdom, the kind of city, that he might bring in his wake.

While Jesus was dismissive of most of the religious leaders who argued with him during Holy Week, there was one scribe who asked a question and got a straight answer.

“Teacher,” the scribe asked, “Which commandment is first of all?”

And Jesus recognized an honesty in this question, rather than a trick, so he answered the same way that any child would have answered:

Hear O Israel;
the Lord our God,
the Lord is one;
you shall love the Lord  your God
with all your heart,
and with all your mind,
and with all your strength.

And though the scribe only asked for the commandment that is first of all, Jesus went on and added,

And the second is this: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”

And then, rather than debating with Jesus, the scribe agreed with him and added that such love is much more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.

For Jesus, love trumps all. Love wins.

And this scribe understands the truth of this and also understands that if love wins, then all other religious observances and practices are secondary to such love.

So Jesus says, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”

The pilgrims on  palm Sunday had an enthusiasm for the kingdom of David, but they were far from the Kingdom of God.

They had a vision for the violent establishment of a liberated Jerusalem, but they were far from the City of God that Jesus brings.

After the U2 album “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb” was released, an inteviewer asked Bono, “how do you dismantle and atomic bomb?” And Bono replied, “with love, with love.”

How do you dismantle the city of violence, dethrone principalities and powers, disarm the empire and usher in a Jerusalem that will live up to its name? With love, my dear friends. With love.

The love of a king enthroned on a cross.

No wonder the centurian said, “Truly, this man was God’s son.”

Brian Walsh
Brian is an activist theologian, a retired CRC campus minister, the founder of the Wine Before Breakfast community, and farms with Sylvia Keesmaat at Russet House Farm.He engages issues of theology and culture, and has written a couple of books you might want to check out. His most recent offering is cowritten with Sylvia Keesmaat and entitled Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire, Demanding Justice.

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