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Bob Lonsberry

The Week Before Easter

The Week Before Easter
Posted March 25th, 2013 @ 9:17am
He had friends in Bethany, Mary and Martha, and their brother, Lazarus. And he was pretty close to them.
 And after staying with them for a couple of days he, on the first Sunday, decided to go down into Jerusalem, the giant city sprawling before them. The center of his religion and the capital of his nation, it was where he had come to die.
 Walking into the city, as he came to the Mount of Olives, he stopped and sent two of his disciples ahead. He told them that at a certain place they would find a donkey tied. They retrieved it and he got on it and he rode it the rest of the way into Jerusalem, encountering as he travelled the most interesting display.
 It was the people. The common people of Jerusalem. They took off their robes and spread them on the road before his donkey and stripped fronds from the city's palms, to wave at him as he passed. While they shouted their love for him, and adoration.
 It was an entry fit for a king.
 The king of the Jews.
 We don't know what he did the rest of that day. But when it was spent, as evening fell, he and the apostles made the walk back to Bethany.
 On Monday they came back. Back into the city and into its magnificant temple. A house of God, a holy of holies, the place man communed with the divine. A place that had been turned into something profane. Where business was done and animals sold for sacrifice and profit.
 And he went wild.
 He started turning tables over and chasing the vendors out. He chastized them, and said they had transformed a house of prayer into a den of thieves. He purged the temple and prepared it, and healed the blind and handicapped who came at first word he had returned.
 And looking on, the chief priests, driven by jealousy and a threat to their power and riches, plotted to kill him.
 The next day, Tuesday, he came back, from Bethany to the temple, for perhaps the greatest day of teaching the world had ever seen.
 It began on the road into town, when he promised his followers that, if they had sufficient faith, they could move mountains and, "all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive."
 They challenged him and his authority as he entered the temple, but he rebuffed them, and he told the story of two brothers -- one who promised to do his father's bidding, and one who actually did it.
 It was the first of a string of parables and stories he taught in the temple that day. Parables and stories that have become a part of our culture and faith.
 Like the question about taxes, and the coin with Caesar's face.
"Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's," he said, "and to God the things that are God's." Then the seven brothers who married the same woman, one after another, and the question of whose wife she would be in the resurrection. His instruction about the "great commandment and the law," to love the Lord with all your heart and to love your neighbor as yourself. The widow's mite, and then a voice from heaven.
 "Now is my soul troubled," he said in a speech that was half prayer and half sermon. "Father, save me from this hour."
 He rebuffed the arguments of the Sadducees and he rebuffed the arguments of  the Pharisees and then he attacked them both, calling them blind and foolish, greedy and self-important.
 And then he left the temple and went to the Mount of Olives and gave a great prophesy of the last days, the end of the world, when there will be wars and desolations and the stars will fall from the skies and the sun will be darkened and the end will come.
 Then he taught the parable of the 10 virgins and the parable of the talents and told of a day when the Lord would say to his followers in judgement, "I was an hungered and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in."
 While the chief priests and the scribes and the elders gathered at the palace of the high priest to plan his murder.
 That night, back in Bethany, he ate dinner with a man named Simon, who had leprosy. Martha served them and a woman, probably Mary, poured expensive lotion on Jesus, and spread it on  his head and feet.
When asked about it, he said that it was in preparation for his burial.
 After that, under cover of darkness, Judas Iscariot, one of the apostles, went to the chief priests and offered to betray Jesus.
 Wednesday he stayed home.
 At least that's the presumption. There's nothing in the Bible about it. But he was apparently in Bethany. Possibly he was saying private good byes to family and friends. One last day of rest before the ordeal that would end and crown his mortal life.
 The next day, Thursday, was the Passover. And he sent Peter and John into Jerusalem to prepare a a place for the disciples and their Lord to eat it. That evening he and the other apostles joined them.
 It was the Last Supper, and the first communion. He knelt before each of his apostles and washed their feet as they sat, an example of service and love, and then he blessed the bread and wine, as a token of a new covenant, a promise between him and them. "In my Father's house are many mansions," he said. "I go to prepare a place for you."
Then he said, "If a man love me, he will keep my words," and he promised them that the Holy Ghost would come to them soon, to comfort them, and guide them.
 By this time it was dark and late and Jesus and 11 of the apostles -- Judas had already snuck out to summon those who would take the Lord -- went to the Mount of Olives where he explained to them that he had to die, and why, and then he prayed for them in front of them.
 "Neither pray I for these alone," he said, "but for them also which shall believe on me through their word. That they all may be in one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us."
 Jesus and the apostles then went to the Garden of Gethsemane, where he left all but Peter, James and John and went further into the grove of olive trees where he had often gone with his disciples. There he knelt down in great anguish and fear, in such agony that he sweated drops of blood, and prayed, "O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou will."
 And he began with those agonies to perform the atonement. The great reconciliation. The paying the price for the sins of billions of people. A wrenching horror of grief and guilt, borne by the only man not to have contributed to it.
 While his waiting disciples fell asleep.
 He stood over them when it was over, and off in the distance came Judas with a large group of armed men. They had come to take him to torture and death.
 And that's probably where Thursday ended. In the darkness of treachery and the ravages of evil.
 It was the pre-dawn hours of Friday when Jesus was dragged and thrown before Annas, where he was first beaten. Then he was taken to Caiaphas, the high priest, who had gathered with the chief priests and the elders and the Council and they shouted at him and mocked him and lied about him.
 And they asked him a question.
 "Art thou the Christ?"
 "I am."
 "Then the high priest rent his clothes, and saith, What need we any further witnesses? Ye have heard the blasphemy: what think ye? And they all condemned him to be guilty of death."
 "Then did they spit in his face, and buffeted him; and others smote him with the palms of their hands."
 "And the men who held Jesus mocked him, and smote him. And when they had blindfolded him, they struck him on the face."
 It was daylight by then, an early spring morning. Good Friday. And they took him to Pilate, the Roman governor, who sent him to Herod, another Roman governor, who laughed at him and ridiculed him and sent him back to Pilate.
 Who wanted to turn him loose. He sensed what was happening, that the leaders of the Jews were trying to railroad him, and he found no fault in Jesus. Certainly nothing worthy of death. But a cry was raised by the chief priests, demanding that Jesus be crucified. Eventually, Pilate couldn't refuse. He eventually washed his hands of the matter and sent Jesus to be killed.
 But first they whipped him. And they took a wreath of long sharp thorns and pressed it down on his head. And they spit in his face and in his wounds and beat him in the head with a stick.
 And sent him walking to his death.
 That was Friday about the middle of the day.
 The crucifixion nails weren't like we think. They weren't thick spikes.
They were long and thin and as sharp as the metallurgy of the day could make them. They weren't meant to crush the bones of the hands and feet, they were meant to go between them, to cut down on the chance of ripping through. The nails were meant to suspend.
 It was a miserable death. The pain was excruciating. Usually it was dehydration and asphyxiation that killed, and sometimes it didn't come for days.
 But they nailed him to the cross and raised him there and they did two other guys, one on each side of him, and the people stood around to mock his pain.
 The soldiers rolled dice to see which of them would get his clothes. He looked down and spoke the first recorded words.
 "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do."
 The words were labored and few.
 "Today shalt thou be with me in paradise," spoken to a thief hanging beside him.
 "Woman, behold thy son!" directing his own mother to John the Beloved. And then, to John, "Behold thy mother!"
 Then three hours of darkness and a cry, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"
 "I thirst."
 "It is finished."
 "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit."
 And it was done. He slumped dead on the cross. It was probably about 3 o'clock in the afternoon. To make sure he was dead, a guard stabbed him in the belly with a spear. Blood and water gushed from his side.
 Shortly thereafter, he was taken down and a man named Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate's permission to lay him in his own tomb.
Permission was granted and Jesus was wound in linen and rubbed with spices as the first step in burial preparation. Then he was put in the tomb and a stone was rolled in front of the door.
 The next day was Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath. His followers and relatives stayed at home, probably in Bethany, in shock and grief. The chief priests placed an armed guard in front of the tomb, to make sure no one stole Jesus's body.
 Early Sunday morning, before the sun came up, there was an earthquake, and an angel came from heaven -- "His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow" -- and rolled back the stone that sealed the tomb. Shortly thereafter, yet before the morning dawned, Mary came to the tomb and found it empty.
 She ran to tell Peter and John, who in turn ran back to the tomb.
Peter ducked into the tomb and saw it empty, except for the linens which had wrapped Jesus, and the cloth that had been around his head. The linens were in one pile and the cloth was in another. Peter and John were mystified, and walked back to where they had spent the night.
 But Mary stayed there, outside the tomb, sobbing.
 At some point she looked inside the tomb again, and saw there two angels. One sitting where the Savior's head had been and another where his feet had been. They asked her why she was crying and she answered, "Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him."
 Then she withdrew from the tomb and a man who she thought was the gardener asked, "Woman, why weepest thou?"
 "Sir," she answered, "if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away."
 Then he called her by name. And she recognized him.
 And she was the first witness to the resurrection. Because it wasn't the gardener who spoke here name. It was the Master.
 He was alive.
That night, as the apostles ate their supper, Jesus appeared to them as well. They were "terrified and affrighted." But he calmed them, and spoke to them, and extended his hands to them, so that they could feel his resurrected body. Then he ate some fish and honeycomb with them.
"Peace be unto you," he told them.
He was alive.
 He is alive.
 And that was the last week of his life, and the first day of our salvation.

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