There are many ways in which God’s people are called to worship; sometimes through the great words of a Psalm, maybe a choral anthem, a shared recited response, or perhaps a simple invitation through silence and stillness to “tune in” to his presence. However we are summoned – worship is an encounter with the living Christ, enabled by his Spirit.
What we might not expect, is to be drawn into Christ’s presence through the clatter of upturned market stalls and the spilled contents of a cash register; the squawking and flapping of frightened, escaped birds and the crack of a whip. Yet for the people of Jerusalem, gathered for their Passover, these were exactly the sights and sounds that summoned their attention to the presence of Jesus. And in the midst of the ensuing chaos, he announced that this was his way of calling every bystander, every customer and every merchant to make this a courtyard of prayer.
Palm Sunday is the day we traditionally remember the events surrounding Jesus’ final entry into Jerusalem – coming as King, coming as sacrifice, but confronted by the commerce and opportunism of religious tourism. The temple traders were out to make a fast buck – overcharging for animal sacrifices, and making a fair markup on the exchange deals for temple currency. And while death and resurection may be the climax of this historic week, they are not a reason for Jesus to overlook the commercial and political realities that he encounters.
Jesus disrupts the activities of those who exploit and take advantage of the needs of others, and in so doing makes waves that ripple through the corridors of power. The events of Holy Week do not avoid the prevailing political realities, but engage with them and in human terms, are ultimately a consequence of them.
Our journey through Holy Week this year will take place against the backdrop of an election campaign. The same dynamics of inequality, exploitation, social exclusion and self-interest that Jesus found in the temple market place, will no doubt be rehearsed in many of the poltical narratives that we absorb. As we journey into his presence and encounter him afresh, we do so not by ignoring the political questions and realities around us, but by reflecting on what the life and teaching of Jesus have to say about them.
Just as in the Old Testament, God called his people to seek justice before offering the worship of festival and sacrifice, so the road to Calvary confronts and disrupts an economy of self interest and personal gain. The Jesus we meet in the events of Holy Week was deeply engaged in such issues – our engagement in the political narratives of our day is not a distraction from our Gospel identity, but an expression of it.
Jesus Christ, ruler of all things,
You invite us to pray for your Kingdom’s coming;
Your heavenly will to be done here on earth.
Forgive us if we seek your presence
Only for our own comfort and ease;
Refusing to be disturbed
By the challenge of your Gospel.
Overturn the tables of our self-interest;
Scatter to the floor the wares of empty religion.
Release us from them and grant us courage to follow you,
Through the realities of our own world,
On that precarious road which leads to Calvary.
Rev Phil Jump