According to Luke’s account, Jesus’ final pilgrimage to Jerusalem began far to the North, up between Samaria and Galilee. This would probably mean that he passed through Nazareth, not inconsequential, considering that’s where he was raised. From there they probably made their way to the Jordan River and went by boat (the usual way of traveling from North to South in Israel in that day). Luke says that when they reached the outskirts of Jericho (moving from the river, headed west toward Jerusalem), Jesus had an encounter with a blind man, whom he healed. From there they must have continued on toward Bethany and Bethphage, mentioned in the account of Palm Sunday. These towns are what we would call suburbs of Jerusalem today.
Jerusalem is built on a hill called Mt. Moriah. It is a very steep entrance to the city coming from the East, across the Kidron Valley and up through either the Susa Gate, directly into the Temple through Solomon’s Porch or a slightly longer, but less hilly entrance through the Sheep Gate on the north side. Either way, it is a steep walk that ultimately takes you through gates and right into the Temple.
I know that if you are reading the Daily Office Lectionary along with us (www.esv.org, under reading plans click on “Daily Office Lectionary”) I’m really getting ahead of myself, but I want you to experience something. It is the day that Jesus made his Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem. He has to climb a very steep hill. No wonder he commandeered a donkey!
Now, put your reading of the gospel narrative on “pause” (you’ve probably flipped to Luke 19 by now), and read any of the Psalms appointed for today in the Lectionary. I personally like Psalm 121 to illustrate the point I’m going to make:
I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD is your keeper;
the LORD is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The LORD will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The LORD will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore.
Now, just for a second, pretend that you are Jesus, and you and your disciples and the crowds have come over Mt. Olivet, a hill just outside Jerusalem, and paraded into the Kidron Valley on the road from Jericho.
Stop. Right there. At the bottom of the hill. There is a huge crowd around you. They are throwing their cloaks down on the road and waving palm branches and crying out, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” But you are Jesus, and you’re looking up at the East wall of the Temple, at the Susa Gate and Solomon’s Porch beyond it. And you are entirely aware that just behind you is a small walled garden you passed where, in just four days you will meet your greatest fear in the world.
The people are crying, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” But that’s not what you’re hearing. You’ve got one of the “Song of Ascent” Psalms in your head. These are the songs you were taught to sing along with the great throngs you were part of on annual pilgrimages to the great City of David. These were the songs you were taught to sing as you ascended the hill up Mt. Moriah every year. These are the songs you were taught to sing on your way up…into the Temple. You have become completely insensible to the sound of this crowd. Your eyes and heart are fixed on the Temple Mount and you are hearing:
“I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?” This is your Father’s house, and you have set your greatest hope on going there one last time before they come for you.
“My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” You are going up to The Temple where the Holy of Holies is. You’re going up to the place where the presence of the Lord is. You’re going up to meet with Yahweh. You’re going up to be mocked and beaten.
“He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.”
You look down. Though you’re riding on a small donkey, the road is steep and your goal is above. Will God let you stumble? No. You have perfect confidence in a Father who never sleeps, even when you rest. He’s got you. There’s no need to worry. You are going up to face Pilate and Herod. You’re going up to be betrayed and denied by your best friends.
There are no trees on this hillside. It is mid-morning, and the Sun is already high in the sky, just behind you. But because Jerusalem is 32 degrees north of the Equator, your shadow is just to your right and in front of you, and it reminds you that is going to be alright. You’re going up to be led through the streets almost naked under the crushing weight of a heavy beam.
“The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.”
You almost smile. Yes. God is with you. You calmly mouth the words you recently taught to your disciples, “and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil…” You’re going up to hear these same crowds crying for them to crucify you.
“The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.”
It is going to be alright. You are going up to die. And it is going to be alright.
Just now you are aware that you and the donkey have finished climbing the hill and the great stone archway of Susa gate is passing over your head.
“The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.”
It is going to be alright. You are going up.