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I have a story to tell and I've used my imagination a little bit. See what message there is for you in the story – a message relevant to the times we're living through – times of stress, an unknown future, changes to our daily lives. Some of us feel anger, or sadness, but also peacefulness, and quiet, time to reflect.—–
We can remember our lives before the coronavirus outbreak – Now we are living, During the crisis, This point in time is During — and there will eventually be a time when we realize, it has become After. After Coronavirus. We don't know when that will be, and we don't know yet how it will have changed us.
Remember those three ideas: Before/During/After.
Imagine I'm speaking as one of the followers of Jesus who was with him arriving in Jerusalem.
Let me tell you about our arrival in Jerusalem, listen. Come a little closer, it's OK.
We had been walking with Jesus, our teacher, our storyteller, for days and days, all the way from Galilee.
We knew where we were ending our journey, in Jerusalem, but first we had to pass through Jericho, where it was extremely hot & dry. Jericho is actually below sea level near the Dead Sea, and our walk to Jerusalem was up and up along rocky, steep paths, really hard on our feet. As we climbed, stopping to catch our breath, you could look back down to the valley far below and see how far we had come. Looking up, we weren't sure how far we still had to go.
Finally, after sunset, we reached the Mt. of Olives, a hill just outside the wall of Jerusalem. We couldn't see Jerusalem well at night, but we heard it across the valley, all the sounds of the city in the evening … It was the time of Passover celebration. We didn't know what to expect the next day. Even though we were so tired, I didn't sleep very well, with the aches in our knees and feet, and all the not knowing.
We were frightened about the future. We didn't know what would happen in Jerusalem. We heard conflicting predictions from the different disciples. Some said Jesus would perform miracles for everyone to see, we'd become famous. Others said things would go badly, that we would become split up, that we'd need to eventually hide, even from each other.
In Jerusalem, we saw lots of people outside in the alleyways, sick, with diseases. Jesus had made comments about his own death, which we didn't want to believe.
What I want to say about that time is, there was a before, a during, and an after.
We so much wanted to know the future.
Sometimes not knowing what comes next is the hardest. Back in our villages – before – there was routine, our daily work, eating the same foods, walking familiar paths. Jerusalem was different. We didn't even quite know how to act. Here there were new rules, Jerusalem felt so far away from Galilee before. Jerusalem was the during.
The next day, as we headed towards the city wall, to the Jaffa Gate, all at once Jesus got up on a donkey — you know, coming into the city on a donkey is a sign of peace, instead of a horse which would have made him look like a Roman soldier, someone with a sword and shield. He didn't want that. He wanted a small donkey.
More and more people gathered along the road, at one point people threw down branches for us to walk over, settling the dust and the dirt, it drew even more people to come see what was going on.
You could feel all the anticipation, the excitement, the questions of who this person was.
Now Jesus and all of us were entering onto a much bigger stage. I could see the tops of the Jewish Temple, I'd never seen anything like it, it was enormous. And, there were soldiers everywhere. People began shouting Hosanna, Hosanna, which means God Save Us! We knew that phrase from the Psalms. Yes, it was a time when people felt desperate, felt the need for God to save us from what we were living through.
You know now, all that happened that week – the passover supper together, the betrayal, the scattering of many of us. ,That's at least some of what happened in Jerusalem.
This was many years ago, but here's what stands out now when I look back.
Before that day, I don't remember ever seeing Jesus on a donkey or colt before, he certainly didn't look very experienced, but you could tell he was having a really great time up on that donkey, smiling and laughing at all the hullabub going on around him – really it was so comical and joyous. Which was so strange, because he knew what was coming later, the suffering, the humiliation … – but he was all in with the joy of that moment, that ride with so many people around him going into Jerusalem.
Another thing I remember about Jesus that week – When he was praying, he had a way of concentrating, he was quiet, completely still, He could focus his mind and heart on the presence of God within him … And sometimes, you could tell he was praying one of our Psalms from memory. He knew the Torah up and down , but he especially loved the prophets, Isaiah.
During the times we ate together was where Jesus connected with others… It was that Passover Meal with his disciples that still is so imprinted in my memory. Passover – that was another time when there was a before – Egypt, a During – fleeing from slavery & wandering in the Wilderness – And an After – when we entered the Promised Land… Eating the Passover meal together that week, then Jesus washing our feet, I think bound us together later.
While we ate that night, I remember how in the villages in Galilee – before- , you'd often see Jesus linger around the ovens of the village bakers, admiring the transformation of wheat and rye grains into warm bread. Same way when we'd pass vineyards as we walked, he always stopped to talk with the men & women pruning and working in the vineyards, He'd ask how they were doing, what they needed, how they were surviving.
But the time During, in Jerusalem and following months, we had to lay low, we had to be careful who we ate with, never any big gatherings. But oooh, After, we had great times eating together, sharing our food – it's something those early Jesus communities became known for.
Now, years later, so many of the communities that gather around Jesus eat bread and drink wine together to remember the vitality, the presence of Jesus, how we are saved by what he went through.
Let me say one last thing:
That period of time – the during – from Jesus walking into Jerusalem, until he died and then when the women found the empty grave – was a hinge – a distinct space between before and after.
For weeks and months after Jesus died, and then as he appeared alive to many of us in so many different ways — we began to look at our lives in new ways – Many of us took on new habits, we found that During helped us have more clarity about our lives, about loving our neighbors, those who lived around us. We paid more attention to watching the sunrise and sunset, we would stop what we were doing just to listen when it rained. We just paid more attention.
For a few months we were really confused, our lives turned inside out. All that had happened was so unexpected, so hard to comprehend. But little by little, we shared more with each other. Sharing our time, sharing our money, Even how we shared something as simple as walks together, was different during and after. We realized we didn't need to hurry. We saw how much we need each other. How important it is to talk gently, to listen to each other.
To sacrifice some of our own preferences for the good of everyone.
After that time in Jerusalem, and in the following years as the house churches began to grow, our conversations sparked our moral imagination for how we thought Jesus called us to shape our whole society… And how to deal with Rome.
Now everyone says it, but it's something we had to learn again: All of us, all humanity, and all of life on the earth around us, are in this life together, we're so interconnected. Have you seen that?
That's the end of today's story – there are more really important stories that we're going to remember and hear about in this coming week.
But for now I ask you to think about — what are you learning in this time of During? What is there to hold on to when we get to After? What do you realize you're grateful for now, even in the hardship of During?