There was a crowd forming beside the road. A wild procession was slowly making its way to Jerusalem. Smiles radiated from every face because they thought this man was the next king! People shouted "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the king of Israel!" They were laughing and jumping and bowing, making merry in the most exuberant way. They even had branches to put under the feet of the donkey to signify respect for the one who rode on it. Jesus sat and solemnly made His way through the crowded road and allowed their praises to surround Him. He knew who He was. He knew where He was going. He knew what was next.
Hurrying, I stepped to the side of the road. I didn't want to miss this opportunity. It was a hot and dusty day. People, in their excitement, had pushed and shoved to find a clear view of Him and I, too, longed to get a good look at Him.
But I got much more.
I got a look from him.
There are many ways to read a Bible passage. We can underline and circle and draw arrows to words that show more clearly what was intended by the writer. We can read what scholars have written about the passage to get more information. We can use cross-references to learn more. We can read books and listen to sermons. And after we study well, we can meditatively and prayerfully step into the story and see what else God might have for us.
That's what I did. It was Palm Sunday. Our pastor read the words we have heard every year reminding us of the happenings of that day and what the coming week held for Jesus. I have heard that story so many times. How could I find a way to see it with a fresh perspective?
I closed my eyes and asked the Holy Spirit to reveal Christ to me as I stepped into that story. I found myself in the crowd. I felt their excitement. I smelled their sweat. I saw the procession far down the road. Soon he was right in front of me, passing slowly, on his way to his death.
What happened next is something I'll never forget. As he passed by, as I looked at him, as I searched his face, he turned and looked straight at me. His brown eyes bore into my soul as I realized that he knew who I was. He knew my name and my love for him. He knew my heart with its hidden pockets of darkness. He knew. He knew it all. And even with all this knowing, He loved me deeply. I knew it. I felt it.
His gaze said it all. It was a breathtaking moment and I blushed with joy while savoring His love for me in a fresh way while standing on the side of that dusty road.
Opening my eyes, I realized that this is who Jesus is. His kingdom is not about being an earthly king. It is about His wide, long, high and deep love for us. It's about His knowledge of our hearts and His doing what only He could do to save us.
Have you ever tried to step into a Bible story? I encourage you to take such a journey, especially in the coming week. How would the story of Jesus praying in the garden become more real if you were one of the disciples nodding off to sleep while Jesus asked you to stay awake and pray? What might you hear in a new way as you sit with Jesus in the Upper Room and He tells you of His coming death? How might you feel as you watch as He is beaten and stripped, mocked and murdered? Sitting at the foot of the cross helplessly watching Him suffer, what would you see? What might you hear? How would you feel?
I would offer these options for stepping into a story:
- Become one of the characters in the story
- Become Peter and feel how he felt after betraying Jesus.
- Become the guard who beat Jesus; wonder at the anger.
- Become Jesus' mother and weep.
- Become John, the one Jesus especially loved. Lean your head against His chest in the upper room and listen to what He has to say.
- Be yourself.
- Interact as you: a part of the crowd, one of the children, one of the disciples,
- Let Jesus wash your feet.
- Warm yourself at the fire as Peter denies Christ.
- Be an observer.
- Watch as Jesus washed the disciples feet.
- Watch as the guards came to take Jesus away from the garden on that dark night.
- Stand at the foot of the cross and watch Jesus die.
- Go with Mary to find the tomb empty. Run with her to tell the disciples the GREAT news that He had risen from the dead!
- Once you know who you are in the story let it play out as the scripture tells it. What might you see, smell, feel or taste? What might Christ want you to see anew in that particular story?
As a result, this might be the most heartfelt Holy Week you have ever experienced. Slow down. Open the scripture and see what is there as you step in to find Jesus's actions and words spoken as though you were standing right there.
I didn't travel to Israel. I didn't make up something strange. I stepped into one of the stories in Jesus' life and I let it speak to me. I didn't make up something contrary to scripture. I just let the Holy Spirit guide my thoughts. And it was gloriously profound.
Which story would you like to step into?