Pastor David Eisenhuth
Did you ever play the game “On My Way to Jerusalem”? I used to play it with my youth groups in previous congregations. It’s a memory game. People sit in a circle and the leader asks the question: “What would you take on a journey to Jerusalem?” The person next to the leader answers the question by saying: “On my way to Jerusalem I would take [fill in the blank].” Usually the first thing mentioned was a Bible. The next person would have to answer the question but include what the previous person said and add her own thing. The next person would answer the question by including the first two responses and add his own answer. And so it goes on until the list is impossible to remember. The list might include that Bible, a water canteen, clean clothes, et cetera. Of course, someone would add a ribald supply such as a donkey-by-another-name and everyone would laugh when the word had to be repeated over and over.
March 6 is Ash Wednesday, and so we begin our journey to Jerusalem. We symbolically join Jesus and his followers – the 12 named disciples and the many others, including women, who accompanied them as they make their way to the Holy City where they will observe the yearly celebration of Passover. This would be a time of remembrance, recalling how YAHWEH brought God’s people out of bondage in Egypt to the freedom of the Promised Land. The meal itself was the crowing event. Special foods, scriptural readings, instruction to young and old alike in the sacred tradition, and several glasses of wine (Manischevitz was probably around even then) made for a festive evening.
Of course, in the midst of this celebration, Jesus would be betrayed by Judas and turned over to the religious authorities who would judge him guilty for blasphemy. They in turn would hand him over to the Roman authorities with the recommendation that he be crucified. The plan God had for the redemption of the world would take Jesus to Calvary and then to the stone-cold tomb. The seeming triumph of death would be overcome by the joy of the following Sunday morning. A tragic trip becomes something else completely.
Lent is a 40-day journey. It does not include the Sundays during that time, because the Christian Sabbath is always a remembrance of the resurrection. That joy is somewhat subdued by the solemn nature of Lent, but not overcome by it. Count back 40 days from Easter and you come to a Wednesday. The color of the black vestments and altar paraments, as well as the imposition of ashes on the fore- heads of worshippers, all remind us that the consequence of sin is death. The words spoken at the imposition of ashes recall the horrifying curse spoken to Adam and Eve after they fell from God’s grace: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
And so, as our journey begins, please answer the question: “What are you taking along on your journey to Jerusalem”? Please don’t say the other word for donkey. I’ve heard it a thousand times! I would like to make a suggestion. How about a penitent heart? Lent gives us time to realize how far short of God’s hopes for us we have fallen. After honestly pondering on that for forty days you should be ready to be uplifted by Easter Sunday. That’s the penitent part. The other part is your heart.
Tradition has it that your heart is the very center of your life, expressing the emotional pantheon of human feelings: love, hate, joy, hope, despair, to name a few. While we know the brain really has that function, we still talk about giving our heart to someone we love. Likewise, we can easily break the heart of someone we should care about by simple words. If you take your heart on this journey, it means all of your being is on that road to Jerusalem.
When the liturgy for Lent was proposed for what became the Lutheran Book of Worship, it offered a way by which this 40-day journey could take shape. Ash Wednesday begins with a lengthy confession. Normally a confession has an absolution attached to it. The one for Ash Wednesday does not. It is withheld until the liturgy for Holy Thursday, the official end of Lent, which also has an extended confession, but this time it includes a powerful absolution. For the Sundays in Lent I like to begin the service with the Decalogue, a recitation of the Ten Commandments. The journey, long as it may be, is complete. Our penitent hearts are laid at the feet of Jesus who takes them up, carries them to the cross, buries them in the darkness of the tomb, and ultimately fills them with joy on Easter Day.
On our way to Jerusalem . . .