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Today marks the beginning of Holy Week. The most important week of the church calendar. As many of you know I didn’t grow up in the church so I learned about what Holy Week was later in life. When I attended Princeton Seminary I realized that many of my classmates, who although had grown up in the church, didn’t have a clear understanding of Holy Week either. For them it was a week when their families would attend extra worship services with even more beautiful music that led up to Easter. And yes, it is all of the above, but to know why we have extra worship services and special music makes those worship services even more special. I’d like to take a moment to reflect on why this week is so special and why it is holy. The beginning of Holy Week is Palm Sunday when Jesus arrives in Jerusalem to much fanfare. There’s great excitement in the air with people yelling “Hosannah to the Son of David!” Hosannah means “to save or rescue.” People are referring to Jesus as their savior and rescuer, the Messiah (or king) that all of Israel has been waiting for.  Many are waving palm branches, which was a customary thing to do whenever royalty or someone extremely important came to town. Others laid down their cloaks before Jesus to show that they held him in such high regard they didn’t want the donkey he rode on to touch the ground. On Maundy Thursday a few important things happen. Jesus shares the passover meal which is to be his last meal (or last supper) with the disciples, but it’s at that meal he introduces the sacrament that we know today as Communion. On this night he also washes the feet of the disciples to show that while he is the king, he came to humbly serve his people. Maundy Thursday is also when he is betrayed by Judas and handed over to the authorities. Good Friday is when Jesus is tried, found guilty, is crucified, and dies. Why we call such a day “good” is because while we remember Jesus’ painful and violent death,  it foreshadows what is to come, which is of course Easter when we celebrate Christ’s resurrection from the dead. The morning that those who mourned and grieved Jesus came to believe that Jesus had defeated death.   Before we get too ahead of ourselves I thought this video might help you get a picture of what it was like when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem:  https://youtu.be/IbWurHq1bCQ While there are those who are celebrating Jesus’ arrival we are told that the rest of Jerusalem was in “turmoil.” Other translations state that the entire city was “stirred” up. In the original Greek this word is “seismo” where we get the word “seismic.” A word that describes catastrophic movement such as what happens in an earthquake. It can be said then that many in Jerusalem were shaken to the core by Jesus’s arrival.  They couldn’t quite put their finger on why they had such a visceral response, but it’s apparent they are disturbed by Jesus’ presence. So much so that they had to ask: “Who is this?” They didn’t know who he was, but they could sense that he was different. They could tell he had an authority and a power that was unlike anything they’ve ever seen. And they were frightened. While many welcomed Jesus with royal fanfare just a few days later those same people who welcomed Jesus with gusto are nowhere to be found when he is ridiculed, beaten and finally crucified.  Before we judge the people of Jerusalem for being fickle in their faith we too have to admit that we are just as fickle. There are times when we welcome Jesus into our lives with open arms and times when we, like Peter deny we ever knew him. When we welcome Jesus into our lives  it’s still a “seismic” event because when we welcome him in we also welcome the work he wishes to do in us. And that work isn’t always comfortable. NT Wright, in his commentary of Matthew compares inviting Jesus to be at work in our lives is like inviting an accountant to do your taxes. Don’t be surprised if their work goes beyond just your taxes, but into the rest of your finances exposing your spending habits and therefore exposing what you value the most. You get more than you bargained for, but what you receive is important to know. In the same way Jesus shows us where we’ve been putting all of our energy and value, and that may or may not be a good thing – as we might be valuing the wrong things. It’s likely that Jesus will show us what needs to change in us because such change will make us more into the people Jesus meant for us to be. When we invite Jesus in to work in our lives he works more thoroughly than we ask and more deeply than what we perhaps wanted, but it will always be worth it.  Worth it because the work Jesus does in our lives makes us closer to the people God meant for us to be. We can’t be those people without the help of Jesus himself. Jesus desires to free us from chains such as self doubt, shame, anger or anything that keeps us from remaining close to him. Such work isn’t easy and it is difficult, but what’s even more difficult is trying to go through life bound to whatever keeps us from Christ.   There are times when we are more apt to welcome Jesus into our lives because any work that Jesus wants to do with us, no matter how hard or convicting it may be, has got to be way better than whatever current crisis we find ourselves in.  And then there are times when we are less welcoming of Jesus’ presence. Times when all seems well! We are swimming along just great. There’s no need for help or comfort outside of ourselves. We’ve got it all under control. Our health is great, our finances are in order. Or we’ve just lived life for so long without really knowing Jesus’s transforming power in our lives that we’ve gotten use to mediocrity.  There are also times when it doesn’t seem like Jesus can be of any help, so why bother welcoming him in? Times when life is just that hard. Or just that painful.  In my nine-year old daughter’s 3rd grade class, their teacher has been reading the book “Because of Wynne Dixie” out loud to them. As with all things school related they weren’t able to finish it, so Matt and I bought a copy so Phoebe could finish it on her own (Matt and I ended up reading it too). It’s the story of a young girl, named Opal whose Dad is a baptist preacher and they’ve just moved to a new town. Opal ends up adopting a stray dog who she names Wynne-Dixie, and it’s the story of how Opal makes new friends who become like family through her new dog. You also find that there’s a lot of heartache in Opal’s family. Her mom left the family when Opal was just three years old and of course both Opal and her Dad have deep hurt in their lives because of this. Opal wants to learn more about her mom, but it’s clear her Dad tries very hard to avoid talking about it. In fact it’s difficult for Opal to get her father to talk to her at all as he tends to immerse himself in his work as a pastor instead of facing the deep void caused by his wife leaving him. In simple yet powerful language that’s only found in children’s literature, Opal describes how her Dad tends to approach life: “Sometimes the preacher reminds me of a turtle hiding inside its shell, in there thinking about things and not ever sticking his head out into the world.” When we shut Jesus out instead of welcoming him in we tend to shut out everyone else. We retreat into our shell where it’s just us and our pain, or shame or whatever it is that we’re embarrassed by or think that others can’t handle.  It seems safer that way, but in reality we’re missing out on all that’s happening around us. We miss out on relationships with friends and family that could be so life giving. Most tragically, we miss out on who Jesus is and the hope that only he can give us even in the midst of our pain, shame, or loneliness.  When we welcome Jesus into our lives our circumstances may not change. We may still have loss. We may still have troubled finances. There’s still a pandemic and we’re still sheltering in place. School is still cancelled. But what does change is that we come to realize those things don’t have to be the end all, be all. In Jesus Christ there is healing and through Jesus Christ even good things can come out of such painful situations. The reassurance that even when we ourselves or the world around us seems to be unraveling by the second, it’s the reassurance that in Jesus Christ we are still held together. No matter when we welcome Jesus into our lives (whether it was easy or difficult to do) we find that he’s already here.  What we are really celebrating on Palm Sunday is that when he arrived in Jerusalem he intended to stay. Not physically in Jerusalem, but when Jesus entered Jerusalem it was the beginning of the chain of events leading up to Christ’s resurrection that allowed Jesus to remain with us always. The last thing he said to the disciples was: “I am with you always even unto the end of the age.” That promise is a promise Jesus also made to us. To stay with us always no matter where we are, no matter what we are experiencing. His presence with us isn’t dependent upon whether or not we welcome him in. However, when we do welcome him in we realize that he’s always been with us.   When we take time to pray on our own and with others, to read God’s word again on our own and with others, we are welcoming Jesus into our lives. We welcome Jesus into the mundane, the ordinary, the good times, and the bad. When we’re in crisis or when we are in celebration. Our welcome isn’t giving Jesus permission to finally enter into our lives, but when we welcome Jesus we are opening our eyes to the fact that he’s already here. Always has been. Always will be.