2008-03-20 / Editorial

MAKE IT PLAIN

By Glenn Schicker

Sometime between the late fourth and early sixth century, a devout woman known as Egerea wrote an account of her three-year journey through the Middle East. Her description of the Easter season liturgies she observed in Jerusalem formed the basis for much of how many Christians mark that season to this day.

It begins on the Saturday before Palm Sunday in Bethany, where Jesus, six days before His final Passover, raised His friend Lazarus from the dead. "So great a multitude assembles that not only the place itself, but also the fields around, are full of people," Egerea wrote.

What a beautiful way to start the celebration of Christ's passion- not only ending, but beginning with the promise of eternity. For it was at Bethany that Jesus assured Martha, Lazarus' sister,

I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die" (John 11:25-26).

The next day, Egerea reported, the focus moved to the Mount of Olives, one of Jesus' favorite teaching venues. After the bishop read the account of Jesus' arrival in Jerusalem, Egerea wrote, "All the children in the neighbourhood, even those who are too young to walk, are carried by their parents on their shoulders, all of them bearing branches, some of palms and some of olives, and thus the bishop is escorted in the same manner as the Lord was of old."

The Bible does not specifically state that children were among the palm-waving crowd as Jesus entered Jerusalem, but they did shout praises when He arrived at the Temple. And the tradition established by Egerea's account is appropriate. After all, Jesus said,

Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these...Anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it" (Mark 10:14-15).

Egerea wrote that pilgrims on Maundy Thursday returned to the Mount of Olives, where Jesus and His disciples went after celebrating Passover, then to the Garden of Gethsemane for an all-night vigil.

In that garden, Jesus prayed, Not what I will, but what you will" (Mark 14:36). Without His willing surrender to the Father's plan, there would have been no crucifixion, no resurrection.

On Good Friday, Egerea wrote, pilgrims lined up to kiss wood believed to have come from Jesus' cross. Christians, "in such great numbers that there is no thoroughfare," then assembled at the place where Christ was crucified. There they listened to what the Old Testament writers and Jesus Himself said about His coming crucifixion and to the New Testament authors' reports of the actual event.

We know that Jesus' cross, actual or symbolic, has no magical powers and that death on Good Friday was a prelude to eternal life on Easter Sunday. But Christians should pause to reflect on the meaning of the cross. As Egerea wrote, "There is none, either great or small, who, on that day during those three hours, does not lament more than can be conceived, that the Lord had suffered those things for us."

Egerea's account ends on the Sunday after Easter, when Christians gathered at the place where Jesus first appeared to His disciples as a group. It was there that Thomas, confronted with indisputable physical evidence, lost his doubt.

Like the believers Egerea wrote about, we should celebrate the resurrection beyond the days traditionally set aside for that purpose.

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