Wednesday, March 5, 2014

It's Already Late

This is the first in a series of devotional thoughts based on the last week of Jesus' life. I'll be preaching from these same passages each Sunday during the season of Lent. If you would like to use these passages in your own devotional reading for this season, I've put together a reading/prayer plan for your use.

Today's text: Mark 11:1-12

PALM SUNDAY: It's a little strange to be reading about Jesus' entry into Jerusalem on Ash Wednesday. Normally we don't make it to this part of the story until late in the Lenten season. This year, I've chosen to spend all 40 days of Lent in the last week of Jesus' life. Mark's gospel spends almost 40% of its time in this last week of Jesus' life.

Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday are more connected than most free-church Protestants realize. As those in the liturgical tradition know, the ashes used to mark penitents heads each Ash Wednesday often come from burning the previous year's palms.

There are thematic connections as well.

You are dust, and to dust you shall return.

As Jesus descended down the Mount of Olives on the back of that colt, death hung over the descent. Jesus knew this would be his last journey into Jerusalem. Three times, already, he had predicted that he would die at the hands of the religious leadership of Israel (8:31-33; 9:30-32; 10:32-34).

In John's Jesus' first words after this ride are about a seed falling to the ground and dying. In Luke, Jesus not only weeps over Jerusalem, he uncharacteristically encourages his disciples to shout out with praise. His words and actions betray him as a man who knows that his time is almost up.

Mark's telling is more reserved. There is the parade and the praise, but at the end Jesus gets off the colt, enters the temple courts, takes a look around, and then leaves. The text tells us that his actions are abbreviated "since it was already late." Not as dramatic, but telling nonetheless.

It was late. Not just in the day. No. It was growing late for Jesus' ministry. There was not much time left now. No wonder he let the disciples shout in joy. They would hardly get another chance. No wonder he wept over Zion. Her chance to recognize her Messiah grew dimmer with the day.

Since it was late . . . best be about that which matters most.

That was true for Jesus on Palm Sunday. It rings true for us on Ash Wednesday.

It's growing late. In fact, it already is late.

Death's shadow grows ever longer over each of our lives.

You are dust, and to dust you shall return. No matter how much we attempt to ignore it. It is true. It is late.

Time to be about that which matters most.

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