This morning, having heard the retelling of Jesus entering Jerusalem, I have to ask you – were you there?
They were marching for their lives.
So many people had gathered at the gates to enter the city. Were you one of them? The dust and the colors that swirled around as people pushed in the mob to celebrate Passover. Ahhh. How I loved the excitement, the thrill of being in the midst of the crowd. The smells of so much life, so many people, animals, food, pouring together out onto the streets was penetrating.
And then the singing began. People shouting “Hosanna! Hosanna! Blessed by the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” I had never heard such a commotion. I wasn’t sure what was going on, but I found myself drawn into the singing. “Hosanna! Hosanna!” Oh, if only the Messiah were to come into this dirty, dusty lives of ours. Even in the midst of the excitement, it is difficult for me to see were God is with us. We have so little. Our home is cobbled together and doesn’t keep out the wind when cold air swirls through. Work? Well, we do what we can. The jobs are not steady. Sometimes we work 12 hours a day. Sometimes two jobs. Sometimes three. Sometimes we can’t find work at all.
But God, God provides, and on this day, at the entrance to Jerusalem, I felt it.
Were you there?
We were marching for our lives.
Something changed. In the singing and celebration, there was something new. A man. The crowd parted. A path for someone in power maybe a king, maybe a Temple leader, unfolded. People were singing all the louder, waving their hands, dancing in the street. “Hosanna! Hosanna! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
What did it mean? I shouted along, but I had never witnessed such an outburst when I had visited Jerusalem in the past. Why were people making way for this man, seated on a colt? Who was he? Why were they creating a passage way for him into the city out of their coats and green branches?
On this day, at the entrance to Jerusalem, I felt God.
We were marching for our lives.
Have you been there?
I was there.
I can only tell you what I experienced. For this is my story. You will have your own story to tell. Hosanna! This is the Good News of God with us. I found myself there, at the gates, a little over 10 years ago. Not in Jerusalem, but in Juarez, Mexico. A city of 2.7 million people, more than 40% of whom live below the poverty line. There I gathered with several thousand other people to experience the Passion of Christ on Good Friday.
I was there, in the city: dusty, sweaty, and tired. A week earlier we had crossed the narrow, muddy sludge of the once mighty Rio Grande, and entered the city packed into an old, white van without air conditioning. It was hot. The roof sagged under the weight of our baggage tied to the top of the vehicle. The wheels rolled in and out of the ruts of the unpaved urban roads. Rap music swirled from the van’s radio. Now it was the end of the week of lifting cinder blocks and mixing mortar to build the walls of this new, 20 x 20 foot one-room house. There was no plumbing. No electricity. But this home was larger and sturdier than the home made of pallet boards and cardboard it replaced. It would keep out the desert dust and winds that sweep through the city. The new home stood out in the neighborhood, as this home had windows, and a door—that actually locked. Here, in the sprawling slums of Juarez, Mexico, the barren desert accentuated the poverty overwhelming the city.
I was there- on a Friday. It was the end of Holy Week- it was Good Friday. I was there- with an ecumenical community from my home town, which included the youth group from my church. I was there, and on that Friday witnessed Jesus brought before Pontius Pilate one the raised platform alongside the Roman Catholic Church. I witnessed Jesus’ taunting, the whipping, and the crown of thorns placed on his head, drawing blood. And I was there, with the swelling crowd of parent pushing strollers along the ruts in the road, the individuals using walkers over the multi-mile walk, the kids running and laughing, oblivious to the man—Jesus—struggling along the road with a heavy wooden cross on his shoulders. I was there, as one cross was raised, then another, and another. Three crosses. Three men. Three people reenacting the final moments of Jesus’ life. And yes, I witnessed Jesus’ last words, and final breath.
I witnessed the crowd slowly dispersing.
Marching for our lives.
A short time later, we gathered there, in the shelter of the new dwelling, with the family for whom we had built a house. It had been one week. One week during which a new home had been built, and new friendships forged. Young, old; Men, women; American, Mexican; Protestant, Catholic, uncertain. Borders were crossed. Boundaries melted away. We presented housewarming gifts- blankets, pots, pans, and toys for the kids. We stood together in a circle inside this place of shelter, under the protection the angled rafters rising above us, shielding us from the afternoon sun. I was there, looking into the faces around me, remembering the first time I traveled to Juarez on a house building mission a couple of years earlier. I remembered the moment at the end of that week when we stood gathered in a circle with another family, in their new home, as an elder from our church took out his harmonica and began to play “Amazing Grace.” I remembered how the Spirit, resting firmly in our midst throughout the week began to swirl and dance in our midst us as our voices joined together: in Spanish and in English. Our hands clasped in solidarity. The Spirit of God filled our souls and intertwined our lives. We were one body. Hearts pounded. Tears flowed. I was there…and again the notes began to rise…echoed in my wood flute…
(Pastor Kris then played Amazing Grace on a Native American flute)
Were you there?
Marching for our lives?
(The next portion of the sermon was offered by an eighth grader, Brandon Fritz, who had attended the March for Our Lives event in Madison, Wisconsin the day before. Brandon offered a reflection on the march, talking about how it impacted him.)
Something changed. In the singing and celebration, there was something new.
There, marching for our lives.
There, at the gates of Jerusalem.
There, on the streets of Juarez.
There, circled around the Capital in Madison, Wisconsin.
There, with God. There with Christ. There, with the Holy Spirit. There, in one body.
Have you been THERE?
Reflection offered on Palm Sunday, March 25, 2018 based on Mark 11:1-11
 Valencia, Nick. “After Years of Violence, ‘life Is Back’ in Juarez.” CNN. April 21, 2015. Accessed March 20, 2018. https://www.cnn.com/2015/04/21/americas/mexico-ciudad-juarez-tourism/index.html.