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Road Trip to the Passion

March 28, 2022
The Judean Wilderness (DCR March 12, 2022)

“Do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up, do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:19).

In February we usually take a road trip from our beach community at about 1500 feet to a retreat at a high desert monastery in Valyermo, California, nestled against mountains at an elevation of about 4700 feet.  The 3200 foot difference in elevation reminds me of Jesus’ 17 mile road trip in about 32 A.D. from Jericho, at 900 feet below sea level, to Jerusalem, at 2500 feet–a difference of 3400 feet.  It would be the last time he would walk this road with his disciples. It was the road trip to the cross.  The terrain of the Judean Wilderness is not unlike the high desert in Valyermo—vast areas of dry land with few natural sources of water. 

The scripture texts this week prepare us for that trip.[1]  Psalm 126 is in a group of Psalms (120-134) called Psalms of Ascent—songs that were sung by the pilgrims as they walked up the road to Jerusalem.   The road up to Jerusalem is steep; singing these 15 psalms kept their minds off of the physical exertion and on the spiritual purpose of the journey.  

Pilgrimages were made to the temple in Jerusalem at least once a year during the three major festivals: Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles.[2]  Jesus’ final trip from Jericho to Jerusalem was during the time of Passover; he and his disciples would have sung this psalm on the ascent to Jerusalem.   Jesus must have been enveloped with a sense of his destiny as he sang the psalm promising a harvest of joy: “He who goes out weeping carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him” (Psalm 126:6).

The words of Biblical prophets are always set in the context of the times, but often also foreshadow greater events in the future. The last chapters of Isaiah, including Chapter 43, are filled with references to the Messiah.  In our text this week, Isaiah recounts the exodus (v 16-17) and promises that the miracles of the past are nothing compared to what is to come: “Do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” (v. 19).  Isaiah is looking to the Messiah, who would rescue mankind once and for all. 

In this week’s gospel text, Jesus predicts his death at the hands of the religious leaders.  In the parable of the wicked tenants, Jesus thinly disguises the players of the passion, and the priests knew it: “[T]hey perceived that he had told this parable against them.” (Luke 20:19).   God is the owner of the vineyard, Israel is the vineyard, the tenants are the religious leaders and the son is Jesus, the Messiah.  The religious leaders now knew that Jesus was aware of the plot to kill him, “So they watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor.” (Luke 20: 20).

Paul discusses Jesus’ suffering for our sake and “.  . . the power of his resurrection . . .” (Philippians 3:10).   He encourages us to “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (v. 14).

The Benedictine monks at St. Andrews Abbey in Valyermo created a path up the side of the mountain behind the monastery, where metal and wood sculptures are set at intervals, depicting the stations of the cross, reminding us of Christ’s suffering and death.  Bob and I walked the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem again a few weeks ago with other pilgrims; it is always a profound experience to walk on the road that Jesus walked to the cross.  

Jesus emerged from the Judean wilderness for the trek up to Jerusalem for one last time.  The coming weeks are an opportunity for us to emerge from our own wildernesses of pride, anger, illness, addiction, disappointment, grief, anxiety, and suffering for any reason, by confessing our shortcomings, and turning over our cares to the One who walked to the cross for you and for me. 

As you ascend up to the spiritual peak of the passion and resurrection, be confident that the seeds of faith that you carry will result in a harvest of great joy. 

Prayer: Father, be with us as we journey to the cross during the next few weeks.  We turn over the burdens we bear that we name in our hearts to you–whose Son took on our sins so that we might be free.  Put your arms around us in our sorrows and suffering. Help us perceive the new things that you are doing in our lives.  Fill us with your Spirit and songs of joy as we celebrate the resurrection and the joy we will experience when we are reunited forever with you and with our loved ones who have gone before us.  Amen.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scriptures for the Fifth Sunday in Lent are Psalm 126; Isaiah 43:16-21; Philippians 3:8-14; Luke 20: 9-20. 

[2] “[W]orshipers originally sung these psalms as they ascended up the road to Jerusalem to attend the three pilgrim festivals (Deuteronomy 16:16) or as the priests ascended the fifteen steps to minister at the Temple in Jerusalem.” (Keith Ruckhaus, As Though We Were Dreaming: A Commentary on the Songs of Ascent for Lent, 2013, Wipf & Stock, p. x). 

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