Entering the Spiritual Temple, part 1

For hundreds of years, Jewish families would leave their homes and make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. There, they would gather to worship in the Temple and celebrate Passover. Jesus made this pilgrimage with his parents every year of his life. By the time he was in his 30s, one of these trips would be his last.

This Sunday, most Christian churches will celebrate Palm Sunday, Jesus’ final entry into Jerusalem for one last Passover celebration. They will tell a story about Jesus entering the city humbly, on a donkey, through a lesser city gate, while the Governor and Roman Legions entered magnificently, on war Elephants through the main city gate. Christian preachers around the world will use this contrast in different ways. Some will talk about the social and political inequality of the time and how it compares to our current troubles. Some will talk about the power of God through Jesus over and above the power and might of the Roman Empire.

These are all good and valid spins. However, I’ve started to realize that, while we’re pretty good at finding social liberation metaphors in the Bible, we’re not quite as adept at finding the spiritual metaphors. And this one is so obvious! Are you kidding me? There are two different gates in this story, people!

One gate, the main gate, is the one used by the majority of people, and the one through which the Roman Empire enters Jerusalem—the Holy City. Here, Jerusalem itself, as it is in other places throughout the Bible, is the very being of God. Rome stands for all people—both Jew and Gentile, who think of God as something to be conquered or contained; something that can only be perceived and experienced by the select, the elite. The Jewish priesthood of the time kept God behind the walls of the Temple, which was behind walls, which was then behind the walls of the city itself. People did not get close to God; people went to Priests, who had a special ability to converse with God. At the main gate, God gets all bottled up, and the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem conveys the irony of this situation. Passover is in part about remembering when God was with the people during their desert exile—no temple needed. Yet this story shows clearly that once again, the people have tried to contain God in a little box.

By having Jesus enter through a different gate, the authors of this story want the audience to understand that Jesus asks us to look at God the way our ancestors did—as an intimate lover who comes to us through the common door—not as a mighty overlord who demands a fancy parade.

Think about the doors on your own home for a moment. Do friends and family come in through the nice front door, or do they let themselves in through the garage? When your loved one gets home at the end of the day, does he or she come in through the front door, or through the garage door, the intimate door, the door that leads right to the soul of the house (usually the kitchen)?

This is what the Palm Sunday story asks us to consider: That God enters not through a massive gate, but through the intimate doorway to our soul. When Jesus enters Jerusalem and is met by people throwing an ancient symbol of triumph at his feet (Palm branches were used by the Roman Emperors as symbols of victory and triumph), the authors want us to understand that God wins. God is victorious over the pomp and circumstance of empire. God breaks through the little boxes in which we continually try to place God.

The spiritual point of the Palm Sunday story is that God is victorious by simply coming in through the garage door and saying, “Honey, I’m home.” No parade necessary.

Meditation: God, I’m home. Come on in.

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