When I visited the Holy Land in January 2015, I was among a group of travelers that walked down from the top of the hill just east of Jerusalem toward the valley below.
On the Mount of Olives, in the Dominus Flevit Church at the Garden of Gethsemane, the cross on the altar forms crosshairs like a gunsight, focused on The Rock, the site of the Temple, where Jesus was bound on Palm Sunday.
From the Mount of Olives he rode, descending into the Kidron Valley, and was hailed as he approached the town walls, by a crowd. A crowd of people, celebrating the arrival of the one they hailed as the Messiah, the coming king of the Jews, the promise of ages fulfilled.
Jesus did not disappoint them, that day. He ascended into the Temple precincts atop the giant platform Herod built. He looked all around, at everything (familiar from his yearly family visits) and went out.
Please note that the gospel of Luke tells us (2:41) that these were not strange sights to him (“Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover”) but we see through his eyes the whole set-up of the Temple of the time: the soldiers at the gates, the Fortress not to be missed that overlooked the scene, - handy by bridge or stairs to quell Temple riot or small disturbance, - the courtyards teeming with holiday people, the coffers that ring when pilgrims bring offerings to the God they love. And the Temple authorities, looking on, cooperating, getting along with the Roman Empire and getting enriched by it.
Jesus sees it all and through his eyes we see it - and see it also as it is supposed to be - a house of prayer for all people, together at last in peace to worship one God together.
He goes out. - and returns for days to sit and teach in the Temple compound, the loving God whose peaceable kingdom is on the brink of becoming established.
It is real enough in his followers, his words and deeds, his demonstrations of its power not confined to miracles: for the people sing Hosanna to their king.
This is disturbing, potentially revolutionary, blasphemy! The people who represent the powers that be realize the present dangers of riot, insurrection, overthrow of their established order. Call it - disturbance of the peace, of the Roman peace that is control and profit.
So they plot and worry and one who is as afraid as they are sells him out, tells them where to find him, catch him, on the quiet, isolated from view, and bring him to in-justice.
We see the trial, so-called, acted out - and a very different crowd, Pilate sympathizers, emperor-loyal, coached to cheer the chains they wear, betrayers to a man - they, their livelihooods put at risk by this outsider - they say to Pilate, “Crucify him!” And so Roman justice goes to work “for fear of the Jews” - that is, those Jews who are already on their side, willing to see a man die “for the sake of the nation” - and themselves.
On the Via Dolorosa you begin at Pilate’s palace - or rather, beneath it, where the soldiers played dice, a scorecard scratched in the stone, the prize a prisoner’s clothes.
And then as the path through the marketplace, a busy thoroughfare then as now, twists and turns through the workaday scene, people going about their business as in their midst the soldiers went about theirs, leading a prisoner to the execution place, his shoulders burdened with crosspiece-weight of his own instrument of execution, whipped onward, public spectacle - Don’t Cross Rome, Don’t Even Think to “Question Authority” - and finally up a little hill he is fixed above the ground a little way, shortly, just enough to get his feet clear, but enough to hang - and die.
Eventually we are told the charge against him: This is Jesus, the King of the Jews. Mocking. Truth.
A man whose kingdom was not of this world, the world of an emperor, Augustus, called Son of God, whose own centurion at the last could say, This man truly was the Son of God!”
And they take him down, we are told, two pious men find him a tomb nearby, and women who mourn him begin to prepare the spice that sweeten the corpse - the last duty of devotion. And night falls early on the scene.
That is where we leave it today, Palm Sunday: a man executed under Pontius Pilate’s orders.