The reflection looked at the events of the weeks from Palm Sunday to Pentecost through the eyes of a resident of Jerusalem who had chance to witness much of what went on.
It’s been an odd year so far, and that’s a fact. You get some years that just flow on as they should. The festivals mark the seasons – Purim, Passover, Pentecost, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Tabernacles, Chanukah – and then off we go again, all as it should be, nice and orderly.
Of course you do get the odd disruption when some Zealot tries to change the world, and simply succeeds in upsetting everyone and getting himself executed. They’re not going to make any difference I reckon. What with the Romans wanting things all peaceful and controlled and our leaders wanting to have the freedom to do their own thing, anyone rocking the boat is going to meet with problems pretty soon, you can be sure of that.
Had you asked me last year who might be causing problems this year, I’d never have thought it would be that out-of-town rabbi, Jesus. I saw him a few times when he was here in Jerusalem. Seemed like a nice young man from what I could work out. You always knew when he was around as he had such a big crowd following him. They just about filled the streets they were in. You’d no chance of getting past until they moved to the Temple or somewhere a bit wider. The way he was with the crowds, he reminded me most of a shepherd. He was always talking to them, just like the shepherds do to their flocks in their own special language. The crowds stuck so close to him, not willing to miss a word, following like sheep determined not to be left behind in the search for grass and water.
Who would have thought that such a nice young man could cause such chaos? I’ve no idea what possessed him, really I haven’t, but a few days before Passover he went riding into Jerusalem on a donkey with the crowds waving at him and shouting about a new kingdom and a new king like David. Now I’m as keen as anyone else to be free of the Romans, don’t get me wrong, but that was not a good move. The idea of a new king was not going to go down well with the powers that be. If that wasn’t bad enough, the next day he caused mayhem in the Temple. He drove out all the merchants from their places in the Court of Gentiles, scattering everything all over the place. You can imagine how annoyed they all were, money, animals, doves, going in all directions. Business was not good that day. If the merchants were mad, you should have heard the rumours about the chief priests and scribes. The word was that they wanted to destroy Jesus, and I can well imagine that.
Well, in the end they got their way, them and the Romans. The next procession I saw Jesus in wasn’t much fun, certainly no cause for shouting and celebration. He looked a sorry sight as he carried his cross through the streets. Beats me how he managed to walk, never mind carry anything. Crucifixion is a pretty final sentence; there’s no wriggling free of the nails and running off to hide somewhere. Whatever we may say against the Romans, we have to admit that they do a thorough job of killing people, dishing up a few tasty meals for the vultures in the process. I heard Jesus died well, not even cursing those who nailed him up, nor those who seemed to enjoy taunting him, though I gather he sounded pretty hopeless for a while, but who wouldn’t. I stand by my original estimation of him: a nice young man, one any mother could be proud of. I wouldn’t have wanted to be his mother that day, that’s for sure. What a thing to have to witness. How on earth did she cope with that?
It was all pretty quiet after that, but then it would be wouldn’t it, seeing as it was the Sabbath. I’ll bet the authorities were breathing a sigh of relief at having sorted things out so well. The trouble is that after the Sabbath everything started up again, or so it seemed. The women I’d seen with Jesus started spreading tales that he was alive again. Grief does odd things to people, I know. I used to think I saw my mother in the market for months after she’d died. Mind you, I didn’t go telling everyone like these women have done. People don’t come alive when they’ve died, anyone knows that. It reminds me of a tale I heard from Bethany. Someone said that a man called Lazarus had been raised from the dead too. I reckoned the story had grown in the telling as by the time I heard it Lazarus was supposed to have been stinking in his tomb for four days before Jesus went and just shouted at him to come out, which he did grave-clothes and all. I’d discounted it as a silly rumour until I heard that Jesus was supposed to have risen also. Then I began to wonder, I admit, but I didn’t tell other people. I don’t want to be thought of as mad or gullible!
You can imagine how hard the authorities tried to squash the rumour about Jesus but it didn’t seem to work. I imagine they regretted allowing his body to be buried as anyone could have stolen it and said he’d risen. I heard of Jesus popping up all over the place. He arrived through locked doors in the house across the street by all accounts. His followers have stayed here, which surprises me. I thought they’d have left in fear of their lives but it seems not. I have seen more of the women than the men, including his poor mother on occasion. I’ve a son the same age as Jesus; I would hate to know that he had been executed. So young, so much potential, all gone to waste.
The most bizarre tale I’ve heard was that Jesus actually went up to join God in heaven a week or so ago. Now I’ve heard about Elijah and his chariots of fire and whirlwind but that was long ago. Things like that don’t happen nowadays, and anyway no one mentioned any chariots or a wind, well not at that time anyway. They did say about angels but I think they must have stood out in the sun too long and ended up seeing things. Since then the group of Jesus’ disciples has stayed around the house opposite, seemingly not going far but waiting for something.
As you can see, Passover and much of the time after has been pretty eventful but today has been even more so. It was around 9 in the morning. I was kneading a batch of dough and getting really hot – bread-making is very hard work. The air was so still I felt I could hardly breathe and then I thought I heard a breeze stirring outside. I left the dough and went out to the street in the hope of getting a bit cooler. However, when I got there I could hear the sound still but felt no movement of air. It was obvious that other people could hear the sound as they were all looking around puzzled. After a very short time it was hard to miss the noise. If one of the famous Galilee storms had come funnelling up our street it couldn’t have been louder. It was the most peculiar sensation, to hear a gale rushing up the street but to feel no movement of air.
I was really frightened as were lots of the other people, visitors to the city mostly, who were in our street. I know I’m nosy and like to know what’s going on but this time I would quite happily have ducked inside my house and remained in ignorance, I can tell you! It was weird though, for some reason I simply couldn’t tear myself away. I just stood there as if rooted to the spot.
The sound seemed to stop at the house opposite where Jesus’ disciples were. I couldn’t hear anything from the house but I could see some of them through the windows looking as though they were shouting to one another. Then suddenly I saw something like a fireball appear from nowhere and hover over the house. Pieces seemed to peel off it, a bit like candle flames, and each one seemed to head for a particular person in the house. I could see the glow in the shadows of the house, even though it was bright sunshine outside.
As you can imagine, all the people around me (and so many gathered in shock and wonder) were asking what was going on. I could hear all sorts of languages, though I could only understand the Greek and Aramaic, as we have people in the city from all over the world here for the Pentecost festival. I heard Peter – the leader of Jesus’ followers it seems to me – begin to talk to us all. People quietened down to hear; we were hoping for an explanation of all that had gone on. As it got quieter I could hear the other followers talking too. Then those around me started whispering things like, ‘He’s speaking Egyptian’, ‘That’s my home dialect he’s using’. As far as I could tell Peter and the others were speaking Aramaic. Thinking back though, the way they spoke it was different. You could always tell they came from Galilee, real country folk in their speech, but this time you wouldn’t have known they hadn’t grown up in Jerusalem. Others seemed to think the group had drunk too much wine, though I’ve not noticed that in the past. They’ve been quiet, well-behaved neighbours.
Well, in the end everyone seemed to just accept whatever was going on as we all wanted to listen to what was said. So there we were, all gathered in a great big group, sun beating down on us, listening to Peter who seemed to be able to make his voice carry a very long way. Even the old grandmas seemed to be able to hear, which makes a change! We wanted an explanation and we got it. Peter told us that God was at work and bringing about what he had promised in the book of Joel. The sound of wind and those mysterious flames were signs of the Holy Spirit, he told us, which was being poured out on everyone. He said that anyone who wanted could receive it too if they called on God to give it to them.
Now, I’ve seen a fair few people who are said to have spirits living in them and poor wretches they are as well. I’m not interested in becoming like them. They have evil spirits though and Peter was talking of the Holy Spirit. Certainly those followers of Jesus didn’t seem like the possessed people I’ve seen before. Far from being tormented, they seemed to glow with happiness and be full of peace. There they were gathering a crowd and risking bringing themselves to the notice of the authorities but they didn’t seem to be afraid.
I finally found I could tear myself away just after Peter had told us about this Holy Spirit and all he can do. I know Peter was still talking, I heard the name of Jesus mentioned as I turned away, but I needed to sit down for a time and collect my thoughts. All these strange events have really stirred something up in me. Is God really acting as he promised? Can I really have the Holy Spirit poured out on me, an ordinary and not very holy person? Is that what I want?
After a break of two hours I returned to kneading my bread dough and got the loaves cooked. It’s the worst batch of bread I’ve made since the first one I did as a child. Never mind – I get the feeling there is something more important than batches of bread to consider now, so very much more important.