I will never forget that moment, seeing the Holy City Jerusalem for the first time. You approach Jerusalem by going up a hill, full of anticipation, wondering what it will be like, if it will live up to your expectations. Even in our modern time, you don't simply drive your way in as a pilgrim. You get out of your motorized vehicle and walk uphill to the point where you can finally see it. You pray the prayer that has been prayed by pilgrims ascending to that place for thousands of years: "I was glad when they said to me, 'Let us go to the house of the Lord.' Jerusalem is built as a city that is at unity with itself. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. May they prosper who love you." My heart was full of emotion, my eyes full of tears.
It is quite probable that Jesus of Nazareth prayed the same psalm as he ascended the hill leading to Jerusalem. As the story is told in Luke's Gospel, Jesus was also full of emotion, and perhaps his eyes were full of tears, too. It had been a long journey through Galilee, Samaria and Judea-a long journey of teaching, healing, controversy and opposition. But now, but now he beholds his destination.
Jerusalem. Jerusalem. He was there, at last. The journey was reaching its culmination. Here he was, beholding the city that is the mirror of God's life, love and Shalom-the city that symbolizes God's people, their hopes and their dreams, their history and their future. I can understand Jesus' profound, deep emotion in seeing that city, and also his grief. I've experienced that in my own day, beholding the city but also seeing Israeli people hobbling away from a bombing, or a Palestinian child and father desperately trying to avoid bullets being fired in their direction, or the hatred that is expressed so openly and freely in God's own city.
"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how I have longed for you, how often have I desired to gather your children." This is no pious or perfunctory comment. No, Jesus cries it out with passion and emotion. He cried it out because it is an expression of his deep love for the children of God and for this Holy City.
You see, Jesus is making his journey to Jerusalem for some very specific, powerful and deep reasons. He goes to announce God's love for God's people. He goes to call people to that love and lives rooted in that love. He goes to make the culmination of his ministry, the greatest expression of his love, the ultimate sacrifice of that love, to accomplish what he is destined to accomplish. It just couldn't happen anywhere else on the face of the earth, except in Jerusalem; and Jesus' whole life, mission and journey have taken him to this point and place. The movement is described in Luke's Gospel, the progress and peregrination from Bethlehem to Nazareth, to Galilee, to Samaria, to Jerusalem.
Really, Jesus' journey and action of going to Jerusalem reflect the action of God through the ages. God has come to God's people, seeking them, searching for them over and over and over again. God has called human beings to God's own self, wanting them to be within the saving embrace of divine love and mercy. What Jesus is doing here is God's action. He comes to the people to invite them to God's embrace, to God's love. Jesus renews and reflects the divine action by going to the Holy City to call, to love, to embrace.
It was Jesus' action, and it was God's pattern, God's way of doing things repeatedly, over and over again in the history and experience of God's people. God would seek and search them out, making a covenant with God's people, calling them to keep their side of the bargain and promising to be with them always. God would come to them through words spoken by prophets and the worship of the Holy Temple. God would enter their lives through the teaching of the holy Torah and through the experiences of their daily living.
Jesus was continuing this pattern of God's coming, seeking and searching, and he was doing it in an ultimate way. The pattern would take its greatest form in Jerusalem in the holy City of God.
"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how I long to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings?" "How I long, how I long." This is the voice of God's longing, of God's seeking, of God's searching love and mercy. But there is a problem here and Jesus recognized it, too. In spite of God coming to God's people, in spite of the longing, the searching, in spite of God's continual offering of love and mercy, in spite of all of these things, people resist and even reject God and the promises brought by God.
Let me tell you, Jesus knew that full well. He knew about the prophets of old who had been stoned and murdered. He also knew that human hearts could be as cold and hard as stone-resisting, rejecting, pushing God away. He had experienced it in his own journey to Jerusalem. He offered love, love that many received, but also love that so many resisted and rejected-arguing, opposing, plotting, conniving.
It is a pattern as old as the human heart. The Hebrew Scriptures are full of stories of resistance and rejection. (Remember that 40-year sojourn in the wilderness? Remember the reception that the prophets got time after time?) Goodness, remember the story of Adam and Eve in the garden? God loves them, God comes to them in the cool of the morning, but they have resisted and rejected the love of God.
What a pattern: God seeking us, God longing for us. Sometimes we accept and receive. Sometimes we resist and reject. Thus, we come to the pattern of our own lives and to Scripture's message for this Second Sunday of Lent. It really is one, two, three.
One - God comes to us.
Two - Sometimes, sometimes we resist and reject that love.
Three - God comes to us.
I don't understand the resistance in my own soul or the rejection that is exhibited within my own heart or the heart of others. But I know that it is there. I know that I resist the love, that we reject the invitation. Our resistance as human beings takes many forms; just read the papers to see some of them, just look in your own heart and soul to discern others of them. There they are: anger, resentment, despair, bitterness, vengeance, I could go on. We human beings do it; we resist, we reject.
And still God comes, still God invites, still God seeks us, longs for us, weeps for us, wants us to come home. It is simply the heart and character of God to do these things, for God to long to gather us as a hen gathers her chicks, as a mother holds her own beloved children. God invites us to that embrace.
There is a wonderful, deep, moving poem written by the 17th century English Poet George Herbert that describes the dynamic so very well…
Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
Guiltie of dust and sinne.
But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack,
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lack'd any thing.
A guest, I answer'd worthy to be here.
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungratefull? Ah my deare,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?
Truth Lord, but I have marr'd them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, sayes Love, who bore the blame?
My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, sayes Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.
God's invitation to us is to "sit down and eat." We are invited to sit, to rest, to abide in God's love and embrace. The invitation is to recognize the coming of God to us, to perceive the longing, seeking and searching of God. It is the invitation to hear in a new and fresh way the promises of God and of God's love for us. We are invited to move beyond our fear, beyond our own resistance or shame or guilt or rejection; to move beyond these things to the love, to the grace, to the forgiveness, to the mercy of God.
The words spoken by Jesus as he saw Jerusalem are also deeply personal words for you and for me. "Jerusalem, Jerusalem. How I longed for you. How often have I desired to gather you to myself."
God longs for us. God desires to gather us. God seeks us. God calls us home.
Let us pray.
Thank you, gracious God, for loving us, for longing for us, for seeking us. Help us to receive your love and enter your compassionate embrace. Break down the walls of resistance and rejection that keep us from you. Enter the center of our souls and our hearts. Keep us in your mercy and let us come home to you, for your tender mercies' sake.