We began Holy Week last Sunday on a high note of celebration as we re-enacted and remembered the way in which Jesus entered Jerusalem.
Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, on Palm Sunday, showed his popularity with the people. One would think Pilate wouldn't need to ask the same crowd a mere five days later, "Whom do you want?" As Jesus rode into the city to the wave of palm branches and the loud shouts of hosanna! the cheers said it all.
In a few short days, the mood changed. Now, facing the soldiers and religious leaders, Jesus is the one who asks the question of the authorities: "Whom are you looking for?" He knew he was the one.
The soldiers and religious leaders also knew the answer. They knew Jesus was the focus of the crowd's attention. They wanted to arrest him and exercise their form of justice over him. Jesus of Nazareth was the one they were seeking and the one jeered by the crowd. Jesus was the one to be handed over in exchange for Barabbas, a criminal.
The question still remains, and we should ask it daily: "Whom am I looking for? Who is it I want?" But are we really prepared for the revelation of God through Jesus Christ, the one who says, "I am the one!"
Perhaps not. Perhaps not until we have waved palm branches and shouted "hosanna" and he has washed our feet, as he did for his disciples on Maundy Thursday. Perhaps not until we have shouted "crucify him!" and abandoned him and stood at a distance and watched him die on the cross will we know this man is the Son of God, the one we are looking for.
"Were you there when they crucified my Lord?" It is not an idle question. It lies at the heart of the Easter story. In the Gospel of Mark, as Jesus draws closer to the cross, those who have been his followers fall away. First Judas. Then there are the disciples who sleep as he prays in the Garden of Gethsemane. Most troubling of all may be Peter's denial of Jesus just before the rooster crows. And finally, when Jesus is on his way to Calvary, none of the 12 are anywhere to be found.
Then there was the centurion, the Roman soldier whose job it was to see to it that Jesus dies on the cross. He looked at Jesus dying and was converted. He sees God through Jesus' death. The centurion acknowledges Jesus to be the Messiah, "Truly this man was the Son of God."
The story does not end there. The conclusion has a surprise ending. A resurrection occurred that transformed the world. God has taken the suffering servant, despised and rejected, and raised him up as the Lord of the world.
Once again we have arrived at Easter. Symbols of new life and resurrection are all around us. We want to see Jesus, the one wise men and women still seek; Jesus, the risen Christ; the one who proclaims God's truth; Jesus, the one who died on the dreadful cross for us. Our vision of Jesus begins with our recognition of a relationship with Christ before his Passion that we may make a new pledge toward one another, toward loving one another and about following Jesus as the Christ.
My friends, this seems to be a prerequisite for seeing the risen Lord. Our faith opens our eyes to see Christ. Yes, we want to see Jesus.
The Rev. Billy Alford is rector of St. Alban's Episcopal Church.