On the third day I finish my work. In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

There is perhaps no city with a more layered and contested history than the city of Jerusalem. A pivotal moment with lasting consequences for the city’s history came in the late 11th century BCE, when King David captured what was, at the time, a small and relatively insignificant town, belonging to the Jebusites, a Canaanite tribe living in the land and then made it his capital. Scripture tells us that soon after that David’s son, Solomon, constructed the First Temple in Jerusalem, thus ensuring the city’s central role in Judaism and its prominent place in much of the Old Testament. The end of the book of Kings tells of the destruction of the First Temple and the exile to Babylon in 586, BCE, truly catastrophic events for the city and the people of ancient Israel. Later, the books of Ezra, Nehemiah and Haggai, tell of the return to Jerusalem from exile, the rebuilding of the city and the construction of the Second Temple. That structure, refurbished by Herod the Great, was the temple that Jesus knew and frequented during his earthly ministry.

As we hear in the gospels, Jesus and his disciples were often in the temple or in other parts of Jerusalem. And of course, the events told in the Passion Narratives, those foundational stories of our faith that we commemorate during Holy Week, these unfolded in the city as well. Today Jerusalem remains a place of immense significance for the three Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. At the Western Wall, the only remaining portion of the wall that surrounded the second temple that was destroyed by the Roman empire in 70 CE, there Jews come to pray and lament at their holiest site. Christians can literally follow the steps of Jesus and visit many of the places described in the gospels. But a privileged place of significance is given to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, believed to be constructed over the site both of Jesus’s crucifixion and of the empty tomb. For Muslims, the Dome of the Rock, a striking structure that dominates the skyline, is regarded as the site where Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his son in keeping with God’s command, as well as the site from which the prophet Mohamed was believed to have been taken up into heaven.

Jerusalem is above all a holy city. Even from afar one senses the unique quality of this city that is so dense with holy sites, and that has played host to so many events of great significance. For centuries, Jerusalem was even seen by many as the center of the world. Psalm 48, for example, describes it as the very center of the world and the city of the great king. There are old maps that depict Jerusalem at the core and the various known lands of the time radiating out from it. Jerusalem then was often at the center. And that’s certainly true of the gospel reading before us today. In fact, the city plays an essential role in a long portion of text in the middle of Luke’s gospel that stretches from chapter nine to chapter nineteen. These chapters, which include our text today, are often identified as Jesus’s long journey to Jerusalem. That journey begins in chapter nine. As Luke tells us, “When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem”. With purpose and determination Jesus turns himself toward the holy city and commits to continue on the way, even though he knows that there will be great cost in doing so, as the passage before us today makes clear.

The text begins with a warning from a group of Pharisees ,who in contrast to their typical depictions in the gospels, seem to come to Jesus with concern for his wellbeing. “Get away from here”, they tell him, “For Herod wants to kill you.” Whether or not these Pharisees were genuinely concerned or instead motivated by a self-interested desire to be rid of Jesus, the truth remains that he was in danger. Jesus, however, remains focused on the work to be done today, tomorrow and on the third day, when he finishes his work. Jesus will indeed continue on the way leading him to Jerusalem. And what is a striking recognition of what awaits him there, Jesus acknowledges he must continue “because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.” To continue on the journey demands that he confronts suffering and death. Here Luke’s gospel gives us an image of Jesus in control. We cannot settle for an interpretation that sees Jesus as a passive figure, swept up to into circumstances beyond his control. Luke shows Jesus as unwavering in his understanding of his mission and purpose, ready to confront the worst things this world can wield: betrayal, rejection, mocking, suffering, cruelty, abandonment, death.

But it is on the third day when he finishes his work, when the empty tomb witnesses to his triumph over all the powers of this world, even death itself. Jesus’ steadfast commitment to continue on to Jerusalem, to the place where he knows he will suffer and die, is a reminder that God is to be found in the very midst of the most challenging circumstances of this life. Indeed, Jesus shows us a God who suffers, a startling claim of our faith that we surely do not speak of often enough.

Far from glorying in such suffering, however, Jesus laments. He mourns for Jerusalem and grieves for the rejection that he has already suffered. This lament over Jerusalem calls to mind the beautiful and haunting language of the book of Lamentations, a short collection of poetic material composed in response to the destruction of the first temple and the exile to Babylon. Lamentations gives voice to that grief that emerges from deep within us when faced with life’s most challenging circumstances. Jesus too needed to offer such a deeply human response, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it. How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings and you were not willing.”

In the midst of such a human expression of grief we also find an image of divine protection, as Jesus expresses his desire to gather in the children of Jerusalem, like a mother hen gathering her brood. Have you ever been sitting in the passenger seat of a car in a moment when there seems to be danger approaching, and the driver instinctively reaches out with an outstretched arm to shield and protect you? Such a moment, however brief, offers us a concrete image of God’s protective embrace. Of Jesus the mother hen, hiding us under the shadow of her wings, as the Psalmist puts it. Yes, Jesus laments the sting of rejection, but he offers mercy, not vengeance, loving embrace, not retaliation. Later in Luke, with arms outstretched on the hardwood of the cross, Jesus says about those who rejected him, condemned him to death, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” Suffering a humiliating and painful death on a cross, Jesus does what only God can do in such a moment and forgives.

In these still early days of Lent, this passage meets us and reminds us that Lent is a time for us to be on the way. On the way with Jesus, as we too turn our faces towards Jerusalem and journey with him. Following him on the way requires us to courageously contend with sin and the forces of evil at work within ourselves and the world in which we live. The start of Lent came with the invitation to observe this holy season with self-examination and repentance, to take stock of our lives, our sins and shortcomings, and then to reorient toward God. That interior work toward which we are invited must be joined with a casting our attention to the world around us. As we acknowledge that war continues in Ukraine we find ourselves feeling helpless. When confronted with death, devastation, displacement, and suffering in that land, if we’re honest, we don’t really know what to do. But at the very least, we cannot turn away. We continue to pray. The psalmist says pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Well pray for the peace of Ukraine, may they prosper who love you.

The journey with Jesus is not promised to be an easy or even comfortable one. But we must remember that it does have the power transform us. For Jesus, Jerusalem is the site of both death and new life. The two must go hand in hand. Crucifixion and Resurrection are inextricably linked, cross and empty tomb must stand together. For Jesus, Jerusalem itself becomes the site of transformation where on the third day he finishes his work. If we are willing to follow Jesus and engage with the struggles of our own lives, we too will find moments of transformation for ourselves and for our world. That we might become even just bit more like Jesus and this world might look more like God intends it. All along the journey, we are promised that our God goes with us and draws us close in that loving and protective embrace, hiding us under the shadow of her wings. So let us journey on. Let us continue with Jesus on the way. Amen.

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