Less than six months ago I took a sabbatical from InterVarsity staff and went on a pilgrimage to Israel. I have always wanted to have a better understanding of Jewish culture as well as Israeli-Palestinian politics. There seemed to be no better way to do that than to spend a month living with a Jewish woman in Jerusalem during the High Holy Days and traveling around the West Bank for a couple weeks.
On my last full day in Jerusalem, I felt compelled to return to the Mount of Olives. Setting out early in the morning, I walked through the modern city center full of shops and restaurants and then continued down the road to East Jerusalem, where Palestinian vendors busily prepared for the day. As I followed the curve of the road, the famous hill—with its stunning churches honoring different moments of Jesus’ life and a large Jewish cemetery—came into sight.
From the base of the mount I hiked halfway up to Dominus Flevit, a church with a magnificent view of the Old City. The church commemorates an often overlooked part of Holy Week: Jesus mourning over Jerusalem. As the events of what we now call Palm Sunday unfolded, the path down the Mount of Olives was full of people’s cheers and shouts. Palm leaves were laid down in Jesus’ honor. But once at the edge of Jerusalem, Jesus wept. He saw the city not only for what it was in the present, but also for what it would be—destroyed.
Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation. (Luke 19:41-44)
The lack of olive trees on the Mount of Olives today stands as a physical reminder of these words of Jesus. The area was deforested during the Roman siege in 70 A.D. Jerusalem residents starved as Romans kept them imprisoned inside the city walls. Jewish historian Josephus wrote that one woman, out of desperation, cooked her child. When the Romans finally entered the city, tradition holds that they cut down the olive trees in order to crucify many of the remaining inhabitants on them.
Learning Lament from Jesus
I sat and reflected on what I had seen during my time in Israel. There were memories of participating in the Rosh Hashanah feast with my roommate and considering how Jesus related to the Day of Atonement as I sat in a service during the solemn fast of Yom Kippur. I pondered my visceral reaction the first time I stared up at the “separation barrier,” which cuts off the West Bank from Jerusalem, and recalled conversations of hope and frustration with people in Palestinian refugee camps.
As I reflected, I allowed myself to feel the ugly tensions of this beautiful land—and I wept. Jesus was teaching me the discipline of lament.
In the book Reconciling All Things, Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice write, “Lament is not despair. It is not whining. It is not a cry into a void. Lament is a cry directed to God. It is a cry of those who see the truth of the world’s deep wounds and the cost of seeking peace. It is the prayer of those who are deeply disturbed by the way things are….The journey of reconciliation is grounded in the practice of lament.”
The Cost of Following Jesus
I am an activist by nature. I like to accomplish things. In my early college days this meant I ignored issues of injustice, because I couldn’t fix them. I saw feelings as a waste of time and energy. Once I embraced God’s call to advocate for the poor and needy, it meant overworking in my effort to make a difference.
The truth is that both of my responses—blissful ignorance and over-involvement—denied the reality of Holy Week. Following Jesus is costly. Sometimes the cost is choosing to expose yourself to stories of injustice. Sometimes the cost is time, money, or emotional energy to fight injustice. In my case, it is the cost of dying to the urge to produce a quick fix.
Learning to lament means fully embracing injustice. It means trusting that my cries are joining Jesus’ tears as he entered Jerusalem, prayed at Gethsemane, and cried out from the cross. Lament means trusting that Jesus’ journey from the donkey to the cross means something. It means taking the brokenness I see seriously while remembering that Jesus’ actions in Holy Week created the promise of true peace—shalom.
Live Life is a campaign, run in partnership with World Vision and International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, to bring college students and young adults around the world together to explore the meaning of “life in all its fullness” during the Easter/Lenten season. The campaign features six weekly challenges, stories of students making a difference from countries around the world, and a global sharing platform where each person can share how they are uniquely participating. The InterVarsity blog is participating by featuring corresponding posts each Sunday written by InterVarsity's Urban Projects directors.
To join others from more than 80 countries around the world in thoughtfully reflecting on and responding to Holy Week, go to worldvisionyouth.org.
Jennifer Hagin is the Blue Ridge Regional Evangelism Coordinator and Durham Urban Projects Director for InterVarsity. She desperately misses kosher food at Grand Café on Beit Lehem road and falafel pitas with pickled peppers from the Muslim Quarter in Jerusalem.
You might also be interested in using these Bible studies to help you reflect on Holy Week: