On this, the eve of Holy Week, we pray that you create a new song to strengthen us as we walk the road with you to Jerusalem, as we climb the stairs to the upper room, as we stumble through the night to the Garden, and as we stand in desperate grief at the foot of your cross. Amen
From The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke:
The assembly of the elders of the people rose as a body and brought Jesus before Pilate. They began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor, and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king.” Then Pilate asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” He answered, “You say so.” Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no basis for an accusation against this man.” But they were insistent and said, “He stirs up the people by teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to this place.”
When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him off to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been waiting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some sign.
He questioned him at some length, but Jesus gave him no answer. The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. Even Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then he put an elegant robe on him and sent him back to Pilate.
Perhaps there are no more despised rulers in Jesus’s lifetime than those coming out of the House of Herod. It was Herod the Great who ordered all Hebrew males under the age of two slaughtered in his attempt to kill the infant Jesus. Fast forward to the time of our reading, it was the son of Herod the Great, Herod Antipas who demanded the head of John the Baptist to reward his stepdaughter for her seductive dance. It was Herod Antipas to whom Pilate sent Jesus in an attempt to transfer responsibility for judgement on the King of the Jews.
When Jesus arrived in Herod’s court, Herod was excited. He’d heard about Jesus and the miracles he performed. Herod was looking forward to a magic show! When he did not get what he wanted, he treated Jesus with contempt and returned him to Pilate.
In the late 1960’s Andrew Lloyd Webber and Time Rice wrote the rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar. Their musical account of the meeting of the King of Galilee and the King of the Jews went like this:
King Herod’s Song
Jesus, I am overjoyed to meet you face to face.
You’ve been getting quite a name all around the place.
Healing cripples, raising from the dead.
And now I understand you’re God,
At least, that’s what you’ve said.
So, you are the Christ, you’re the great Jesus Christ.
Prove to me that you’re divine; change my water into wine.
That’s all you need do, then I’ll know it’s all true.
Come on, King of the Jews.
Jesus, you just won’t believe the hit you’ve made around here.
You are all we talk about, the wonder of the year.
Oh what a pity if it’s all a lie.
Still, I’m sure that you can rock the cynics if you tried.
So, you are the Christ, you’re the great Jesus Christ.
Prove to me that you’re no fool; walk across my swimming pool.
If you do that for me, then I’ll let you go free.
Come on, King of the Jews.
I only ask what I’d ask any superstar.
What is it that you have got that puts you where you are.
I am waiting, yes I’m a captive fan.
I’m dying to be shown that you are not just any man.
So, if you are the Christ, yes the great Jesus Christ
Feed my household with this bread.
You can do it on your head.
Or has something gone wrong. Jesus, why do you take so long?
Oh come on, King of the Jews.
Hey! Aren’t you scared of me Christ?
Mr. Wonderful Christ?
You’re a joke. You’re not the Lord.
You are nothing but a fraud.
Take him away.
He’s got nothing to say!
Oh get out you, King of the Jews!
Get out of here!
Get out of here you,
Get out of my life.
The meeting between King Herod and the King of the Jews came on the heels of Jesus’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem on the eve of Passover. Jesus and his disciples celebrated the Passover dinner in an upper room provided by a stranger. This is where Jesus washed the feet of his followers and predicted Judas’s betrayal and Peter’s denial of their friendship. This is where Jesus established the Eucharist, the infusing of bread and wine with the power of his body and blood.
After dinner, they retired to the Garden of Gethsemane where the disciples slept and Jesus prayed. In the Garden, Jesus was accosted by church leaders and Roman soldiers, arrested, and taken to the court of Pilate, which brings us to the meeting of the two kings in Herod’s Jerusalem lodging.
When I view this encounter through the eyes of the gospel writer Luke and lyricist Tim Rice, I am tempted to judge Herod as the despicable petty pawn of the Roman government that he was. I abhor him and his behavior. How dare he ridicule the King of the Jews! How dare he tempt Jesus, who could resist temptation from the King of Temptation, Satan himself! So what did Herod do when Jesus did not give him what he wanted, when he didn’t get anything out of his hour with Mr. Wonderful Christ? He rejected Jesus and sent him away.
Before we get too smug in our judgement of Herod, we might notice a familiar pattern in our own spiritual life. How often do we say or hear someone say, “I’m church shopping these days.” What does that mean? What are we shopping for? What products do we expect when we go to a free entertainment venue like a church service? What do we get for the effort it takes to get up on our only morning of the week when we could sleep in?
Herod was shopping for a magic trick or two. What magic tricks do we want? An instant spiritual charge? A rapid fire escape from all our trials and temptations, traumas and pains? Release from the guilt of our past and fear of our future? A boyfriend? A girlfriend? Meaning in life? Do we want instant answers to our prayers, instant answers that we dictate? Not your answers, thank you God; but mine!
What do we do when Jesus doesn’t give us what we want? When he lets someone get away with hurting us? Or lets a loved one be diagnosed with cancer? Or lets our child die, our brother or sister? Is that when we join Herod in his song of rejection,” You’re not the Lord. You’re nothing but a fraud?” Are we, like Herod, not content simply to push Jesus away for the moment saying something like, “I didn’t really get anything out of that service. I’ll try somewhere else.” Or do we go one step further, adding ridicule, holding Jesus and his church in contempt? Do we send him to his death; killing him in our heart, as much as Herod did when he sent Jesus back to Pilate? Do we join in singing with Herod those chilling last words, “Get out of here! Get out of here you! Get out of my life!”
Yes, Herod Antipas was a despot, a cruel and sinful ruler over Galilee. I am convinced however that in the darkness of that night, Herod must have suffered along with the disciples and all the Jews who put their faith and hope in Jesus. They saw him tortured. They saw him fall under the weight of the cross he carried on his back. They saw him die on that cross and his cold body laid in the tomb. With them we still shudder with the sound of stone against stone, as the tomb is closed and sealed.
As long as Jesus remains locked in the tomb of our hearts, we will suffer with Herod Antipas in a never ending night of despair. Only when we let the angels move away the stone, open the grave of our heart, and allow Jesus to resurrect, will we witness the greatest magic trick of all time: a relationship with God. We won’t need to go shopping. We will have a new song to open our hearts to give, listen, pray, praise, serve, and bask in the love of Jesus. We don’t need a spiritual charge. We need the gentle presence of the love of Christ. We need his warm embrace, and the knowledge that in the midst of trials and temptations, pain and trauma, he is with us through it all.
He doesn’t do magic tricks on command. He simply creates a perfect world, a perfect people, and a perfect love.