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Travelling through the Easter story

We’re all stuck at home this Easter, with the thought of travelling, sightseeing and holidays all but a distant memory. Don’t despair! Travel around Europe with our Easter reflections; take a break while exploring this most life-giving of stories.

Trip 1: Gare du Nord, Paris

When you travel on the train, how do you feel when you arrive at your destination? Are you usually welcomed by people? Or do you march straight on to your final destination?

Find videos of Gare du Nord in Paris online – Gare du Nord is the busiest station in Europe and the Paris terminal for Eurostar. Listen to the noise, feel the atmosphere and search out the attitudes of those in the station.

Read Matthew 21:1-11 and try to imagine the noise of the crowd as Jesus rode into Jerusalem. The exact location of Bethphage is not known for sure, but is traditionally located on the slopes of the Mount of Olives, less than a mile to the east of Jerusalem. It doesn’t seem that far away, but to have around a mile’s worth of people shouting, cheering and singing, waving their branches and putting their cloaks on the floor – it must have been riotous. Crowds in front of Jesus, crowds behind Jesus, crowds lining the road…

What must have been going through the people’s minds as they saw Jesus make his way from Bethpage to Jerusalem? Some explanation of the symbolism might help your reflections here. As Matthew quotes in verses 4 and 5, Jesus fulfils the prophesy in Zechariah 9:9 – a prophesy of a king riding on a donkey. Jerusalem is the royal city, the city of King David (see Psalm 48:1-2). By laying down their cloaks, the crowd are signifying their submission to Jesus as king (as the crowds did for Jehu in 2 Kings 9:13). Palm branches were symbols of victory and were often prominent decorations on walls and coins. ‘Hosanna’ is a Hebrew expression meaning ‘Save’ and by calling Jesus the Son of David, the crowd are acknowledging Jesus as the descendent of Israel’s greatest king.

You can understand why the whole city was stirred. But what about you? If you were in this crowd, where would you be? Would you be joining in with the cloaks and the branches and the singing? Would your voice be joining in the ‘Hosanna’? And if you were asked ‘Who is this?’ (as in verse 10), what would your response be?

Trip 2: The Royal Palace, Stockholm

Think about any stately homes or palaces you have visited. Take a look at the websites of the palaces around Europe, particularly Stockholm’s Royal Palace. What impression do these kinds of buildings make on you? What do you think of the wealth and opulence? What message does it communicate to you? Wealth is used in different ways to make different impressions: to glorify God, to exert power, to demonstrate influence or to serve others.

Read Matthew 26:6-13. In Sweden, people often have a traditional weekend / holiday cottage, like the ones that dot the islands around the capital. Simon’s house was more like the cabin, but the woman gave something more valuable than anything a king or queen might have in their palace.

Think about the people in the house that evening – what must they have thought? Simon might well have been upset that his special night with Jesus had been interrupted. As someone who had leprosy, he would have spent a long time separated from the rest of his community. Or could his own suffering have made him sympathetic to the woman? The disciples were certainly angry. They saw the wealth the woman had being wasted when it could have been put to use to help others.

However, Jesus knew the true motivation of the woman and the purpose he put her wealth to. What do you make of his comments to the disciples? Sometimes, as children’s and youth workers, we can spend all our time on ‘the poor’ – our outward facing ministry – and not enough time on our own relationship with Jesus, worshiping and honouring him. 

As you think on the woman’s actions, reflect on your own worship. Do you need to devote more of your time and energy to glorifying him? Are your efforts worthy of a royal palace or just a basic cabin?

Trip 3: The restaurants of Rome

Order (or make) yourself a pizza and share it with someone in your house (if you’re alone, arrange to eat pizza online with a friend!). As you eat, think about any significant meals you have had – what made them important? The company? The conversations? What you were celebrating? Are they like a stereotypical Italian family meal?

Read Matthew 26:17-30 and try to imagine yourself in that special meal. With all the drama that happens in that upper room, it’s easy to forget how important the meal itself was to the Jewish people. The Passover feast commemorated one the most foundational events in the history of the people of God – when God rescued them from slavery in Egypt. If you’ve got time, go back to Exodus and read about that first Passover in chapter 12. It is with this background that Jesus ‘repurposes’ these most powerful symbols to represent his own sacrifice.

In his account, Matthew rather baldly says that after this, they sang a hymn and went out to the Mount of Olives. But what must the disciples have been thinking after the meal? Jesus has talked of his death before, but they still don’t really get what’s going on.

Today, we have the benefit of hindsight, together with the centuries of thought and discussion about the events of this Maundy Thursday done by those who have gone before us. How do you understand what Jesus does in this passage and the significance of his coming death and resurrection? What about the person you’re sharing a pizza with?

Spend some time in prayer, reflecting on Jesus’ actions and the significance of the symbolism. Ask for a fresh understanding this Easter-time.

Trip 4: The Matterhorn, Zermatt

The Matterhorn, an almost pyramidal mountain near the Swiss town of Zermatt. Climbing it can be beautiful, scary, dangerous and exhilarating – search online for pictures or video of people making the ascent. Alternatively, go as high as you can in your home, or take a walk to a hill near your house as part of your daily exercise. What emotions do you feel when you look at the views?

As Jesus and his friends go up the Mount of Olives, there were probably so many emotions in play – Jesus knows what is going to happen; his friends still don’t get it. Their heads must have been reeling as they tried to process the idea that one of them would betray Jesus and work out what Jesus meant with all that body and blood business at the Passover feast.

As you approach the Easter weekend, how are you feeling? Are you so wrapped up in new online ministry that you haven’t had time to slow down and reflect for yourself about the story? Or are you grieving for programmes, events and ministry that has been cancelled or put on pause? Are you filled with the same confusion that must have been affecting the disciples? Or are you in tune with what Jesus is about to undergo?

Again, with hindsight, we know that even though Jesus was heading toward the cross, he wouldn’t stay dead. However, at this moment in time, Jesus is facing the betrayal of one friend and the lack of support from others, before going on to trial, beatings, humiliation and death. Read Matthew 26:36-46 and try to keep that in mind. 

Go on to read Matthew 26:47-56. The children and young people we work with will probably identify with being betrayed by someone who they thought was a friend. However, as adults we can be less familiar with this. When someone we love acts against us (either by accident or on purpose) it can be devastating. Are you in this position today? Are you the one being hurt or perhaps the one doing the hurting? How can you mend this broken relationship?

Trip 5: Hyde Park, London

Go outside into your garden and take a look around. If you don’t have a garden, find a park or piece of open land near your home as part of your daily exercise (remember to stay safe). What can you see? What can you hear? How does it feel?

Make sure you take your Bible with you; as you’re outside, read Matthew 27:45-66 (or listen to it). As you walk around your open space, consider the events described in these verses. There is so much to reflect on here; in the style of Lectio Divina, go back to the verses that most speak to you. Is there anything here that you haven’t really noticed before?

Jesus was buried at the end of Friday, before the start of the Sabbath, and then everything paused for a day. Matthew doesn’t tell us what that Sabbath was like for Jesus friends, he skips over it and tells us of the glorious events of Sunday morning. However, pause for a moment and imagine yourself into that day of rest. What must it have been like?

Go on to read or listen to Matthew 28:1-10. The disciples have long since fled (26:56), but the women are still with him. They are there at the crucifixion (27:56) and at the burial (27:61) and now here they are at the tomb (28:1). Try to imagine the conversation between the two Marys as they make their way to the garden. What do you think they were talking about?

In this passage, Matthew doesn’t tell us about the impact of Jesus’ resurrection or any deeper theological meaning. That is left for Paul and the other letter writers of the New Testament. Yet, as you’ve journeyed with Jesus through this week of events in Jerusalem, what has God been saying to you about this momentous story? What fresh revelation have you encountered?

Alex Taylor is resources editor for Youth and Children's Work magazine.