After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem (John 5:1).
When I was a child Easter meant something other than ‘new life.’ Easter meant ‘new clothes.’
For whatever reason, the week or days before Easter was a time for my mom to take us shopping for clothes, church clothes to be precise. The shopping expedition for school clothes came at the end of summer. Easter was the season for worship-wear, stiff and scratchy fabrics and sometimes hard-soled boring shoes.
I guess this was one way I knew that Easter was a big deal. “He is risen . . . and I have a new suit.”
What a Depressing Place
Easter Sunday may the closest thing we have to what John calls “a feast of the Jews.” On Easter Sunday the crowds swell, the parking lot is full, the music is big, there’s a special offering, and after the worship there is feasting with family.
So it was with feast days in Jerusalem. The population of the city exploded with pilgrims who had come for worship and celebration. Special offerings and sacrifices were made. And there was food. Food and family.
In John 5 we are told that Jesus had gone up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews. What is missing here is any mention of exactly which feast it was. Leviticus 23 designates the feasts which Israel was to observe, but John shows no interest in telling us which of these was being celebrated in Jerusalem when Jesus went to the pool of Bethesda. From the time of the Church Fathers opinions have ranged from Pentecost to Purim to Passover. Calvin explores the options in his commentary on John and then concludes “I will not dispute the matter.” I’ll go with Calvin on this one.
What John is very clear about is the pool: it is located near the sheep gate; in Aramaic it is called ‘Bethesda.’ John provides architectural detail in mentioning the five roofed colonnades. And he tells us about the people who gathered there. This was where ‘a multitude of invalids’ congregated – blind, lame, paralyzed. What a depressing and disgusting place.
And yet, in the midst of this city, pulsating with crowds and the sounds and rhythms of worship and celebration, this is where Jesus went.
Will We Do the Same?
In our church we have no special seating section for the broken among us. There’s no pew, no balcony, marked ‘invalids.’ But every week, in each and every gathering, they are among us.
Indeed, there really are no entirely whole and put-together people in any worship gathering. We all bring something that’s injured, something that isn’t working right, something that hurts.
But in our gatherings – at Easter and Christmas and any ordinary Sunday – we do a good job of concealing those wounds. We do it with clothes and smiles. We do it with quiet anonymity in a large crowd of worshipers.
What we conceal, Jesus sees. In the midst of the ‘feast,’ the throng of people and the sounds of worship and celebration, Jesus finds his way to the ones who aren’t celebrating.
The question is whether we will do the same. That might be hard, not unlike playing “Where’s Waldo,’ looking for someone who wants to be made well. And it also means that we ourselves have experienced the grace that Jesus gives.
Walking with Jesus will take us to the pool where broken multitudes spend their days. For those who have been found and known and made well, there’s just no getting around it.
In our worst moments, O God, you find us. You know who we are and you seek us out, offering us grace and wholeness. Grant that we would walk with you this day in the same way, seeking those whom you are seeking through Christ our Lord. Amen.