What a difference one week makes! Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday through Good Friday.
Talk about changing minds, political choices, fickle motives, expedient allegiances, broken promises, fear and intimidation, ignorance, religious myopia, hatred and violence. It’s a human cocktail to cause even the most stoic among us to shudder. How is it possible? Perhaps sound bites, fake news, personal attacks, political opportunism, and conspiracy theories are not so modern after all.
Jesus entered Jerusalem with palm-branch-waving crowds chanting “Hosanna!” A welcome only fitting for a king or a conqueror. The ordinary common folk were enthusiastic, caught up in the excitement of this man riding on a donkey whose charisma, teaching, and healing had gained public attention over the past three years. Maybe he was the one to set them free from their Roman oppressors? Turns out not. At least not on their timeline or agenda. Within a few days he was arrested flogged, nailed to the back of a Cross and hauled out of town.
One can’t blame the crowd for being confused, for changing their allegiance, as expectations were turned upside down by the intervention of authorities, religious and Roman. It’s always been that way. Surely God wants what I want… it’s not bad. I’m praying for a breakthrough! More often than not forlorn men and women trudge home echoing the disciples on the road to Emmaus, who later that same week (possibly Sunday) lamented, “How we’d hoped.” His ways are not our ways, his thoughts are not our thoughts.
Why does this week matter? Why am I so reluctant to place all my eggs in the human basket ripped and torn by our shared human foibles? Human history is a rolling ball of human chaos, human power mongering, human justice clawing at injustice – humans glimpsing brief windows of breakthrough, and then having all that is human crumble to dust. If there is no God and we are ‘all there is’ what has changed to give cause for optimism? There doesn’t appear to have been much fundamental transformation of human nature between that exuberant Palm Sunday over two thousand years ago, and today – March, 2021.
Humanity strives for justice in some places, for brutal control in others, and for mere survival probably for the majority. We have the ideals and the vision of what we could be but somehow our capacity to deliver with consistency, even when it hurts, eludes us for the most part. Ask every politician, who’s life expectancy is brief , to say the least. Ask every prophet from Moses to John the Baptist, ask Matthew and Peter, Thomas and Mary Magdalene. Ask Mary and Joseph, Barnabas, Stephen and Paul, James, John, Lazarus, Martha and Mary. They all experienced the confusion, the paradox, and the tension. Paul spoke for all when he blurted out: I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. Like a drowning man he exclaims…. Who will save me?
If there truly is a God who loves, cares, and engages – everything changes. It means the final outcome is not trapped and restricted as we grapple among ourselves. Even those who appear to obtain everything life can offer on earth are not satisfied for long. Ask anyone who has ‘made it, succeeded, wielded power, had immense resources. The vast majority speak of moments of dissatisfaction. Is this all there is? What now? I never expected to feel empty, or lonely, or with such a letdown. Power, money, applause, and influence come with unanticipated demands that human beings are ill-equipped to handle. We buckle under the pressure, fail to deliver on unreal expectations, and lose the plot when it comes to leading others for a long duration. It’s not easy being ‘god-like’.
The huge sigh of relief this week is God. He gets us, more than we do. This week is where Paul finds his answer. Freedom, acceptance, forgiveness, hope, strength – for those who fail and can’t get everything right, perfectly, all the time. In Christ Jesus. That’s what transformed every name mentioned above – and Paul: hope rooted in the events of this week. Imagine the practical implication! When I am at my worst, most aware of my inabilities, think God is so far away and can’t possibly like me for what I say and do, when all my diligent spiritual rituals in obedience still leave me feeling ‘less than’. When at my most deeply still and truthful reflection I sit alongside Paul utterly spent for trying and gasp: Who will save me?
When I look ahead at a vista that perhaps seems so bleak at times there is an embrace and a presence beside me. A voice whispers, I will. I already have. You are my beloved. The end of you is the beginning of me.
Jesus doesn’t change, he remains consistent and the same from Sunday to Sunday. He refused to run for the hills when the cost of his love involved flogging and crucifixion. He never thought of throwing in the towel after his disciples scurried scared on the feet he had so tenderly washed on his knees. He was silent in the face of torment and persecution, agreeing to no compromise, deals, or trade-offs. He was true to his word to take the sins of the world upon himself. Even for those who preferred Barabbas, tripped on their unbelief, and chose the status quo rather than break with complicit leaders threatened with change.
I love the phrase: Jesus took all that we deserved upon himself on the Cross in order that we might receive all that he deserved. He took the curse and we gained access to the blessing – freely given for us to receive; costly for him to give. Someone said: It is not what we give of ourselves or our resources that is the measure of how we love, but what we hold back. Jesus held nothing back.
This week between Sundays demonstrates the limitations of humanity and the limitless nature of God revealed through Jesus. The contrasts are stunning, challenging, sobering, humbling, and exhilarating. I identify so much with the human factor and am beyond grateful for the grace and mercy of God revealed in this week through Jesus.
A few take aways:
The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is rooted in history – not legend, myth, or an old crutch.
God is always good and faithful, but frequently hard to comprehend with our logic, filled with mystery, and not doing what we anticipated…. his disciples are often scratching their heads.
On the day when you disappoint yourself, break a promise, fail for the millionth time and the rooster incessantly crows condemnation – allow the risen Jesus to embrace you as he did Peter. Lean not into your inability but rather rest in his grace and strength as he says: Let’s do this together. I’m enough for both of us.
Behind every crucifixion, evil act, unfair and unkind circumstance God works a resurrection from the ashes. It takes time, patience, and faith to believe what we don’t yet see. That’s when we look at this week and root that faith in Jesus, not feelings, and claim the promises.
Here’s another song from that concert in Jerusalem I shared with you last week. It’s about God’s promise to restore Israel – a promise that extends beyond one nation. His faithfulness – always! Emblazoned for all to see, know, declare, and believe. That historic week in Jerusalem between Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and the Easter Resurrection. God’s not dead, he’s roaring like a lion!