There are a few key Sundays every year that churches go all out, usually spending most of their worship budget for flowers and musicians, in order to attract yearly spectators. Christmas and Easter top that list with Palm Sunday coming in a close third. It drives me nuts!
Don’t get me wrong. I believe these three events are essential in God’s message to us through the person of Jesus. Easter is the crowning glory of God’s message that sets apart Christianity from other belief systems.
But if you show up just for Christmas, Palm Sunday, and Easter, you’ve missed the whole point of God breaking into human history in the first place. The celebrations that are most treasured are the ones when we’ve emerged on the other side of tragedy and suffering.
We all know people who have overcome unbelievable situations, only to tell us that they would not be the person they are today were it not for that experience. For that reason, they would not change anything.
Throughout this season of Lent (it began six weeks ago on March 9) we’ve been exploring God’s love as a means of making sense out of the details, tragedy and suffering of our lives. We’ve looked at various accounts in John’s gospel, applying these principles to our lives. We saw how God’s love satisfies the deep hunger of our souls. God breaks through our blindness, even our suffering, to be the light of our own world. God calls each of us by name and meets us in a one-to-one relationship in. God cares for our every need, wanting us to thrive, not just survive. God’s grace heals and restores us. Finally, God invites us to explore beyond the boundaries of what’s familiar.
Now we’re at Palm Sunday, the beginning of the last week of Jesus’ life and ministry. Intensity and conflict in Jesus’ life certainly escalated once he began his public ministry a mere three years before. He is now an outlaw to the religious leaders and a nuisance to the political leaders of his day. His reputation and accounts of his miracles have reached the far corners of the region. Regular people are drawn to his message, many not really knowing why.
Any great story has nuggets tucked inside the details of the story. John’s brief account of Jesus riding into Jerusalem does not disappoint. I’m going to retell the story, but if you want to read John’s account you’ll find it in John 12:12-19.
People have been coming to Jerusalem in anticipation of the upcoming festival of Passover. Every observant Jew lives in hopes of celebrating Passover in the holy city of Jerusalem once in his life. The bustling city is teeming.
News and rumors that the man Jesus, who raised Lazarus from the dead , is on his way to Jerusalem. Jesus has been with his friends in the nearby town and a crowd is accompanying him as he travels from Bethany to Jerusalem. Those in Jerusalem who’ve heard Jesus is on his way, have started lining the roads in hopes of catching a glimpse of this miracle worker.
Jesus knew there was no way he could speak to the crowds. His voice wouldn’t have reached that vast assembly of people. But he wanted to do something that all could see; he came riding into Jerusalem on a donkey.
Jesus was always intentional in his actions. A leader rode on a horse when he was going to war. He rode on a donkey when he came in peace. He knew that many wanted him to kick into revolution mode and annihilate the oppressors. Wasn’t that what God promised of the Messiah in the Scriptures? They were waving the palms of a conquering victor, anticipating that soon he would sound the trumpets and the Jewish nation would finally have it’s long delayed victory over Rome and the world. They were looking for the Messiah of their own dreams, not the Messiah whom God sent.
The religious authorities are slinking in the background. They are utterly frustrated! Nothing they seem to do can diminish the attraction of Jesus to the people! They know Jesus knows they consider him an outlaw. They’ve been trying to trap him for three years! And here he is, casting fear aside and riding into Jerusalem for all the world to see on a mission of peace! What’s it going to take to get this guy?!?
A lot is going to unfold in the course of the coming week. I think Jesus intuitively knows something will happen soon. He’s been sensing it for awhile. But he’s grounded himself in the truth he’s been preaching for the past three years: God’s love does not do away with conflict, or suffering, or tragedy. God’s love is the thing that makes it possible to bear it, to see it, to share in it, to understand it, and to pass through it.
I hope you’ll check in this week to see how the story continues to unfold. Even though we may know a story, sometimes we discover something hidden in the details that we’ve missed before. I’m curious what I’ll uncover.