We have travelled so far with Jesus today. It already feels like it’s been a week since we waved our own palms. Everything all turns so quickly that it’s hard to remember the joy, and excitement, and hope of that Palm Sunday. It reminds me of when I got my driver’s license and three days later I put my car in a ditch. I had planned so I could get it as soon as possible. Applied for my learner’s permit the very day I turned 15 and a half. Made the appointment for my 16th birthday to take the road test, and that was midterms in high school so my first solo drive was back to school to take a German exam. Then, because I was the first of my friends to drive I rallied a crew to go hang out at the mall! A snowpacked dirt road and my own inexperience sent me sailing into a fencepost instead of making the turn I intended. We all survived, and no one was injured but that day ended far differently than any of us had anticipated. It didn’t end my life as a licensed driver but it sure did make me drive differently in the future.
Was it foolishness to think some teenager was safe on the roads? I confess, when I think of how young I was I wonder. Was it foolishness when the crowds, in their longing and hope, broke into shouts of “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Hosanna! Save us! Was it just a childish, Heysanna, Hosanna parade with a bunch of excitable people who had let their emotions get the better of them?
I don’t think it was. On that Sunday of Palms so many years ago, human hearts had been awakened to hope long dormant, the dawn of promises-realized was breaking and they had to cry out! Despite the trouble that follows, Jesus never told them to stop. Instead, he said that if they kept silent, the stones themselves would cry out! Hosanna! Save us! The entirety of creation swelled and swooned as if to make a long-awaited embrace. Hosanna!
What happened next feels like whiplash. What happens next doesn’t feel like the way things were supposed to work out. What happens next feels cruel and unnatural.
But, what happened next was the answer to that prayer, save us. Jesus was obedient, was willing to answer that prayer even though it wouldn’t unfold the way the people expected it would. But the reactions, the shift in tone, the whiplash is worth paying attention to. What caused everyone to turn so quickly? What made them switch from placing branches at his feet to hefting a cross upon his back?
There is a peculiar, predictable pattern in humankind in which we become inspired, inflamed, and make a show only to back-peddle and retreat. It happens in all sorts of scenarios, an football team rides a wave of success during the season and crescendos into the playoffs, an army will muster and unite an impressive force to respond to a threat, an artist taps into that mystical muse and produces something of genius, and then, they flounder. The team balks, nervous under the lights of the big game. The troops quail when they see that the enemy isn’t immediately backing down, and the artist’s next attempt pales in comparison. Have you ever made big plans and resolutions, made a strong start, then waned in enthusiasm?
In part, it’s just the ambiguity that comes with being human. In our inner worlds, we may grow boldly inspired but when we confront reality it frightens us. It’s a kind of nervous energy that dissuades us from daring. It wonders, am I really up to the task?
But this hesitation is also a response to real opposition. Not just human to human opposition but the opposition of the principalities and powers of this world, attacks of the enemy. There are dark forces bent on separating us from the love of God and each other. The spirit of rebellion that first turned it’s back on the source of life did not stop trying to bring others with it. This is the enemy from whom we need to be saved. Who wages a war between us and within us. And this is the enemy whom Jesus rode into Jerusalem to confront.
And Jesus showed us that a triumphal entry may not lead where we think it’s going. The psalm says: “form a procession with branches up to the horns of the altar.” Not to the throne first, but to the altar, the place of offering, the place of sacrifice, the place of surrender. It is the place where only Christ as king can lead us and make the offering that we are powerless to make.
In Jesus’ willing obedience he gathered up all those palms of praise and in them took the brokenness, fear, and sin inside us and all around us. He took it to the cross and there it died. There is an invitation to join Jesus in this Holy Week to return again to the great acts of salvation and the depths of God’s healing love. It may not be pleasant or feel victorious to encounter anew the barriers within us and among us that keep us from God. It may be hard to accept being loved at such a cost. But as we come to know our need of salvation we will recognize how much we have been saved. Our prayers for salvation will turn again to songs of praise for provision.
So, sing your hosannas and wave your palms, because Jesus is willing to take all of it and make it right. If we take this ride with Jesus we will find ourselves in fearful, painful places because God would not allow us to be in them alone. If we take this ride with Jesus, we will find that our hopes and dreams have dark shadows but the light of Christ will illuminate and brighten them. If we take this ride with Jesus we will find ourselves headed to the altar of sacrifice but that will not be the final destination because if we take this ride with Jesus on this Sunday we will arrive with him in glory next Sunday.
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