Easter is only a week away. Around here, where spring has sprung after a cold, snowy winter, it seems like Christmas wasn’t that long ago. Ash Wednesday was snowed out – and we missed one of the Sundays, too. But ready or not, Easter is here – ready to launch itself into our busy world, and celebrate a new life through Jesus Christ, king and Messiah.
The truth is, Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem over two thousand years ago was just as surprising then as it is to the average person on the street today.
What Jesus was, who Jesus was, was not who anyone expected.
The Jews were expecting someone on a white horse, someone ready to be a military leader, in power and glory. They were expecting that the Messiah would show up in fury, violence, surrounded by warriors. They had seen this script before, like a movie playing out the way that war movies always play out.
But then, there’s Jesus.
Jesus shows up, riding on a colt, not a warhorse.
Jesus shows up, and the people sing praises to the “king,” singing about “peace in heaven” but hoping for war on earth.
Jesus shows up, debating the Pharisees but never swinging a sword.
Of course, it does say in Luke 19:45-16 that Jesus does clear out the temple of those selling sacrificial animals at inflated rates. But there’s no apocalyptic confrontation.
In fact, it says that Jesus taught every day in the temple -not exactly hiding out as a guerrilla combatant or storming the castle. It says he does this in the presence of his enemies, the teachers of the law and the leaders.
All of that can feel “same old, same old” when it comes to preaching Palm Sunday or worse yet, hearing the same sermon! But what if we took the principles Jesus displays here as he enters Jerusalem (and over the next few days) and lived them out?
1- Jesus enters humbly, not with angel attendants or giant vanguard, selecting the lowest possible way to begin his final week. He knows the way people are responding but he’s “keeping it real.” Seriously, how many of us, knowing our final week was upon us, would choose to stay grounded and humble? How many of us would dial up room service, make it all about us? Jesus, fully God and fully man, clearly had a lot to wrestle with, but even in the midst of this celebration, he keeps it even keeled. Jesus clearly doesn’t read his own press clippings.
I remember the one time I “had it going on.” I was a senior in high school, and I’d earned a scholarship to one school academically. But the other school I was looking at, the swimming coach kept calling, telling me how he wanted me on the team. As a high schooler, and with only one coach calling, this was a big deal. He wanted me – or so he said.
But we have a tendency to get sucked in by the people who tell us things we want to hear. We read what other people say about us thanks to Facebook or Twitter; we measure our lives in likes or shares or the gossip that gets back to us. What would it look like if we didn’t get too high (or too low) based on what others thought of us or expected of us? What if we remembered that we were God’s children, that God had a plan? That will consistently factor in to the decisions Jesus makes.
2- Jesus is willing to work, even if it means doing the dirty work. Upon entering the temple, he messes with some hard folks, some dangerous people. These folks selling doves and sheep and more for higher costs, knowing that the people entering the temple are in desperate need of sacrificial animals, are not to be trifled with in the way we remember this. And Jesus, son of a carpenter and full-time teacher, physically confronts these people to take back the purpose of worship. While other people want to celebrate him as a potential Jewish king, Jesus rolls up his sleeves and wades in to do the work. What would our lives look like if we struggled against the ‘hype’ and did the work that no one else wanted to handle? Can you imagine looking for the dirty jobs in your life, and volunteering so that others didn’t have to?
When I was in seminary, I spent one summer working for the township’s water and sewer division. We read meters, shoveled (cough) stuff, and drove heavy duty equipment. But there was a guy there named Tommy who was completely unfazed by anything we did. Tommy had worked for water and sewer for forty years, and drove a sump pump after hours for more money. Once, he walked out on the beam to fix a rotor on the centrifuge … and fell in! He hopped out, washed himself off, and went back to work. He was unafraid of the junk he would face.
What about us? Do we face things head on? Do we show grit in the face of work, even dirty work? What if we were quick to confront impropriety in our own lives, and noticed when others were being mistreated, and did something about it?
3- Jesus stays “at it,” even in the midst of his enemies. Jesus’ enemies are all around him, plotting his demise and he’s still teaching about the kingdom of God. Do you know why you’re here? Not, like “my mom, wife, etc. dragged me to church today.” I mean: Do you know what your God-given purpose is? Do you know what it is that you’re supposed to do to make a difference?
One of the things I love about superheroes is that early on, there’s usually a moment or conversation that defines them. They don’t know what they’re supposed to do about the problems of the world, and someone helps them determine it. In Jesus’ case, that happened three years prior when he was baptized (only a few months ago for us!) Jesus doesn’t need to DTR (define the relationship) at this point because he knows what he’s supposed to do – teach the good news of the kingdom of God. So he does it, regardless of the cost personally.
Let’s skip ahead a bit, from Sunday to Thursday of Holy Week, consider it “foreshadowing” in the script…
4- Jesus will lead by serving, washing his disciples’ feet. It’s his last meal and he’s thinking about everyone else. He’s washing feet (the role of the servant or slaves), he’s empowering them, instilling hope, even as they know the walls are closing around him. Jesus is self-less, not just in the way he dies on the cross, but in the way he treats others. Are you that selfless?
I know I’m not. I tend to worry about my own hunger, happiness, or desires. I want to get mine too often, and it gets in the way of following Jesus. Sure, we’ll never be nailed to the cross for our faith so we can’t do that like Jesus, but what about loving unconditionally? What about sharing our faith in genuine way? What about caring for the needs of our family, friends, neighbors, and community without regard for ourselves?
I read recently that we shouldn’t love our neighbor as ourselves (as it’s popularly interpreted) but we should love them better. We should love ourselves better. We should love… relentlessly.
5- Finally, and most importantly, Jesus will put his trust in prayer and in God’s mighty plan. I’ve written before about how I worry about things, how I can get anxious or overly excited over something in the future I can’t control. Let’s face it, I just don’t like change. But the truth is, if Jesus can know that things aren’t looking good for him, that his enemies are coming for him, and he can remain a “non-anxious presence” and care for those around him, then why sweat the little stuff?
Why not “let go and let God”? Why not pray more and worry less? Why not recognize that everything about our lives is in God’s hands?
A month ago, I went to the doctor’s because my heart was flip-flopping. If you’ve never felt a heart palpitation, I’m not sure I can describe it very well. It’s like having someone punch you (with some strength) in the chest, but the sensation is coming from the inside. I underwent test after test, but they just couldn’t find anything that really put a reason to the sensation I was having. For the first few weeks, I agonized. Was my heart imploding? Was there some major condition wrong with me, going undetected?
I wasn’t given any reasons – I didn’t have any answers. But one day, in the midst of reflecting and praying, I came to this conclusion. Drum roll, please…. Worrying wasn’t improving my situation at all.
So, I decided – and yes, I think it’s a decision sometimes – to trust that God had a plan.
It’s not a novel idea. But if we look at Jesus’ life and example, there’s more there than “just” dying on the cross. Jesus lived humbly, boldly, and faithfully.
No one is throwing a parade for you tomorrow morning, but how will you enter your day at home, at work, in your community? Will you go boldly, trusting God’s plan and resting in God’s presence?
It’s so unexpected, so countercultural, it just might work.