Sunday will be Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion. Growing up, Palm Sunday was one of my favorite Sundays of the year. I loved waving palms, I loved how the children in the story played such an important part, and I loved the celebration. Who can resist a parade? Especially one with all the bright promise of deliverance, peace and prosperity!
Then, with the turn of the page, suddenly we are following Jesus through the dark passion of the Last Supper, his betrayal, crucifixion and death. How can that possibly be right?
This year of pandemic has changed my perspective on the whole story. The word hosanna itself is an indicator: it means “Save us now! Rescue us! Intervene on our behalf!” This is not a party; these are the cries of an oppressed people, seeking relief from a cruel and evil occupation by Rome. Desperation begging for liberation, not joy. Small wonder they were ready to crucify Jesus when he did not live up to their hopes.
The disciples were also confused. Jesus had been advised not to go to Jerusalem because of the political climate of resentment and frustration against Rome. Their expectation about what would happen in Jerusalem does not pan out the way they thought. His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him (John 12:16). They follow loyally even though the events of that Holy Week must have confounded them. Jesus kept talking about his death. When Jesus washed their feet, Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” (John 13:8). Peter boasts that he would lay down his life for Jesus, and in the Garden of Gethsemane he tries to defend Jesus with a sword. These were not the things Jesus needed. When he asks the disciples to watch and pray, they fall asleep instead. And when the guards come, they all leave him and flee. Not the story they had intended to write.
It seems even Jesus was not immune to expectations, even though his path was clear to him. From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things” (Matthew 16:21-23). I can see Peter placing his big callused fisherman’s hand on Jesus’ shoulder, trying to give him a little good advice. Maybe, just for an instant, Jesus remembered the devil’s temptation in the wilderness, when he saw all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. Maybe Jesus imagined he could find an easier, softer way. But he could not, and he recognized the tempter for what he was.
We see it again in the garden. Jesus threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want” (Mark 14:35-36). Then he fulfilled God’s will, literally taking up his cross for our salvation.
Every Sunday we confess that we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves. We humble ourselves like the psalmist:
“The fear of the Lord is clean and endures forever; the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, more than much fine gold, sweeter far than honey, than honey in the comb. By them also is your servant enlightened, and in keeping them there is great reward. Who can detect one’s own offenses? Cleanse me from my secret faults. Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins; let them not get dominion over me; then shall I be whole and sound, and innocent of a great offense. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:9-14).
What are your expectations? Are they getting in the way of what God wants you to accomplish? Have faith! The story is not over!
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
And take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
And renew a right spirit within me.