It was supposed to be an easy victory. I mean, all the signs were there. Everything was in place. What more did you need? Here was a guy who could defeat disease and demons. Who could feed thousands with next to nothing. Who could even bring people back from the dead! If he wasn’t the one who could drive the Romans out and restore the temple to glory, who could? Finally, the Messiah has arrived!
I mean, isn’t that what this is all about? Isn’t that what God is up to? What God has promised? So clear the path! Jesus is heading for the temple! Look out, kids! It’s about to get good!
Everything was in place. It all looked right. And then Jesus got there, looked around, and then went home. Because, you know, it was getting late…
How unbelievably anticlimactic! We threw a parade for that?!
You know, Mark, more than any other gospel I think, highlights just how misunderstood Jesus was. And not in that teen-age “no-one-understands-me” way, but in that “you-don’t-really-understand-God-at-all” sort of way.
And from this side of things, it’s easy to look back and wonder how they didn’t see it? I mean, let’s say Jesus did overthrow the Romans and liberate the temple. Then what? Another, bigger nation would eventually come in and fill the gap. Because power is like that. Power always seeks more power. It is an insatiable beast. Overthrowing the Romans might be the easy answer, but it’s not the answer that will actually save anyone. Not the answer that will actually last.
And from where we sit in history, it’s a lot easier to look back and ask, “Why couldn’t they see it?” But isn’t that human nature? Don’t we do the same thing? We look for the easy answer that doesn’t cost us anything. We hope, sometimes beyond reasonable hope, that that will be enough.
Three weeks ago, when faced with the beginning of a global health pandemic, I made the BOLD decision to change the way we do communion – from intinction to individual cups! And three weeks ago, I had hope that that was enough. That we could get away with the easy answer that didn’t really cost us anything.
I would imagine the disciples might look back on that Palm Sunday in the same way. With just a bit of bittersweet longing. “Do you remember when we thought Jesus was just going to ride into town and win? When we thought that would be enough? When we thought the answer would be easy and pain free?”
The people cried out, “Hosanna!” Save us. Wanting, maybe even expecting, to ride to glory on Jesus’ coattails. Save us, they cried.
And Jesus did. And Jesus does. But it cost him. It cost him everything. It turns out that salvation, the Kingdom of God come near, looks a lot less like victory laps around the temple and a lot more like a broken man, hanging from a cross.
We may long for those simpler days when we believed that easy answers that don’t cost us anything would be enough. But that’s not where we are right now.
You know, I’ve tried to maintain a fairly healthy sense of humor throughout all of this. And I’ll keep trying to laugh and find joy wherever I can. Because joy still matters. But we also need to name the truth of this time.
These are odd days. Unprecedented in our lifetime. And right now, and maybe for months or even years to come, we are being called to a different way of life. We are being called to lives of sacrifice. Not just for ourselves, but for our neighbors, too. We need each other in a way we have not for a very long time.
It’s hard to be alone. It’s scary to lose a job or close a shop. It’s exhausting to be stuck at home with kids, with no end in sight. But right now, that’s what love looks like. Sometimes love looks like sacrifice. Sometimes, love costs us.
And when the dust settles and we finally see the scope of the wreckage, not just in lives and health, but in livelihoods and hope, our call to service and sacrifice will only grow stronger. In this time our call is and will be to ask, “How can I carry this burden with you? What can I give?”
And the answer will cost us. It will cost us emotionally. Cost us physically. Most likely, even cost us financially. But the way of the cross is always a way with others. It is our life together.
On the cross, in his death, Jesus joined himself to us, to our death. And in our baptism, in that gift, we are joined to Jesus in his life. But in that “happy exchange” we are also joined to the whole body of Christ, to one another, to share this life together.
And to carry one another will cost us something. But it’s in the carrying, in the care, in the sacrifice that the Kingdom of God comes most fully alive.
Jesus’ parade to the temple didn’t end in a sweet victory lap, but in God’s most perfect sacrifice. In the cross, not in grand parades or military victories, that is where the love of God is revealed. And in our love, in our service, in our sacrifice for one another, that is where the love of God comes alive still today.