Saturday, March 23, 2013

Christ Our Passover....

The hands that waved the palms would clench into fists waved in the air, as the voices which sang hosannas screamed for blood. And it was all part of the plan.

Grace. Amazing.

Luke 19:28-40
After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, "Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, 'Why are you untying it?' just say this, 'The Lord needs it'" So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, "Why are you untying the colt?" They said, "The Lord needs it." Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,
"Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!"
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, order your disciples to stop." He answered, "I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out."

This is the Word of the Lord.

I don’t think you could have fit another person into Jerusalem with a shoehorn that day. Passover was in full swing, after all, and people had come from all over the known word to bring their sacrifices to the Temple, to eat the Seder meal together, to remember the night, fifteen hundred years ago, when the angel of death passed over the Children of Israel, striking terror into the very souls of the Egyptians, clearing the way for their freedom.

Freedom was very much on everybody’s mind, make no mistake. For seven hundred years, one foreign power or another had controlled Judea. Not since Zedekiah had Israel had its own ruler, and many felt it was high time to overthrow the Romans and take back their country.

So when the rumors started flying around, saying that Jesus of Nazareth was on his way to Jerusalem – hey, you remember, Jesus, right? He was that prophet who had opened the tomb of a man dead for four days, and had raised him? That guy has to be the Messiah! Well of course they would want to get a glimpse of him, to perhaps be witness to the next King of Israel coming in to claim his throne.

Now, those hoping to see a conquering King riding in to take his throne from the Roman occupiers weren’t the only ones craning their necks, straining to see Jesus top the hill from Bethany. Plenty of people had heard about Lazarus, and had heard about how this Jesus fellow had opened the eyes of a man born blind, and had heard about how he fed thousands and thousands of people with just a few barley loaves and fish. Some were hoping for a show, hoping they’d see him do something interesting, maybe say something entertaining.

As Jesus and his band of disciples crested the hill, someone in the crowd started waving a palm branch and shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David!” And every neck craned, every eye peered to get a glimpse of Jesus.

Now, what they expected to see, I can’t tell you. Perhaps the people looking for entertainment expected him to come prancing over the hill, turning water into wine, and passing out sandwiches. Perhaps the people hoping to overthrow Roman rule once and for all were looking for a rider on an armored steed, bloody sword drawn, leading a mighty army into the city to take his throne by force.

What they saw was a man, on a saddle of cloaks, riding a donkey, its colt not far behind.

Some were let down, no doubt. But many remembered the words of the prophet Zecheriah: “Rejoice, O people of Zion! Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem! Look, your king is coming to you. He is righteous and victorious, yet he is humble, riding on a donkey—riding on a donkey’s colt.”

And shout they did! The “Hosannas” grew to a crescendo, and people began cutting palm branches off of trees, throwing them on the road in Jesus’ path. Others even put their cloaks down, so the royal donkey’s feet wouldn’t touch the dirt. It was amazing to see, a joy to be in the midst of!

But how soon the words that crowd shouted would change!

All too soon, the same throats singing hosannas would be raw from screaming “Crucify him!” The same eyes which strained in hope to see a King would look with revulsion, disappointment, and naked hatred upon the bruised, bloody form of a man condemned to die.

Oh he was still a King, make no mistake. The people were too busy trying to make Jesus fit their own agendas to understand, to see what kind of King Jesus is, though.

Jesus was no stranger to being misunderstood. Nicodemus misunderstood Jesus when he spoke of being born from above. The woman at the well misunderstood Jesus when he spoke of living water. His own disciples, even the inner circle of Apostles, regularly (and it seemed, sometimes, intentionally) misunderstood his words, actions, and intentions. The other people who followed Jesus for the free food and entertainment value, as well as those who expected Jesus to overthrow the Roman government and establish an eternal earthly kingdom misunderstood Jesus as well.

And it’s a misunderstanding which persists to this day.

Today, one week before Easter, we celebrate Palm Sunday in the life of the church. Many churches make it a point to combine this day into Palm/Passion Sunday, taking care to balance the celebration of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem with the horror of the Crucifixion. The thought behind this is that, unless people were careful to attend Holy Week services like Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, they would go from the triumph of Palm Sunday to the triumph of Easter without experiencing the darkness and pain in between.

It’s a valid argument. Especially for Western Christianity, we seem to spend far too much time acting like those people outside of Jerusalem, hoping for free food or entertainment from Jesus. All too often we treat God like a loving but slightly forgetful grandfather, or a heavenly vending machine. We pray most attentively when we need something, and judge our faith and the faith of others by how prosperous we are.

And especially for Western Christianity, we seem to spend far too much time acting like those people outside of Jerusalem, hoping to see Jesus riding on a war horse, hip deep in blood, slaughtering the oppressive Romans and claiming his rightful throne. We think that God agrees with our politics, supports our country over any other, and especially likes the same football team we do.

But when Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, he wasn’t dancing before the crowds, providing bread and circuses. He was silent.

And Jesus didn’t ride a warhorse. He rode a donkey, a symbol of peace.

The thing about Jesus was that he was so in love with the Father, so committed to being completely invested in the will of God and about the work of God, and so radically different from any other person who had ever walked the planet, that, invariably, Jesus did – Jesus does – the unexpected.

He is a King who doesn’t waste his time on an earthly kingdom, because that would be nothing more than regime change. His agenda, God’s agenda, was – and is – justice: both that the poor, the sick, the forgotten and the despised would be recognized, healed, and brought in to community, and that God’s ultimate justice, the reconciliation of humankind to God, is accomplished through the cross.

This King conquers, this King reigns, not with swords or cannon or bombs or proclamations or coups. This King conquers by enduring execution. This King on a donkey conquers by dying. This King conquers death itself through allowing himself to be killed by a ruthless society using the most horrifying of methods.

This king who enters Jerusalem riding a donkey represents something more frightening to the Roman authorities than a thousand legions of enemy soldiers: He represents hope. And because the Temple elite served (and prospered) at the whim of the local Roman leadership, Jesus represented to them something more horrifying than a pig on the altar: the dissolution of the status quo.

It’s no secret that Jesus turned the tables on the halls of power and upset the status quo. Marcus Borg says that by laying down his own life, Jesus denied “the temple's claim to have a monopoly on forgiveness and access to God....God in Jesus has already provided the sacrifice and has thus taken care of whatever you think separates you from God.”

And in that statement is a truth larger than merely upsetting the Romans or abolishing the power of the Temple rulers, far more important than simply overturning the accepted norms, more eternal than the conquest of any kingdom or power or ruler or economy or government. This King on a donkey, in one selfless, eternal act, is God’s statement to the cosmos that we are forgiven, that we are loved, that we are valuable beyond measure, that we are forgiven.

This is a radical grace, one without limits, a depth of love that begs description. This radical grace that God gives, this wildly extravagant love that God has, this egregious infatuation with mankind that God shows is sealed and made sure by the Resurrection.

God’s love is proven in that, at the point in time when we were furthest from the truth, when we were as far away from God as we could be, Christ died for us. On Calvary, as the lambs for the Seder meal were being slaughtered in the Temple courts, Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us… and for everyone.

Better stated, Christ, our Passover, is sacrificed for us, and for everyone. While the crucifixion was a singular event in human history, the effects are eternal, ongoing, without pause or cessation. We were saved that day, and are being saved from that day, and shall be saved on the day of Christ’s return.

How, then, shall we respond?

The only possible response is to, as the Apostle Paul writes in the Letter to the Philippians, “Let the same mind be in [us] as was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, emptied himself…” – the NIV translates that phrase as, “…he made himself nothing…”

Our agendas, our enrollment of God into our own passions and ideals, our co-opting of God into our plans and as a member of our particular interest or cause or political party, all of this must be laid aside in the stark light of God’s abundant, unfathomable love.

This conquering King tops the hill from Bethany, and the donkey he is riding pauses, perhaps confused by the shouting and singing, mesmerized by the waving palm branches and the colorful cloaks laid out before it. And Jesus looks down into Jerusalem, into the belly of the beast, where even now evil men are plotting his death. He hears the songs and cries of hope and lets them float on the air lest the rocks themselves explode with praise. He looks on the people shouting, he looks on the city stretching out before him, he looks upon the occupying Roman legions and their rulers and the Temple elite who whisper their plans… with love.

And with a gently nudge, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, the Lamb of God rides on in to Jerusalem.

Christ, our Passover, is sacrificed for us.

Alleluia, amen.

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