Looking back on our Lenten journey, it seems appropriate to ask a few questions. For if the goal of all of our fasts and disciplines is to be conformed into the image of Christ, how are we doing? Have our minds been renewed to the mind of Christ? Have we made the Messiah into something that we want and expect, or have we taken up our Cross and followed him?
Today, Palm Sunday inaugurates Holy Week – the final week of the life of Jesus before he goes to the Cross. It is a week of expectation. It is a week of sadness, and yet, a week of joy. This triumph that we experience today as we commemorate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, will turn into deceit, fear, confusion, and crushed expectations.
Almost 40 days ago at the beginning of Lent, we set ourselves on course with Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem as he was preaching and teaching about the Kingdom of God. Today, we have reached that Holy City of Jerusalem, and we know what awaits our Savior. You would think we would be mourning, and yet, there is joy, there is celebration. There is a terribly good future that we know must come to pass. And so, we have joined the crowd and shouted, “Blessed is he that Cometh in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the Highest.”
We confidently shout with joy because we know what Sunday will bring, but why did the disciples and the crowds shout with joy as well?
Jesus was not only traveling with his immediate disciples and friends, but with many other Jews who were making the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Passover – a feast that Celebrated what God had done for the Jewish people in the Exodus out of Egypt, out of bondage and slavery. Multitudes came from all over the region, and the city was bustling with people. Wherever there are crowds of people, there are also merchants, swindlers, consumers, entertainers are soldiers. Jerusalem was alive; it was the perfect place for a parade, or a riot.
The Jewish people had been waiting for the promised Messiah – for the Christ, who would save them from their Oppressors, give them back their land, and set them free. Jesus was coming to set them free; to lead them out of Bondage, to begin the course on a New Exodus, but it was not what they were expecting.
Luke tells us that before Jesus entered the city, he asked the disciples to go and get a colt that nobody had ridden before, and bring it to him. This may sound odd to us, but the disciples instantly picked up on what Jesus was doing, so they immediately got put some royal garments on the young colt. Their expectations were lifted, for their King had come. For the words of Zechariah the prophet speak of this moment: “Behold, your king is coming to you, righteous and humble, mounted on a colt.” The disciples wanted to make sure that their King had the Royal garments, and a Royal welcome as he entered their Holy City.
What hit me afresh as I re-read the Gospels during Lent is that the Disciples were most excited about Jesus being their King on their terms and that we do the exact same thing. We love leaders who are what we expect, who dress like we want them to and believe in what we believe. Looking back on the life of Jesus in the gospels, it is clear that He couldn’t stop talking about the Kingdom of God and how it worked – that the last are first, and the first are last – and that those who are poor, are actually rich. Those who have power must be the servants of all, and that following Jesus means denying your own will and submitting to God’s will. But the Disciples had a preconceived idea of what the Kingdom of God was, and they placed Jesus into that context. When Peter Confessed Jesus as the Christ – the one they had been waiting for, Jesus told Peter that the Christ must die, and Peter got angry. He was furious. This changed all of Peter’s plans. For Peter, the Messiah was going to conquer Israel’s enemies, not be conquered by them. His expectations were shattered.
As we prepare to ascend the altar of God and to meet Christ in his offering of Himself, how do we conform ourselves to him, and to what he wants us to be? The answer is found in our Epistle this morning where St Paul tells us what the mind of Christ looks like. He tells us that Christ made himself of no reputation, but took the form of a servant, and humbled himself to the point of death. The journey of Christ likeness begins by taking up our Cross daily, and dying to our own wills and expectations, and submitting ourselves to His will. This journey is the new Exodus, where Jesus takes us out of the bondage of sin, deception and guilt, and frees us to live life abundantly in The Kingdom of God. This is why we celebrate; this is why there is Joy. Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem marked a victory for the Kingdom of God, that would extend beyond Israel into the hearts and minds of people everywhere. For Christ conquered Sin & Death on the Cross, and he is our King. With this journey to the Cross ahead of us we can look to Jesus and say with boldness, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”