He is Risen indeed!
C.S. Lewis once said something to the effect that no Christian doctrine ever looked so threadbare to him as when he had just finished successfully defending it. The reason is not hard to find. In order to defend the faith successfully — which is the business of apologists — they need to reduce it to a defendable size. It is easier to hold a fortress against the enemy than to hold a landscape. They try to make each doctrine as it comes along sound as logical and plausible as they can. The trouble, of course, is that by and large logic and plausibility are not the heart of the matter, and therefore apologists are apt to end up proclaiming a faith that may be quite persuasive on paper, but is difficult to imagine either them or anyone else getting very excited about. ~ Fredrick Buechner
Holy Week is tricky business. On Palm Sunday we are tempted to tempted to drop confetti from the ceiling as we cheer and dance. The week starts with an over the top celebration. We love Jesus triumphant – let us rejoice and celebrate.
But… to simply celebrate does not feels dangerous. The same crowd that cheers “Hosanna!” on Sunday, yells “Crucify him!” by Friday. The exact same crowd. How do we keep our balance in this critical moment so we do not get caught up and swept away in a dangerous current?
The word Hosanna is found in only one Old Testament passage: Psalm 118:25. In the psalm it was immediately followed by the exclamation: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” The cry for help, Hosanna, was answered almost before it came out of the psalmist’s mouth.
Over the centuries Hosanna stopped being a cry for help and instead it became a shout of hope and celebration. It used to mean, “Save, please!” But gradually, it came to mean, “Salvation! Salvation! Salvation has come!” It is the bubbling over of a heart that sees hope and joy and salvation on the way and can’t keep it in. It celebrates: “Hooray for salvation! Salvation is here!”
When Jesus rides into Jerusalem on the Donkey the crowds are not begging to be saved they are cheering and I have a theory about how the crowd turned so dramatically from Sunday to Friday. They lost their sense of asking and got caught up in the current demanding that Jesus usher in a new day of power and glory, and healing and prosperity and triumph. And also insisting that they not be left out. They cheered – “salvation has come” but they expected God to save their way. They stopped pleading, “God please save us and do whatever it takes.”
Between the triumph of Palm Sunday and the celebration of Easter resurrection we discover dark and sinister realties. An innocent man is tortured and murdered. Betrayals and beatings end with a man who never did anything wrong being nailed to a cross.
We like to jump from the rejoicing of Palm Sunday to the rejoicing of Easter. The shortcut is tempting because the real story can be too terrible to bear if we think about it too long. But if we take that shortcut we stop looking at Jesus and we risk getting swept up in some current that attempts to deny the very reason Jesus came in the first place.
Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him. ~ John 3:14-16
By looking at Jesus lifted up on the cross we are forgiven. This is how we are set right with God. This is how God draws all people.
Keep looking at Jesus – even while he hangs on the cross – especially while he is on the cross. This thought was too much for those on that first Palm Sunday and they were swept away. If Jesus was not going to be the triumphant miracle worker they did not want anything to do with him and they missed the power of the cross to bring salvation. We don’t want to miss it.
And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. ~ 1 Corinthians 2:1-2
Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” ~Matthew 26:36-39
Notice the magnitude of the pain Jesus experiences at this moment. Overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Luke says that Jesus is filled with such anguish that he sweats great drops of blood. Mark describes this anguish with a word that means an intense emotional state that is caused by some surprise or perplexity. Jesus weeps at other times but nothing so intense as this moment. Jesus is deeply distressed and dumbfounded.
Some kind of bitter cup. Matthew, Mark and Luke all mention Jesus praying for a cup to be removed. The cup in the Bible refers to refers to God’s judicial wrath against injustice and evil. When Jesus speaks about the cup he knows that he is not just facing physical torture and death; he is about to experience the full divine wrath unleashed on the evil and sin of all humanity. Jesus is about to experience his Father’s wrath and it is a bitter cup.
As Jesus prays in the garden he is perhaps reminded of Ezekiel and Isaiah talking about the cup of God’s wrath being like poison that makes the body stagger and stumble with inner pain. Perhaps as Jesus prays he begins to see the darkness: no communion with God. Jesus is about to be separated from the perfect love of his Father and experience instead God’s wrath against all sin. That is a bitter cup.
And yet Jesus prays “not my will but thine.” Jesus exhibits an unbelievable commitment to obey. Jesus will gladly go through with it if that is what God says. By the time the prayer is over Jesus resolutely sets his face toward the cross – and not with a teeth grinding resentment or even grin-and-bear-it resignation but with joy set before him. Isn’t that sweet.
When the Bible talks about abundant lands it describes a land flowing with milk and honey. God’s people are invited to live in this sweet place. When the Bible talks about the goodness of God’s Word it talks about honey on our lips. We are invited to taste and see God’s goodness as we meditate on these sweet words.
Holy Week invites us into a place of great suffering and bitterness but we are invited to taste and see the sweetness of what Jesus accomplished on our behalf. Jesus choose to take the wrath we deserved and so made a way for us to be set right with God. Isn’t that sweet.
Jonathan Edwards delivered a classic sermon about the Garden entitled Christ’s agony. This is Edwards’s conclusion:
His sorrows abounded, did much more abound. Christ’s soul was overwhelmed with a deluge of grief, but this was from a deluge of love to sinners in his heart sufficient to overflow the world, and overwhelm the highest mountains of its sins. Those great drops of blood that fell to the ground were manifestation of an ocean of love in Christ’s heart.
Our bitter sweet faith recognises the great love of God and the cost that love paid. We are reminded of that bitter sweet love each time we share in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. This bitter sweet meal made up of of Jesus body broken and Jesus blood shed. A bitter sweet meal remeberance of all that Jesus did for us. A bitter sweet abiding in the sufferings and joys of Jesus. A bitter sweet hope that this simple meal will one day turn into a feast of love.
Q. How does this holy supper remind and assure you that you share in Christ’s one sacrifice on the cross and in all his benefits?
A. In this way: Christ has commanded me and all believers to eat this broken bread and to drink this cup in remembrance of him. With this command come these promises: First, as surely as I see with my eyes the bread of the Lord broken for me and the cup shared with me, so surely his body was offered and broken for me and his blood poured out for me on the cross. Second, as surely as I receive from the hand of the one who serves, and taste with my mouth the bread and cup of the Lord, given me as sure signs of Christ’s body and blood, so surely he nourishes and refreshes my soul for eternal life with his crucified body and poured-out blood. ~ The Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 75
Think about the bitter sweet cup Jesus faced in the garden. Think of God swirling that cup under Jesus nose saying, “Are you really going to die for these people. And Jesus says, “Yes!” Think about the love that enabled Jesus to endure. That is how much he loves us.
The truth is people aren’t drawn to truth, they’re drawn to simplicity. Recent research from Harvard suggests that customers don’t necessarily buy the best products, they buy the products that are the easiest to understand and the easiest to purchase.
This isn’t only true in consumer habits, though, it’s true in subscribing to ideas as well. Whether we’re talking about politics, religion or philosophy, a leader who can simplify ideas for the masses will likely rise.
And the problem is this: The truth isn’t simple. In the world God made, no area of life is easy to understand. Scientists have yet to figure out the complicated nature of the universe. Doctors are still in the infant stages of understanding the brain. And God knows we’ve no proof or our own origins.
So why is it that we can turn on a 24 hour news station, or walk into church one Sunday morning and think we can get the whole of truth into our heads?
The reality is, of course, we can’t. But it’s comforting to think we can, and so we buy in. Is the Tea Party right? Who knows, it’s complicated. Can the whole of scripture be broken down into 5 bullet points? No thinker in their right mind would believe that, except for the millions who do.
Why can’t we admit we know some things but not everything?
In my opinion, it’s because humans fear a life in which they aren’t in control.
And knowledge over an issue gives us the false sense we can predict it and understand it and in some ways control it.
Doesn’t our broken down systematic theology also offer us the illusion we can predict God? And isn’t that enticing?
Certainly there is truth, and certainly there is absolute truth, but, as G.K. Chesterton said, only a fool would think they could cram all of heaven into their heads.
Here’s how to know if a leader or teacher is trustworthy: They consistently say “we don’t have that information” and no longer pretend we do. Some things are for God to know and for us to trust. The rest of life is about making wise decisions based on the information we’ve been given. Which is less than we’re comfortable believing.
Zechariah, whose oracles are included as a portion of the Book of the Twelve Prophets in the Hebrew Bible, was apparently on Jesus’ mind during Holy Week (especially the part of his book we know as chapters 9-14). Reason enough that these texts might be a source for our own contemplation during these days leading up to the Passion.
Probably the most familiar passage from this prophetic book is the one that mirrors the events on what we call Palm Sunday. This was the day of Jesus’ “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem.
Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
- Zechariah 9:9-10, NRSV
The Palm Sunday story is one of those rare events that is recorded in all four Gospels: in (1) Matt. 21:1-9, (2) Mark 11:1-10, (3) Luke 19:28-40, and (4) John 12:12-19. All four Gospels link the narrative with Psalm 118 (esp. vv. 25-26), another passage that plays a key role in the Gospel accounts of Passion week. It is Matthew and John that specifically mention Zechariah 9 (Matt 21:5/John 12:15), but it is obvious that all the evangelists are drawing clear allusions to the prophet’s words in that chapter.
We can make the following simple observations from this text:
1. This was to be a day of great rejoicing in Israel and Jerusalem.
2. This day would mark the coming of their victorious king.
3. Their king would present himself to them in humility — riding on a donkey.
4. His victory would mean the end of warfare, his reign would mean peace.
5. His rule would be universal.
N.T. Wright calls Jesus’ enactment of this prophecy on Palm Sunday, “a mismatch between our expectations and God’s answer.”
Sure, we all love a parade, and the crowd on that day by all accounts was celebrating and feeling good about their prospects as they cheered on Jesus. Furthermore, they explicitly recognized him in “son of David” language — they identified Jesus with the Messianic King. He was the One who had “come in the name of the Lord,” and they blessed him and cried out to him, “Hosanna!” (Lord, save us!). They cast down their cloaks before him, as the people had done before Jehu, king of Israel (2Kings 9:13). They cut down palm branches and spread them before his way (the ancient way of giving the “red carpet” treatment…
Clearly, the people saw Jesus in terms of victory over their enemies and restoration of the Davidic dynasty. In short, they were hoping Jesus would bring an end to the “exile” experience that they had been dealing with for hundreds of years. On Palm Sunday, they thought the time had arrived when they were going to win.
This is what they were expecting. God, in Jesus, had something else in mind.
What am I expecting during this Holy Week?
What words and symbolic actions will King Jesus use to speak to me of his ways, which are infinitely higher than mine?
Excerpt from internetmonk.com.