…Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
(Read the whole passage here).
The Palms have been waved, and Hosannas sung. Today begins Holy Week, today we join with anticipation as the people of Jerusalem greet Jesus, riding into town like a King. This moment begins as sequence of events that pushthe people of Jerusalem and us from welcoming Jesus as a King to only days from now demanding death. During Holy Week, we re-live and rehearse this movement, this change in attitude towards Jesus, towards God. We rehearse this movement because as much as we would like to believe it belongs only to the people waving palm branches 2000 years ago, it is an experience that we know too well. It is expectation and hope met with disappointment and resentment.
The scene of the Triumphant entry is not easily identified by us for what it truly is. The idea of riding a donkey up a dusty road covered in palm branches, into an ancient city does not trigger memories or images for we modern people. Yet, for the people of Israel the symbol that Jesus represented was far more powerful than we imagine.
For us it would be better to imagine a Head of State stepping down the stairs of a private jet, being met by the welcome of cheering crowds and a band playing presidential music. Or we might be better to think of celebrities and stars walking down the red carpet to screaming fans and the flashes of media cameras. Or a motorcade with little flags on long black limos with motorcycles and big guys in suits with ear pieces and guns under their jackets.
Jesus is not just some guy on a donkey, and the reception he receives from the people is not just an impromptu greeting. Jesus has been headed towards this moment since he first rose out of the waters of the Jordan river and that voice thundered from heaven, “This is my son, my beloved.”
The people of Israel too, have been waiting for this moment. They have been anticipating the arrival of Messiah. They have been waiting for a King.
A King who was to hear the cries of the people.
A warlord who was to oust their Roman oppressors.
A spiritual leader who would re-establish the Kingdom of God on earth, with the Jerusalem temple at its centre.
And so when Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a steed, just like the Kings of Israel would have according to the Old Testament, the people believe that their salvation is near. They have high expectations for what is to come. They shout Hosanna, which does not mean Praise the Lord, but means Save Now. They believe that Jesus is One who has finally come to meet their expectations, to deliver on their hope, to save them from their problems.
We know this hope, we know this expectation. We have all longed for the one who will save us. Who will save us from our problems, from our worries, from our brokenness, from our suffering and pain.
And again, we know the disappointment that will come. We know what it is like to have promises broken. We know that un-met expectations lead to resentment.
Holy Week is a reminder of this experience.
Holy Week is a practice in disappointment.
As much as we long for a saviour to come on our terms. A king from the house of David or a prime minister leading our party of choice. A warlord who will oust our oppressors, or a lottery ticket, romantic partner, job opportunity that will finally make our problems go away. A spiritual leader who will establish God’s Kingdom, or a pastor or program that will bring all the people missing from pews back to church (along with their wallets).
Our expectations for salvation. For our version of salvation will only lead to disappointment, this week more than ever.
This week, more than ever do we try to hold God’s feet to the fire for not being God in our image… and by Friday, Save Now becomes Kill Now.
But the disappointment is necessary. Because none of this has been about what we want. Jesus has reminded us all along the way, that our expectations, that our version of the world is not what he come for.
Jesus has come to do God’s work. Jesus has come riding a donkey, a symbol of peace, rather than the war horse of a conqueror.
And peace is what Jesus delivers. It will not be on our terms. It will not come by Thursday or by Friday morning. It will not happen in the Garden when Judas comes with soldiers. It will not be in Pilate’s court.
No, peace does not come on our terms. Salvation is not according to our version.
Instead, in the place where we have finally given up on peace, On Golgotha, where no one can imagine salvation. On the cross, where there is only death. God will deliver us from evil, and the King will finally sit on his throne.
On Good Friday, salvation will finally be on God’s terms.
We just won’t know it until Sunday.