I haven’t mentioned anything yet this year about us being in the season of Lent and now it’s almost over. Easter Week begins this coming Sunday with Palm Sunday when Jesus was greeted in Jerusalem by a crowd of people waving palm branches and shouting his name and praising God. To bring a 21st century understanding to this 1st century event, I’d like to use a modern day Pittsburgh example to really bring home what was happening. On February 3, 2009, thousands of men, women, and children adorned themselves head-to-toe in black and gold and flocked to the city streets, shouting and waving their Terrible Towels as the Steelers who had just won their sixth Super Bowl ring drove through the city in a victory parade. Not only did the sea of people spill out into the streets, but hundreds hung out building windows and parking garage overhangs just to catch a glimpse of and welcome home their heroes. That’s the kind of celebration we are talking about on Palm Sunday – a victory party and Jesus was the hero everyone wanted to see. They had all heard the stories about how he had been healing the sick, the blind and the lame. He was preaching freedom for the captive and forgiveness for the sinner and most recently, they heard that he had brought a dead man back to life – called him right out of the grave!
I guess that is why the events of the rest of Holy Week are so disturbing. These same people screaming themselves hoarse “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” as Jesus rode by on a little donkey are the same ones whose voices rang out loud and clear, “Crucify Him!” just a few days later. It seems that Jesus didn’t conform to their idea of what Messiah was all about and they let him know it with loud shouts and harsh words. Really?! Were they so shallow that their allegiances where that easily swayed? Come to think of it, I know some die-hard Steeler fans who are the harshest, loudest, most animated critics when player error on or off the football field is perceived. I guess we can be just as critical and fickle now as we were then and about things far less important (forgive me Steeler nation).
On “Good Friday” we are going to hear about how Jesus’ own people (and by extension – every person who lives) betrayed him by instigating and participating in his crucifixion. It will be preached that by his own ultimate power, God turned this moment of our arrogant rebellion into the tool of his ultimate mercy and forgiveness. On Easter morning, we will celebrate Jesus rising from the dead, thereby conquering death for all time, for all people. That’s the kind of hero he is – giving up his own life for those who would betray him and then generously giving back to us the eternal communion with God that our own pride and sinfulness embezzled from us in the Garden.
While it is good to remember our sinfulness and the sacrifice of Jesus that redeemed us, let us never forget that at no time was God out of control of what was happening. Sometimes God allows us to commit the most unthinkable atrocities from which nothing humanly good can come from and then he shows us his love and power by restoring and growing his kingdom stronger and more glorious from the ashes we leave behind. While I may question his methods in my own moments of weakness, I never question his wisdom or his desire for me to be in relationship with him. This is the God we serve – the One who seeks us to redeem us and gave everything to bring us back into glorious relationship with Himself. That is what we celebrate during Holy Week!