First, let me begin this post by apologizing for not posting on Sunday, as has become my custom. I woke up that morning feeling horrible: pounding head, zero energy, really tired, irritated throat and sinuses—you know the drill. By God’s grace alone I made it to church on time and was even able to pay attention, worship deeply, and have coherent conversations about theology and branding design after the service was over. But as soon as I made it home, it was all I could do to eat lunch, take care of some pressing emails, start dishes and laundry, and then curl up on the couch with an e-book. I then proceeded to sleep half the evening away, and if you know anything about me, you know I had to have felt really, really bad to indulge in a nap. And I did. I felt a bit better after the nap, and slightly better still yesterday, but today is the first day where my brain has been even slightly useful. I am thankful Pops saw fit to hold off this cold until I had some down time in my schedule and workload, and I’m actually thankful for the excuse to put much of my work on pause for a couple of days and just rest. But I assure you I am also very grateful to be feeling more like myself again (thanks to lots of prayer and half a litre of electrolyte water)!
Now, on to the real content.
For Lent this year I have been participating in the study provided by She Reads Truth. If you are not familiar with their devotional ministry, then I highly recommend you check them out (and their counterpart He Reads Truth). I first heard about them from my therapist in December 2014, just a couple of months after I started seeing her; she recommended I check them out in response to the feelings of failure and frustration I shared about my interactions with God at that time. If I had gotten nothing else out of my therapy with her, that one recommendation would have made the entire experience worth it; thankfully, it has been “worth it” for far more reasons than just that, but I do highly recommend this resource.
I had been doing their devotional plans through the mobile app only, until this past Thanksgiving when I decided to order the physical books for both the Thanksgiving and Advent 2015 studies. Following their devotional plans with the physical books was a revolutionary experience for me, and I knew that while I probably wouldn’t be able to afford to purchase the physical books for all of the 2016 studies, I would definitely find a way to do so for the Lent study. Oh boy, am I glad I did! It has been such a rich time in Scripture, and having the ability to write out my responses right there with all my markings and highlighting and notes has made all the difference in the world this lenten season!
The Lent study began on Ash Wednesday (February 10) and will end on Resurrection Sunday (March 27). They divided the 47 days of meditation into several sections, but for this final week the plan is following a “Holy Week in Real Time” structure, exploring the sayings and activities of Jesus that correspond with each day of the last week leading up to His crucifixion and resurrection. This section began this past Sunday, Palm Sunday, the first day of Holy Week. While posting something every day is an unrealistic long-term plan for me, I had thought to do so at least during Holy Week and share my reflections each day from Palm Sunday to Resurrection Sunday. Then I woke up ill on Sunday, and I figured I could get away with scrapping that plan, since I hadn’t told anyone about it.
This morning, I did the readings for Palm Sunday (since my brain was mush for two days, I am now a little behind), and I believe I need to stick with that original idea after all. My posts will be a couple days behind, but so what? The truths are not tied to dates, so why should my reflections be?
The readings for Palm Sunday came from Luke 19:28-44, Zechariah 9:9, and Psalm 118:25-29. I found myself meditating mostly on the passage from Luke 19, which records Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem the week before Passover began, and the supposedly worshipful response of the crowds who witnessed His arrival.
The first portion of the passage in Luke records the details we are most familiar with: the acquisition of the donkey, the ride to the city, and the shouting and waving of palm fronds from the adoring crowds. After indulging a good chuckle over the initial image in my head of Jesus’s disciples applying a Jedi mind trick to get the donkey’s owners to permit them to abscond with it, I found myself most profoundly struck by what is recorded after the initial narrative of the event: verse 41 tells us,
“As He approached and saw the city, He wept over it . . .”
Now, I don’t know about you and your history with church stories, but Jesus weeping has never been a thing I remember hearing included in the narrative of His triumphal entry! But I think it’s important to note that the the people were shouting and waving palm fronds while Jesus approached the city’s entrance from the Mount of Olives, which was outside of the city walls. This means that while they were rejoicing in His arrival, He sat on that donkey weeping as it progressed through the cheering crowds. Those people were watching a weeping man ride into the city. Let that sink in for a minute. It’s not exactly the picture we are usually painted, is it?
It made me think a little bit about the idea of triumph and the path to victory. The world around us willingly admits that victory is not easily won; it takes hard work, lots of effort and investment, and sometimes lots of failure, before you should expect to reach your goal and claim that victory in your life. But the message is so positive that it’s easy to miss the suffering and sorrow that are inherent in the pathway to victory.
So, it was very powerful and humbling to meditate on Jesus’s weepy progression through the cheering crowds that day. Those verses tell us that Jesus wept over the destruction that would come on Jerusalem a few decades later. The gospel says that those who do not believe receive justice in their destruction, and destruction is a frequent consequence experienced by people and nations throughout the Bible as a means of disciplining their wayward and unbelieving hearts and of calling them back to obedience and faithfulness to God. But while reading these often-overlooked verses, I was struck by how even in the fulfillment of His perfect justice, God does not delight in the loss of His precious creations, nor in their suffering, especially when the loss and suffering are eternal.
I was also struck by how the people cried out hosanna, which means save now, but didn’t want the salvation being offered, the salvation that led to a freedom they didn’t even realize they needed.
As I meditated on all of these things, I wrote this to a friend:
Jesus entered Jerusalem just before Passover (a time of looking back and remembering the salvation from Egypt and eventual deliverance to the Promised Land) to the shouts of people crying, “Hosanna!” and waving palm branches. The phrase “Hosanna” actually comes from Psalm 118, a psalm that is recited/sung during traditional Passover observances, but the palm branches are part of the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles (which takes place in the fall) during which Jews commemorate God’s faithfulness during their wilderness wandering, when they lived in temporary huts and ate manna from heaven. In the feast of Tabernacles, they remember their sojourning and look forward to the provision of a permanent home in the permanent Kingdom of God (this appears in Revelation, by the way). The convergence of these observances was the people’s way of indicating they believed Jesus was the Messiah, but they didn’t truly understand what the prophesied Messiah would do for them. “Hosanna” means “Save now!” which is exactly what He was there to do. But not their way—he had to do it God’s way, which was a triumph of suffering.
He didn’t want to suffer. He even agonized and begged God to set Him free from it. But the path to freedom went straight through suffering, and He obeyed “for the joy set before Him.” Not a joy He would taste in His life on this earth; in fact, it’s a joy He still has not tasted, since He is waiting to taste of it until the Kingdom of God comes and He may rejoice as a bridegroom united with His bride.
But He did it for a joy to come.
I don’t like suffering either. And when I’m in it, I cry out, “God! Save me from this! Now!” The truth is He already did, way back then, and the suffering is how He gets me to the freedom awaiting me on the other side. Jesus said, “I am the way,” so following Him means following that way. And He tells me, “Cling to Me. I will get you through this.”
Jesus had to go through His suffering alone—God turned his back on Him!—but I do not; I don’t even have to know the way through it, because Jesus already mapped it out for me. It’s ok for me to cry, and I don’t have to like it, and I am absolutely free—invited, even—to beg God to save me from it. He did back then! He still does today! And one day He will save me finally by declaring “The End” to suffering altogether!
I am praying so hard to hold on to him better next time than I did this last time.
That arrival of Jesus that we so often call triumphal wasn’t the kind of triumph we are used to. Not for Him. He rode into that city weeping. Weeping for the ones that He loved who were so blind, so deaf, to their deepest needs and the Answer crying to them in front of their faces. Weeping for the destruction that would come. Weeping for the suffering that had to happen first. Weeping for the weight of sin and it’s unspeakable effects on His creations, for the unspeakable wrath about to be poured out on Him because of it.
Because victory comes through suffering, triumph through struggle, freedom through bondage. And suffering, struggle, and bondage are worthy of our tears, even if they are also the pathway to our salvation.
I wonder what was going through the minds of the people when they saw His tears. I wonder what His disciples must have been thinking and what kinds of conversations happened afterward that were never recorded. We know they didn’t understand, not until after He rose from the dead, and not fully until the Spirit of God descended upon them on the day of Pentecost. I know I don’t always understand, and I don’t often get answers to my confusion and questions.
But I always get Jesus.
Victory doesn’t always look the way I think it should. No one knows that better than Jesus. He kept riding that donkey into the city, into the events of the rest of that week, each step bringing Him closer to achieving the purpose for which He was sent. I don’t know how He kept going, especially knowing what that donkey was carrying Him toward. Would I keep walking if I knew what darkness and pain was about to overtake me? I don’t know. But I’m overwhelmed by the fact that He did.
And all I can do is weep.