Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday

[Video had technical problems during the first few minutes. Here is the video for the balance of the service.]

SUMMARY: PALM SUNDAY

(John 12: 12-16)

We’ve been speaking about John’s gospel as ‘The Book of Signs’ where time and again, John chooses not necessarily to report on just historical details but chooses instead to use those details to give us glimpses/signs that point us to a deeper understanding of just who Jesus was and what his life, death, resurrection are meant to be understood to mean for us – in our everyday lives. Last week, we looked at the two ends of ch12[i], beginning with the sign of Mary who broke open perfume to pour on Jesus’ feet with her tears and wiping with her hair, implying the pouring out of herself, just as Jesus, at the end of the chapter, explained what he was about to do on the cross for us. Today we’re looking between those two readings[ii] where John describes Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and the thrill of the crowds welcoming him.

This marks the start of ‘Holy Week’ – and what a week it was! Sunday: his entry into the city

Monday: his disrupting of the temple economic system, overturning the   tables of the  money-changers. Tuesday on the Mount of Olives and Judas agreeing to betray him. Wednesday to Bethany and the anointing of his feet by Mary. Thursday: his Last Supper and betrayal, in the Garden as he prayed, then overnight and his trial, and Friday his crucifixion and death

But coming back to today with our focus on his entry into Jerusalem and how it was that the same people who were so excited to welcome him who would, in just one week, change their joyful cries of ‘HOSANNAH!’ to damning shrieks of ‘CRUCIFY!’ Why? What could possibly so quickly turn a welcoming crowd celebrating life into a bloodthirsty mob demanding death?

I’m suggesting that it was failed expectations. How quickly our loyalties turn when we are disappointed – when our heroes fail to produce what they have promised! Popular and celebrated while the crowd’s expectations are perceived as being met, but quickly unpopular and dismissed as useless when not seen to be doing what was expected.

But I think that there is a profound difference between disappointment and disillusionment!

Disappointment is about them. When someone has made promises, or has shown potential, or has intentionally and appropriately allowed others’ expectations of them to be raised, but then lets those others down by not delivering on what they had actually promised, disappointment!

Disillusion is not so much about them, as about us. Disillusion is about us, when we are the ones who have falsely put them there. Disillusion happens when we decide who or what someone is all about and then thrust what we have decided onto them. Disillusioned expectations were never real to begin with, they were always something that we made up.

It’s our agenda that is being exposed as having not been real to begin with – an illusion of our making, which of course must leave us appropriately DIS-illusioned. See the difference?

By taking steps that fulfilled the ancient prophecy of Zechariah[iii], Jesus had allowed them the expectation that he is the Messiah that they had been waiting for 100s of years, no mistake there. But where they got it wrong was in their expectation of what that would mean.

Instead of an open-hearted willingness to accept what this Messiah-Jesus was going to be revealing to them, they had allowed themselves to develop an illusionary sense of who and what their Messiah would be and do! They’d been hoping for, expecting, a political liberator that would smash the power of Rome and so continue the same power cycle that the world has known since the beginning of time, and knows still today as one oppressing power moves into take over from a previously oppressing power by smashing them into submission, until, well, they too are defeated by the next one that comes along. Tragically so familiar…

What the Messiahship of Jesus exposed them was nothing like that, and they couldn’t handle it.

Instead of being wonderfully dis-illusioned and so released from all that been keeping them oblivious to god’s Truth / embracing what Jesus was revealing as the only true way of God, they interpreted Jesus not meeting their expectations as failure and, in their disappointment, demanded he be crucified.

We do this. So easily – we do it to one another, to our leaders, to Our God. We do. We decide who or what someone needs to be to us, we then project what we have decided onto them, and when they don’t live up to whatever we have decided they should be, instead of being dis-illusioned, losing what was always just an illusion anyway, instead of taking this as an opportunity for learning to embrace a better, truer version of them, we believe that they have disappointed us and so are tempted just to crucify them – write them off. Perhaps it’s your child that didn’t turn out to be as you expected, perhaps they didn’t choose the career path you were hoping for them, or didn’t support the same politics as you do, or perhaps they are gay, or trans, whatever else they are… the point is that they are still your child – and so why not lose any illusionary expectations you have put onto them and come instead to discover them for who they ACTUALLY are – not what you thought but, who knows, maybe, actually so very much better. The same goes for our partners in life, parents, grandparents, grandchildren… Let’s learn to tell the difference between ‘disappointment’ and ‘dis-illusion!’

As we approach Easter this year, let’s do this work with the person and work of Jesus Christ. What are some of the illusions that we would do well to lose: …how about how we tend to position Jesus as purely some kind of magical genie that we can reliably rub in prayer for the granting of our wishes? That’s not faith, that’s superstition. Of course, we can take anything and everything to God in prayer, and I do, but if that’s all we ever do, well, then what happens to our faith when things don’t go exactly as we had asked? Isn’t that when our prayers of hallelujah deteriorate to mutterings of ‘crucify!?’ Or how about the illusion of Jesus purely as the scapegoat[iv] that God sends to absolve us of all our sins requiring nothing more of us than a simple statement of faith for everything to become rosy in our lives? Well, again, yes, I am ‘born again’, I have invited and received Jesus into my heart many many times, (I must because I leak so badly) but, if that’s all we believe is required, it’s an illusion that needs to be set aside because there is so much more. Not some supernatural genie to miracle-work our will, and neither purely some Heaven-sent scapegoat to absolve us of our personal sins. If either of those are your primary references for the person and work of Jesus Christ, here’s the warning – like that fickle Jerusalem crowd, we are at risk of living in the realm of illusion and missing so much of him just as they did.

That Jesus Christ was revealing of himself as the Messiah on that first Palm Sunday was wonderfully spot on – he was, he is – but not as what they were expecting. Instead of the Messiah being someone come to make their lives easy, this was the One sent by God to expose (by his teachings, his death and resurrection) what it means for their lives to become Godly. This was the One from God sent to reveal the unforced rhythm of Christ’s out-poured love for others, the One sent by God as the visible, physical expressed, demonstration of what it means for us to live our lives as expressions of the everywhere-present spiritual Christ.

The ‘salvation’ that Messiah-Jesus brings the rising awareness in us of how we all made to live in alignment with God’s character – God’s originally blessed intention for all our living. It has virtually nothing to do with a genie to fulfil our agendas so much as the One in whom we get to live as the fulfilling of God’s agenda.

Amen.


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[i] John 12:1-7; 20-35

[ii] John 12:12-16

[iii] Zechariah 9:9-12

[iv] Remember the ‘scapegoat’ of Leviticus 15, 16?