In my role as a pastor, I have the privilege of officiating weddings from time to time. They are usually great moments in the lives of those getting married. The persons who are in attendance at weddings are usually family and friends who are genuinely excited for the couple. One of the best moments of a wedding is the processional. The wedding attendants proceed in, the music is playing, then everything changes…oftentimes with the change of music, or simply a nod or motion by the minister. Everyone stands and all eyes are on the bride as she walks in.
Yes, for me, it’s a privilege to be witnessing that. I also know that in my own wedding several years ago, it was emotional to watch my best friend walk down that aisle.
Of course, after the processional, there are some serious life altering words that are shared. A commitment is made. After the ceremony, there is usually a party, a honeymoon, and then life. Sometimes that life is up and down, hard and joyful at times. Decisions are made, people change. Life happens. Sometimes life prevents those commitments from being fulfilled. Oftentimes the marriages don’t go the way that folks entering into those commitments hoped they would. People get disappointed, let down. Sometimes even filled with despair.
Of course, there are also stories where folks get through some of the hard times. But, life together can bring deep growth and joy, it will also bring scars and pain.
And, yes, whatever the outcome in a marriage, or whether ones gets married or not, there is always something deeper going on, something beautiful, something worth seeking out eyes to see, ears to hear.
Last Sunday was Palm Sunday. We commemorate this day by waving palms and singing “hosanna”. According to Scripture, Jesus entered Jerusalem the week of passover to celebrate this occasion with his disciples.
In the Gospel accounts, we read that Jesus rode in on a white donkey. The writers want to give us a picture that Jesus was not on a warhorse, not coming to establish some type of earthly kingdom that folks in Jerusalem thought they wanted. Common folks such as merchants, clergy at the time, or others would ride donkeys. The message is that Jesus is like one of us and comes to bring peace, not war. It was also prophesied that the Messiah would enter Jerusalem on a donkey in the old testament. This Jesus knows what it’s like to be “us”.
The people of Jerusalem were gathering from all over the countryside to come to Jerusalem to celebrate passover. They had heard about Jesus and the miracles he had performed, some were curious, most were hopeful, they were caught up in the festive atmosphere. They welcomed Jesus with shouts of hosanna, which literally means “God save us”. The people of Israel were under Roman occupation, they wanted to be liberated and free to live as they thought they should. They were hoping for this Jesus to deliver them. They probably were enslaved by even deeper things within their own lives, their way of thinking that prevented them from being the people they wanted to be…and, as is often the case in history, placed their trust and hope in an idea of a person. They were transferring their hopes and dreams on to Jesus.
So, they waved palms, symbols of expressions of joy, even the coins at that time would have had inscriptions of palms and the words the “redemption of Israel”. Again, different ideas of what that meant. They welcomed Jesus and Jesus entered into the moment with them.
Jesus knew that things were probably not going to go so well in a few short days based on his words that he had shared with his friends. Just like when we come to a wedding, we know life isn’t going to be easy for the couple getting married, yet, we celebrate and we know that something deeper, somehow, some way, is going on.
There were some though who didn’t enter into the festivities. The religious rulers, those involved in the maintaining of the institutional temple worship had been trying to discredit Jesus, trying to gain the upper hand in discussions with him, attempting to validate their roles, the status quo if you will, by winning an argument, or by other means. It’s easy to get frustrated with them, yet, we also know what it’s like to have anxiety over change, even if that change is going to be good. The religious leaders may have known that their system wasn’t perfect, wasn’t sustainable, wasn’t good for everyone, yet it was the system they knew and they didn’t want to have that boat rocked.
They saw the crowds changing for Jesus, they saw the hope for something more in people’s faces and in their actions, yet they couldn’t enter in to the joy. So, they began to conspire in even more sinister ways.
Jesus saw the injustices, Jesus also heard the deeper cries of the crowd for salvation, for hope, for something more. Throughout the week between Palm Sunday and that dark Friday where Jesus was crucified, he spoke openly and honestly about deliverance, about the need for a God who was on their side. Really on their side, not on their side for an earthly or temporal “win” but for the deeper things of life, the hard things and good things that produce a deeper sense of worth, of value, of forever permanence.
At the end of that week, the crowds turned on Jesus as the religious leaders stirred them into action. Fear and anxiety overtook hope and the deeper need for love, change, and growth. They, we, wanted to go with what we knew, rather than have faith and hope in something even better. So, we killed Jesus, we experienced brokenness in our relationship with God, and with others.
I know it’s easy to judge the folks in Jesus’ time. To ask why couldn’t they see. Yet, it’s a drama that’s played out in our lives everyday. We put hopes in something or someone, and when life happens in ways that we don’t anticipate, we get disappointed, hurt, fearful, anxious, and may experience brokenness and despair. We may even make unhealthy or unhelpful decisions that have dire consequences.
In my new church Immanuel and in this neighborhood of Clifton…and in our own families and some of our deep friendships, we have experienced weariness, tiredness, anxiety, and disappointment.
As the pastor here, I know that I will get tired, weary, disappointed, maybe even a bit anxious. Immanuel will with me as well, and with others. We all know that, we’ve experienced that over the years.
Yet, that’s not the end of our story, nor is it the end of the story with Jesus. He was crucified. But, there was something deeper going on in Jesus’ coming to us, his life, and even his death. Jesus rose out of the grave three days later. Jesus’ love for us was stronger than all of the disappointment, all of the weariness. His love was deeper than our desire for an earthly king. He overcame death and showed us that God’s belief in us, God’s expansiveness, God’s love for those on the margins, God’s desire for change, growth, and for a more just system…God’s pursuit of everyone and Jesus’ model of radical inclusive community, is stronger than anything in this world.
This same God does not want us to be ashamed of our lives, ashamed of how we have reacted to our disappointments in life, but to realize the gift of growth, change, and relational presence God has given us. To own our space and to celebrate with God what God has done for us and who believes in us.
That gives me, and all of us, opportunities for strength as our minds and hearts are inspired and renewed, by a God and God’s presence in our lives.
I used the example of weddings for this conversation. It is interesting that we, the church or God’s people, all of us, are Jesus’s bride. Jesus is the groom. This metaphor is used in scripture. God is standing at the front of the sanctuary, looking out at our lives, and sees us proceeding in and is filled with Joy. God’s glory is wrapped up in our being who we were created to be. The disciples didn’t get it at times, but they began a journey of deeper understanding after Jesus rose from the dead. This gave them hope and a sense of purpose that they could face anything, that their momentary disappointment would give away to growth and a promise of even more beautiful things to come.
This same God calls us into deep community with him and with others. As we move through the throes of life together with others and with a God who believes in us, all of us, and we will begin to see a future filled with promise, even as we live in the moment, present with each other! We have a God who does save, who does give us a deeper hope and imagination than we could even hope for. Makes me want to wave some palm branches and not just say God save us, but thank you God for saving us!