“And they brought it to Jesus, and throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. And as He rode along, they spread their cloaks on the road. As He was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’”
- Luke 19:35-38
The Lenten season is coming to an end as we move into Holy Week, the most sacred week of the Christian year. Holy Week starts with the thrill of triumph. Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem on a colt was a sign to the Jews that the Messiah had arrived. Not since the Maccabees in the second century BC had the Jews lived under self-rule. The children waved palm branches – the national emblem of the Jews – and the people were likely preparing themselves for the inevitable conflict that would come as their Messiah took Jerusalem back from the Romans.
Riding into Jerusalem, with the crowds, the expectations, the excitement and antipathy, and the looming specter of His crucifixion, what did the Son of God see as He peered through Jesus’ eyes upon the crowds? The One Who spoke and brought forth all that exists gazed at a crowd of people cheering for the long-awaited new King David. Jesus looked at political and military authorities of the mightiest empire on earth and at religious people comfortable in their place and afraid to upset Rome.
As Christ rode in on the colt, spread before Him was an array of people with short-sighted hopes, people just trying to get through another day, people with ambitions, angry people, hungry people, lustful people, and greedy people. In Him was God, the Author of all, the One Who granted life to each of those upon whom He looked. Some rejoiced over the victory that was sure to come, and others laughed and mocked the Jews and their Messiah. Then, there was Pilate just wanting to prevent any uprising before it started, and the Jewish leaders who wanted no uprising to threaten their peace. In the midst of all who were in Jerusalem was their Maker, the One Whose breath sustained and upheld them, the One who loved them with an everlasting and unfailing love. And… He wept. He wept because they didn’t know what makes for peace. He wept because they didn’t want the life and love they were created to receive.
Some things never change. Think about the comments section on any online news site you read… If you’re on Twitter, think of some of the threads that get started and the things that people will say… We can be so small-minded and self-important, so certain of what we know, so hateful and judgmental. Wasn’t social media supposed to build community and increase understanding? For that matter, weren’t we supposed to be able to learn so much more with the internet. Everyone would have increased knowledge and immediate access to people around the globe. With that access, we would learn about other peoples and cultures, and we would be more tolerant and peaceful.
The tools we use can do no more than the intent of the one using it. Yes, we have all sorts of technological advances, but we are not better people. During the turn of the last century, one of the arguments for reducing hours worked each week was that leisure time would allow time for personal enhancement – the study of music or art, for reading and learning. That argument didn’t bear much significant fruit, if any. And now? For all of our exposure to the rest of the world, our minds are smaller, and our intolerance is greater.
When I think of God the Son riding on a colt into the morass of human life with the myriad dramas, big and small, playing out among the people, I am in awe. Even as He headed toward His death, He accepted the misguided praise of His followers, those looking to Him to re-establish the Davidic throne. He revealed the corruption of the religious leaders by throwing out the money-changers, even as He established His authority in and over the Temple – the center of Jewish religion. But you know what He didn’t do? He didn’t confront the Roman authorities. That’s interesting, I think. He ignored the representatives of Roman rule, the guards, the military leaders, Pontius Pilate. Those who held the power to crucify Him did not draw His attention at all.
There is a lesson in that to us, maybe just to myself, but I suspect I am not the only one. We are going through a time of great upheaval, and the life we once knew is disappearing, slowly being consumed by irrational want, whether want for meaning, want for power, want for love, want for acceptance, want for wealth – just want. History is crowded with greedy despots lusting for power and control who promise what they never intend to deliver and who use people as stepping-stones on their pathway to rule. As Christians we need to be reminded that Jesus did not confront Pilate or challenge Roman authority. Only as He allowed Pilate to “determine” His fate did Jesus acknowledge Pilate’s rule, and He did so by telling Pilate that whatever authority he had came from above. Pilate’s authority was granted by God, not by Rome. There is a lesson in that to us as well.
Every human deformation of today can be found in Jesus’ day. Whatever favored delusions we can make look real, human beings lost beneath pretense are the same. The need to be important, to be someone and to matter, are essential longings of the soul, and these needs are unchanged from one millennium to the next. The anger and fear generated by meaninglessness are consuming so many lives. People in antiquity may have had it better than we do. The one true and salvific promise for hope and purpose is the one thing we are not supposed to say: we need to be saved, mostly from ourselves.
When Jesus rode in on a colt, He knew the minds of the people, their plans and hopes, the sin and evil that held them captive, their wounded lives and broken hearts, the harms inflicted on others. But He looked at them and loved them. The love of God is not a sweet sentimental thing. His love is not a cheering rah-rah nor is it congratulatory or affirming. No, the love of God is relentlessly determined to stand between us and the haunting specter of death. There is nothing our God will not do to try to reach us and save us from our self-destructive and selfish ways, except revoke our freedom to reject Him. He cannot force us to accept and love Him.
For the religious leaders who sought His death, for the soldiers that hit Him and mocked Him, for the disciples who ran away in fear, Jesus rode unwaveringly to the death He knew He would meet. His determination to save us from the sin that destroys us, and from the death that claims us all, moved Him through a week of subjugation to those who would not exist without His gift of breath and life. Nothing has changed. He still grants us life and breath, and we still fail to be grateful. We hold onto little ambitions and forgettable victories. Our God is mocked and ridiculed by those for whom He gave His life.
As Jesus wept over Jerusalem, He weeps for us. He is not riding into town on a colt, but He is coming into the world through His people, His disciples, through you and through me. Is God sufficiently present in us that, when we look at the people we meet, He looking through our eyes? Do we love people enough to participate in Christ’s suffering that others might be saved? When we see the confusion and chaos of evil admired and encouraged in the destruction of human life, does the compassion of our Father cause us to weep?
Christ is all that stands between us and utter desolation. He will not allow us to destroy His creation, but we are free creatures. He cannot stop us from self-destructing. This task of standing between human beings and the demise of the wonder and beauty of the life instilled in each has been given to us. We are our Father’s children. We are Christ’s living Body in this generation. When we follow our Lord, we choose the way of the cross, and death awaits us. But because our Lord passed this way before us, death cannot hold us captive.
We are God’s unique people, and we are called to stand in the gap. When surrounded by the forces of evil that seek to destroy human lives, we are our Father’s force of life and light that holds back darkness and death. As we enter into Holy Week, let us walk beside our Lord, knowing we lack the courage to go the distance with Him. But throughout this week, may we each pray to participate in His death – even if only in a tiny way – so that we may also participate in His life, even if only in the smallest way. It is still more life than we know now.
Salvation has occurred, and human history moves inexorably toward its conclusion. We are the witnesses in this generation, the bearers of Christ’s salvation, the children of God who stand and face the evil that prowls across the earth and roars mightily of death.
Pray that Holy Week will lead you to just a little more death of self, so that you may experience a little more of the resurrected life.
In Christ –
Rev. Elizabeth Moreau
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Artwork by James Tissot, The Procession in the Streets of Jerusalem