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March 29, 2021

Impossible

There is the way that the story is supposed to go.

A while ago, in a beautiful turn of phrase, Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem. He started along the road from Galilee to Jerusalem. At the best of times, on foot, going in a straight line, it would take days. But Jesus keeps stopping. He keeps preaching and teaching and visiting with friends. He keeps performing signs and wonders.

But now he is here; and Jerusalem can rejoice. For the king comes, triumphant and victorious, humble and riding on a colt. And he shall command peace to the nations. His dominion shall be from sea to sea, even to the ends of the earth. The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ! And of his Christ! And he shall reign forever and ever!

There is the way that the story is supposed to go.

I’ve told you this before. There are people who love Christmas. And there are people who love Easter. And there might even be people who love All Souls’ Day… or Epiphany… or Reformation Sunday.

And I love Palm Sunday.

I love the blessing of the palms. I love seeing the kids run through the sanctuary and hand them out. I love seeing all of you wave them and shout, “Hosanna!”

And I love that this is the day when a dispossessed people in an occupied land put their hopes in a teacher and a healer and a prophet from nowheresville, Galilee, who rode into Jerusalem on a borrowed colt. I love that this is the day when people believed that the king had returned, and the powers-that-be would be overthrown, and the kingdom of God would break into the world in all of its fullness.

I love that this is the day when people believed the impossible. Because when enough people believe the impossible… sometimes… every once in a while… the impossible becomes possible. And when enough people believe the impossible… sometimes… every once in a while… the impossible becomes inevitable.

When enough people believe the impossible… all of those things that I preach about too much… end. And goodness and beauty reign over all the earth. Holy revolution! Hosanna!

But…and you knew there was going to be a ‘but’…

That is the way that the story is supposed to go. It is not the way that the story actually goes.

Every year, again and again, we tell the story. Different versions, of course. But every year, again and again, we tell the story. And no matter how many times we tell it… we end up… here.

A while ago, in a beautiful turn of phrase, Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem. He started along the road from Galilee to Jerusalem.

He’s done this before. On Christmas Eve, we followed as Joseph and a very pregnant Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem, just a little bit south of Jerusalem, so that they could be counted in a census.

And a little while later, we followed as Joseph and Mary and the adolescent Jesus travelled from Nazareth to Jerusalem for the Passover. And we learned that they did that every year.

Jesus has walked this path over and over, again and again, year in and year out. And a while ago, in a beautiful turn of phrase, Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem. And he started along the road from Galilee to Jerusalem… for the last time.

At the best of times, on foot, going in a straight line, it would take days. But these are not the best of times, and the line is not straight. And Jesus keeps stopping. He keeps preaching and teaching and visiting with friends. He keeps performing signs and wonders.

He keeps telling his disciples—his friends—what’s going to happen.

These people… who are spreading their coats on the ground and waving palm branches and shouting, “Hosanna”… they will shout, “Crucify him!” One of his friends will betray him; the rest of his friends will abandon him. And the powers that be—the powers that these people are crying out against right now—will mock him and insult him; spit on him and flog him; and kill him.

And he keeps telling them. And they keep not listening to him, and not hearing him, and not understanding him. And so, as the Pharisees confront him… and as they tell him to tell his disciples to stop shouting, “Hosanna!”… and as he replies, “If they were silent, the stones would shout out”…

…as a roar goes up from the crowd and people start asking, “Did he really just say that to them?”…

…Jesus knows. And I kind of think that one of the things that Jesus knows is that there’s the way that the story is supposed to go… and there’s the way that the story does go. And the difference—a big part of the difference—is right here in front of him, waving palm branches, shouting, “Hosanna!”

This is Lent. This is Palm Sunday. This is Holy Week. This is the part where the action slows down… and zooms in… and shows us hard truths. And I know that there is a temptation to fast forward to the happy ending. But…

One of the hard truths is that we need the hard truths. And one of the hard truths is that, far too often, those of us who say that Jesus is our savior, do not act like Jesus is our savior. Far too often, those of us who say that Jesus is our king, do not act like Jesus is our king. Far too often, those of us who say that Jesus is the one in whom we encounter God, do not act like Jesus is the one in whom we encounter God.

Far too often, we treat Jesus like a mascot.

We like Jesus as a baby in a manger. We like Jesus riding into town on a borrowed colt. We like the risen savior who has finished the work. We like the ascended Christ who is safely at a distance. We like the God who came into the world as one of us, and gave us our ticket to heaven, and then left us alone to get on with our lives.

And so we put up the nativity… and the paintings… and the name on the sign. And we get on with our lives.

But one of the hard truths is that we need the hard truths. And one of the hard truths is that, far too often, we do not recognize the things that make for peace. Far too often, we do not recognize visitations from God. Far too often, we shout, “Hosanna!” on Palm Sunday… only to turn around and shout, “Crucify him!” later.

Because far too often, as we move through the world, Jesus is inconvenient… and the powers that be ask us to quiet down… and we forget to believe the impossible.

And here’s the thing:

Jesus is not a mascot. Jesus is not a little statue of a baby in a manger… or a painting of a man knocking on a door… or a name on a sign. Christ is our savior, and our ruler, and the one in whom we encounter God. Christ is our teacher and our friend. Christ is the one who calls us to wholeness.

And with God, all things are possible.

And the difference between the way that history is supposed to go, and the way that history actually goes, is us.

Every year, again and again, we tell the story. Different versions, of course. But every year, again and again, we tell the story. And no matter how many times we tell it… we end up… here… again and again.

I don’t know what would have happened if that crowd had kept shouting, “Hosanna!” I don’t know what would have happened if they had stood up for Jesus. Maybe things would have gone more or less the same; maybe we would be living in a very different world.

But I do know that we are faced with that same choice… again and again.

Will we bend to the ways of this world? Will we listen to the powers that be when they call for silence in the face of injustice? Will we live lives of quiet desperation?

Or will we carry our cries of, “Hosanna!” past Palm Sunday? Will we follow Christ as though he is our savior and ruler, the one in whom we encounter God and the one who leads us to wholeness? Will we go forward believing the impossible—that the kingdom of God is among us and within us—until the impossible becomes inevitable?

Until the poor receive good news, the captives are set free, the blind see, the oppressed are liberated, and goodness and beauty reign?

Until the whole world can rejoice… and our king comes, triumphant and victorious, humble and riding on a colt… and the nations are at peace… and his dominion is from sea to sea, even to the ends fo the earth… and the kingdom of this world becomes the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ… and us his Christ… and he reigns forever and ever?

Until Easter comes… and beyond… forever?

Monday, March 29, 2021

about

I’m a pastor, an author, and a nonprofit development and communications professional. My passion, my mission, and my calling is bringing people together to do good, with a particular focus on serving people who are experiencing poverty and other forms of marginalization.

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