Today is Palm Sunday, and it marks the beginning of Holy Week. We meet Jesus riding into Jerusalem, triumphantly as a king, on a donkey, AND on a colt, the foal of a donkey (Zech 9:9). Which sets the stage for a great deal of confusion…was he on a colt? Was he on a donkey? Was he on both? And if so, how and why?
It creates a confusing visual for us concrete thinkers, but the more profound question for you deeper thinkers is the one we find at the very end of the story, which asks: “Who is this?”
That is the question we are going to be wrestling with throughout Holy Week this year. Who is this? Who is this riding a donkey into Jerusalem? Who is this eating with his best friends in the upper room? Who is this dying on the cross?Who is this missing from the tomb?
Holy Week is about the Creator of the cosmos trying to get our attention. Holy Week is designed to reveal God’s self through the person of Jesus Christ. Holy Week is meant to turn our minds toward God, so be attentive.
My invitation to you this Holy Week is to set aside a significant chunk of time to be attentive to God. The church services we have are designed toward this end. Monday is the Stations of The Cross, Tuesday Taize, Wednesday Tenebrae, Thursday begins the Triduum, the service of Easter, where Maundy Thursday is Act I, Good Friday Act II, and the Great Vigil of Easter Act III.
These services are designed to work together to focus our attention on the different ways in which we wrestle with the question: Who is this? building momentum toward deeper communion with the God who is present right here right now, and completely loves us.
I encourage you to change your regular weekly schedule during Holy Week, committing yourself to being acutely attentive to God. Cancel things that you regularly do. There’s a cost for paying attention to God, though that cost is much less than the one paid by Jesus on our behalf. It may mean missing a favorite TV show, or going to bed a bit later, or foregoing an exercise class, or a regular night of poker. It may mean leaving work early or leaving something undone on your desk. It will all be OK. This is your religion: you won’t get demoted, you won’t lose friends, and you won’t suddenly be out of shape. Holy Week is the one week of the year when Christians are called to pay close attention to God. So, pay attention.
Today, we attend to Jesus as he rides into Jerusalem. It is the crowd around him that poses the question: Who is this? “Is he a prophet?” Yes, but that is not the whole story. “Is he a Rabbi, or a king?” Yes, but that is not the whole story.
Who we meet on the donkey is the God of infinite patience. Patience is the word I invite you to consider today as you wrestle with the question: “Who is this?” Why patience? Because Jesus knew what was going to happen, and he lets it play out… patiently.
Let’s take a look. It was clear, given the festival dancing around Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem, that he was not a regular guy. To be in his presence was to have a sense of his extraordinary power, and that was irritating to the powerful, not only because powerful people don’t want there to be people more powerful than them, but because Jesus did not even try to accrue power to himself, as one should do to prove the value of having power in the first place.
Jesus didn’t employ his power to make things go his way. And that undermines the whole purpose of having power. He had a different kind of power that the powerful didn’t know how to access or employ. It was for this reason that Jesus knew he would die because he knew he was not going to use his power to deny people their power over him.
There is theology behind this. What makes Jesus God, if you boil it all down to its essence, is his capacity to perpetually love humanity all the time, while simultaneously not denying humanity their freedom to accept or reject his love. Which is why our God, known through the person of Jesus, is the God of infinite patience.
And so, Jesus knew, as he rode in on that donkey, that the crowd would be incredibly disappointed by the power inversion he employed. And they were
Paul captures this inversion in his letter to the Philippians writing: “Though he was in the form of God, Jesus did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave being born in human likeness” (Phil 2:6).
And it is here we again appreciate the patience of God. Jesus had to employ divine patience as he rode into Jerusalem. They were expecting a king, like king Saul ordained by the prophet Samuel a thousand years earlier. Even then Samuel tells us God warned the Israelites against human kings; for not only do they seek to accrue power unto themselves, but the process by which this happens reduces individual freedom.
The true king, the king of the cosmos, king Jesus, does not deny human freedom, because his goal is not to accrue power unto himself, but to unleash divine love. There is no other purpose to power when that power is the love of God. And so, Jesus had to be patient not employing his cosmic power, so we could retain our freedom, knowing that there is no love if there is no freedom.
The people waving the palms, people like you and me, the people of Jerusalem, they wanted a king on that day. They wanted Jesus to be the king that accrued power unto himself. They wanted Jesus to be the king that overthrew Pontius Pilate and chased away king Herod. They wanted Jesus to be the king that kicked out the Roman Empire, and made Jerusalem the capital of the world.
That is the king they wanted. That is the king they were willing to turn their sons and daughters over to, as well as their property and their resources. That is the king they were willing to go to war for. That is the king they were willing to die for. The people wanted a king! They wanted to give away their freedom to this person, making it little different, really than under the yoke of Rome. They failed to see they were already free because of the love of God.
Real power happens in the emptying of oneself, and then being filled back up with the love of God. And no empire can take that away. No ruler can inhibit that, because it is what God wants for each one of us, and God is the king of all things.
That is what Jesus knew as he rode into Jerusalem, and the people did not; so he had to be patient. He had to let it play out. He knew it would take time for the community to see that he was not going to be the kind of king that accrued to power unto himself, but rather emptied himself, allowing them, and us, the freedom to deal with Jesus as we choose.
Some chose to love him like the beloved disciple and Mary, his mother; like Veronica who wiped his face as he stumbled carrying his cross; like Simon of Cyrene who picked up his cross, even under duress; like the Centurion, standing at the foot of the cross, claiming that Jesus was the Son of God. They choose to love him.
And others sought to see him die. Jesus was patient, and he remains patient, because he loves us.
And so, I invite you to consider the patience of God this Holy Week. Meditate on how God is patient with you, and all the ways in which you turn away from God to accrue power unto yourself, seeking to make yourself the king of the world…and God remains patient, because God loves us.
And so, just for one week, Holy Week, seek to empty yourselves in humility through the services we participate in here at Epiphany, and in doing so, make space for the love of God.
This is the invitation of Holy Week, this is the design of Holy Week, this is the promise of Holy Week, and this is my invitation to you.