The pilgrims waving Jesus into Jerusalem on the eve of their biggest party were full of expectation for the future drawn from the past. Passover was the Big One, the time when Jews remembered God rescuing their ancestors out of Egyptian slavery, drowning its Superpower army, and setting God’s people on the path to the Promised Land. And God was about to do it again.
Fast-forward a few days to a darker scene beneath the Cross, on the first Good Friday. The soldiers threw dice for Jesus’s tunic because it was a valuable garment, made from one seamless piece of fabric (John 19:23-24). Their wager is a powerful image for what Easter represents for all of us, ushered in by the high expectations of Palm Sunday. As Jesus enters the Holy City of David, there’s an outburst of praise that reflects the huge anticipation of what he will become — the true king who will “make Israel great again” (heard that recently?). The last person who rode into Jerusalem to an adoring crowd waving palm branches was the revolutionary hero Judas Maccabeus, who threw the Syrian King out of the sacred Temple two centuries before Jesus.
On that humble donkey Jesus carried centuries of prophetic and nationalistic expectation. The pilgrims cheering him on that day wanted political independence — the freedom to rule themselves. But by reaching so low they missed the greater prize that the true king had his eye on — nothing short of emancipating humanity from the ravages of sin and death. Just like that festive crowd a few days earlier, the Roman soldiers squabbling over Jesus’s tunic at the foot of the Cross are a bit like the children in that famous wardrobe arguing over which coat to wear, when the greater adventure of Narnia lies a few feet away — the invitation to rule with the Lion himself.
The Cross and the Christian life could be described as the glorious frustration of human expectations. Richard Bauckham puts it like this: “There is no smooth path to God which we can ascend with all our expectations of life confirmed and fulfilled. There is only the way of the cross, where the condemned and crucified Jesus contradicts our expectations, forces us to see ourselves as we really are, not as we would like to be seen, and reveals the world as a strange new landscape we had not seen before, a paradoxical game in which only losers can succeed.”
The mystery at the heart of Easter is that the Lion of Judah must die before he can breathe life into death. The same can be said of our lives. We, too, must go on the journey of Easter — to have our low expectations gloriously frustrated, so that we might find our way through the back of the wardrobe into the vast expanse of God’s reality beyond; a world that our weak imaginations need the jolt of Easter to enter into.
As the bright sun of Palm Sunday gives way to the darkness of Good Friday, what expectations or fantasies might need to follow the Lion into the tomb? May this mystery gloriously frustrate and fulfill you this Easter.
See you on Friday!
Rev Jonny Grant
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