On Palm Sunday we remembered that on the same day Pontius Pilate, the governor of Rome, rides into Jerusalem on a war horse, Israel’s Messiah-King came riding in on a young donkey. We bore witness to the contradiction. With shouts of Hosanna mixed with patriotic overtones, Passover followed in the tradition of the past two centuries dating to back to the Maccabean revolt. We heard the cheers of the crowd crying out in anticipation of a political revolution with the expectation that Jesus would become the second-coming of Judas Maccabaeus who led war of Independence over the Seleucid empire, or David the Giant-Killer who led Israel to victory over one of their greatest enemies, or Joshua the Canaanite slayer who led Israel’s conquest to the promised land. The cheering crowd longed for liberation and freedom from the foreign occupation of the Roman empire and they believed Jesus would be their liberating Messiah-King. Who can blame them for wanting freedom, from wanting revolution, from wanting peace?
But Jesus came riding in on a young donkey, not a war horse. He came riding in with tears in his eyes, not cheers in his heart. He was distressed that the vision of God’s kingdom had been co-opted by a nationalistic agenda that fostered an imagination formed by the belief that if peace and liberation was to come, a political revolution must happen, even if it means violence. Sadly, Jerusalem would come to know this kind of violence when just one generation later they would suffer destruction.
“If only you knew what would bring peace…” he cried.
It is as if Jesus is saying:
“If only you would have understood your prophets and poets when they said I would faithfully bring justice but not with battle-cries in the streets or by breaking bruised reeds. If only you would have understood your prophets and poets when they said I would come as a suffering servant who like a lamb before her shearers is silent, will not choose self-defense over self-giving love. If only you would have understood your prophets and poets who told you that I would come as the righteous and victorious King humble and riding on a donkey proclaiming a different kind of peace to the nations.“
It is as if Jesus is saying:
“If only you would have understood me when I told you that the kingdom of heaven belongs the poor and the earth to the meek. If only you would have believed me when I said that the peacemakers will be called sons and daughters of God. If only you would have understood me when I proclaimed a different kind of power that ushers in a different kind of peace, one that comes from self-giving love.”
Like the Passover pilgrims on Palm Sunday, we’ve cried the same misguided cheers. Many of us still believe that the only thing that can change society is a political revolution or the demise of those who threaten its progress. We hear it on the news, the debate stages, and the radio. We talk about it at work and in our homes. We long for leaders who ride into town on war horses as we shout, “Liberate us! Protect us! Save us! Preserve our rights and secure our freedom!” In our longing for swift demonstrations of strength and power we miss the One who comes riding in on a donkey capable of demonstrating a different kind of power, the One called Prince of Peace, Alpha and Omega, King of kings, Lord of lords.
We forget that the cross is the sign of God’s power. As the apostle Paul would learn to say, “The word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing,” whose lives are formed by the rules of the old age that is passing away with all its fear, violence, misguided hopes and self-asserting love, “but to those of us who are being saved the cross is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)
Holy Week, with its mix of cheers and tears, invites us to turn toward the cross when thinking of power. We remember that on Thursday, Jesus will be betrayed by one of his own and arrested. The Messiah-King who came riding into Jerusalem on a donkey will stand trial with the governor who came riding in on his war horse. The crowd that shouted “Hosanna!” will be the mob that shouts “Crucify him!”
During Holy Week let’s remember that when the Church starts believing in a power different from the story of Jesus and God’s self-giving love, we no longer believe in the peace-securing, life-giving power (reign) of God. Let’s remember that when the Church exercises power apart from the story of Jesus and God’s self-giving love and attempts to manipulate, control,or shortcut the hard work of cultivating beloved community, it is not the power (reign) of God we are demonstrating.
During Holy Week let’s begin again and remember how a different kind of power changed the world—changed our lives. When thinking of power we will look to the cross. We will remember that God does not love with a bullying love. He is saving the world through King Jesus who established his reign (power) in the world through self-giving love. God reigns not by taking absolute control of everything, but by emptying himself and becoming vulnerable, making that the kind of power that saves. This is the kind of power that creates, redeems, restores, blesses and offers peace.
P.S. Don’t forget that The Stations of the Cross is available Monday-Friday from 6am-8pm at the Williamsburg Christian Church building in the worship center.