Sunday, April 5, 2020

an unexpected Holy Week

There's no doubt that we are in a strange time right now (though the difference is more pronounced in some places than in others). Outside there seems to be a hush, as if all of creation is holding its breath.

It's the beginning of Holy Week, but it isn't unfolding the way so many of us expected. For us, today was going to be the day our church family joined together to commemorate the Passover--though I'm sure it would have looked very different from the dinner Jesus shared with His disciples.

If we look back, God so often works in the unexpected. Take today--Palm Sunday. The people of Israel were looking for the Messiah, the Liberating King who would free them from Roman oppression. They were looking for the Conqueror, the Lion of Judah who would rise up and establish the kingdom. They had started to follow this Jesus, a powerful miracle worker who could cast out demons. They were likely recalling the words of the prophets:

"Cry out with joy, O daughter of Zion!
Shout jubilantly, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Look--your King is coming;
He is righteous and able to save."
Zechariah 9:9a

"The Eternal is on my side, a champion for my cause;
so when I look at those who hate me,
victory will be in sight."
Psalm 118:7

So when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem just before Passover, the time set aside each year to remember how God had brought them out of Egypt and delivered them from generations of slavery, they just knew they were welcoming the conquering king. They met Him with songs and celebration: "Hosanna to the One who comes in the name of the Eternal!" They waved their cloaks and palm leaves, laying them out on the road as they would to greet a triumphant king traveling with his entourage.

Only, this King didn't look like they expected. Maybe in that moment some of them recalled more of Zechariah's words:

"He comes seated humbly on a donkey,
on a colt, a foal of a donkey."
Zechariah 9:9b

Or the words of Isaiah:

"Out of emptiness He came, like a tender shoot from rock-hard ground.
He didn't look like anything or anyone of consequence--
He had no physical beauty to attract our attention."
Isaiah 52:2

The people expected a Righteous Conqueror to come in, rise up, and establish His throne by driving out the Romans. Instead, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a young donkey, surrounded by children singing songs (Matthew 21), and only raised His hand when He drove people out of the temple for turning His Father's house into something that had been twisted from its true purpose.

They expected a rebellion, yet by then end of the week they saw Jesus crucified.

It may be a bit blunt, but God doesn't care about our expectations. In fact, Paul takes it a step further and tells us that God uses what the world sees as foolishness to confound the wisdom of those we see as wise (1 Corinthians 1). He takes our plans and actions in stride as He makes sure His plan is being carried out, something we can see even in the songs the people were singing as Jesus entered the city.

That verse is pulled from Psalm 118:26, but here are some others from the same chapter:

"The stone that the builders rejected
has become the very stone that holds together the entire foundation."
v. 22

"Let the feast begin. Bring the sacrifice"
from v. 27

This year's Holy Week doesn't look like we had planned.
Despite that, it isn't any less holy. I might even venture to say that because of it, we can see this week for what it is. I think God is waiting for us here in the unexpected, knowing this is how things would work out, knowing how far His creation would fall, and knowing how we would need to be reminded of Him. So my prayer for all of us is that we'll use this unplanned quiet of Holy Week to draw close to Him--the Lion of Judah who could have come as the Conquering King but instead offered Himself up as the Sacrificial Lamb.

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