Next Sunday is Palm Sunday, when believers around the world pause to mark Jesus’ welcome in a parade where cheering crowds waved branches cut from palm trees and shouted hooray for their hero and for God. The city was abuzz about this Jesus when he came to Jerusalem and they all wondered if he was the leader they should rally behind. Would he really save them from all their troubles and oppression was he the one?
In the heat of a presidential election year, in a world full of uncertainty, I can certainly relate to getting caught up in the excitement of a parade or campaign rally. We wonder if that person is the one, can he or she bring stability, strong leadership, and comfort through their resolve, their strength of mind or might? We are not that different from those crowds in Jerusalem who were filled with hope and longing for change.
But like the aftermath of a parade, streets littered with trash, manure from marching animals, and a let down found in the empty silence, the people of Jerusalem wondered and clung to their hyped-up visions of hope and change. We begin this holy week as our oppressed brothers and sister in Jerusalem did more than 2,000 years ago, elated and wondering what it all means.
In January I was in China and on the campus of Fudan University in Shanghai I was struck by a statue of a robed man on a donkey. The image for the Chinese is a symbol of intellectual spirit, which is humility and wisdom. For me I saw Jesus on Palm Sunday not riding heroically on a strong horse in a position of power, but sitting on an ass… a gentle animal that carries burdens and works for human benefit. From the back of an ass, the Jerusalem crowds cheered for a leader to crush their occupiers, calm the terror in their hearts and bring change. But Jesus in his humility and wisdom came not as a super hero but as a gift from God to carry our problems, our imperfections, and our fears.
In our world of entitlement and consumerism, we may think that we have a right, or are owed the basics of comfort, freedom, and love. But we are owed nothing; all we have is a gift from our creator God. We don’t have a right for God’s love, God doesn’t owe us anything, but God loves us anyway. Anyone else would take other measures to solve the problems of the world, but God loves and gave us Jesus as a sign of that love.
What kind of leader are we waiting for? Which crowd will you follow? Palm Sunday begins the dramatic story and reality that Jesus came not to fulfill our selfish needs, but to die to save his people; people who in their selfishness became the crowd who turned against him, that crowd, those people are you and me. Dear Jesus, these are tough times for us and for you. Keep us in the parade of believers; remind us of the love of God and gather us around the events of this week so that we may rise with you on Easter.