This weekend, the Christian Church heads into Palm Sunday, the day that commemorates Jesus’ final entry into Jerusalem before he died. It is a weekend of ironic and unmet expectations.
This week in Jesus’ life was the beginning of Passover, the Jewish Independence Day. It commemorated the fact that God had set his people free from slavery in Egypt, as surely as July 4th commemorates a war for freedom that released the American colonies from the British monarchy. The Jewish people went to Jerusalem to remember, and also to conspire. Rome controlled Jerusalem, and though the ruler wore the laurel wreath instead of the serpentine Nemes headdress, they felt the same about the tyrant. They went for Passover in hopes of rebellion.
In marched Jesus. He was a conspirator who had riled the religious powers that had felt so oppressive. He was murmuring about a new kingdom. At one point they tried to force him to replace King Herod (John 6:15). His disciples expected him to become an earthly ruler (Mark 10:37). The people cheered for the king who came riding in, perhaps taunting Herod who was hiding behind the walls.
And a few days later he was dead. They killed him. Those very same crowds turned on him. Why such a pivot? Unmet expectations. Jesus wouldn’t be what they wanted him to be. They wanted a general to drive out Rome and give them earthly peace and blessings. He was talking about a kingdom that had no national borders.
A fair word to we who claim to follow him, we who are religious, we who frequent houses of worship. If the story bears out, we are the ones who are most likely to miss it – we are the ones who hold the nails. Jesus isn’t here to meet our expectations. His goal isn’t to make us comfortable. He’s not catering to religious sensibilities. We like to mutiny against Presidents who don’t usher in a world of peace. We chase away pastors who change what we’re used to. We rebel against parents who don’t let us have our way. And we won’t stop at rejecting God who doesn’t support an insular suburban bubble in which we continue to pursue money and satisfaction, baptizing them in the name of the American dream.
It’s a fair word as we enter this weekend, singing the praise of Jesus, who may have no intentions of doing what we want.
But on the other side of our expectations are his. And if we take his expectations upon our shoulders, we may find that his are actually lighter than our own. We may find that what needs to go to the cross are our demands of Jesus, because, freed from them, we stand before an empty tomb in which our potential for a meaningful life was once laid to rest. I had a friend who became a Christian because on Saturday night she went to a nightclub, and on Sunday she went to church. She said that there was such a stark difference between the darkness of the night before and the light of the morning, that the light was irresistible. Leaving our expectations for him in exchange for his expectations for us is the move from darkness to light.