Palm Sunday

Even after all these years here, I still occasionally get the quizzical look because something is unexpected. Occasionally it is that I’m Lutheran. (What’s that?) More often it is because of my accent. (I repeat that I don’t have an accent 😉 – well, not one I can hear anyway.)

Sometimes we don’t know what we expected – but whatever it was, the person we meet isn’t it. They maybe older or younger, taller or shorter, funnier or duller, and so on. In our media saturated world we are increasingly aware of the tension between image and reality. Leadership manuals and tipsters are very much aware that aspiring leaders need to meet people’s expectations if they want to be considered a good leader.

Jesus was a popular leader after raising Lazarus from the dead. The people cheered him as he entered Jerusalem and even though he was riding a donkey rather than a horse or in a chariot, the people cheered the liberator who had arrived. “Hosanna!” they cried, which means, “Save me, Lord”. But Jesus wasn’t what was expected – he didn’t kick the Romans out – he went and kicked out the money changers and animal traders from the temple precincts. In a few short days the people turned on him and Jesus was crucified.

Jesus mightn’t have been what people expected but he was – and is! – what people need. He is a king, a liberator who didn’t let others do the dirty work but who knew that only his actions as a perfect lamb, a sacrifice would actually liberate us so that we could truly live. Jesus points us to a God who isn’t what we expect for he is one who suffers for his creation.

Our lives are often not what we expect either. Fantine in ‘Les Miserables’ has been abandoned and is desperate to buy medicine for her sick daughter and so is forced to sell her possessions and finally herself sings:

I had a dream my life would be

So different from this hell I’m living

So different now from what it seemed

Now life has killed the dream I dreamed.

So many circumstances of this world happen to people – Ukraine, Gaza, and our newsfeeds tell us more and more – so often it is other people where we can imagine their cries, “Save me, Lord”. But, truth to tell, we know selfishness, vindictiveness, sickness, sorrow, hardship, tragedy. We let ourselves down and we let others down. We, too, can cry, “Save me, Lord!”.

Christians proclaim that God doesn’t sit on his hands. He helps us – truly in ways that we don’t expect – through words about the King crowned on a cross and his empty tomb and the defeat of the power of death; through water which brings new birth and a daily rising to new life each day so we can face our sin squarely in repentance and work to make amends and life better for the people around us; and through bread and wine in which the King physically comes to us and gives us healing, forgiveness, and salvation.

All this help is sometimes dramatic but usually its nondescript, common, almost hidden as our faith is revived and our hope is strengthened. And so the disciples of Jesus live courageous lives prepared to face what we expect and the unexpected with a peace that is beyond this world’s understanding because it rests in the King riding a donkey, enthroned on a cross, laughing at the defeat of death, and who is with us every step of the way.