Holy Week begins with what we have come to know as Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday is a day of great joy, and yet there are undertones and subplots of sorrow and concern. There is something kind of ominous about Palm Sunday. On the original Palm Sunday, some 2000 years ago, the Jewish people were celebrating, rightly, that their Messiah had come. And yet they could not anticipate what was to come.
When I think about Palm Sunday, I can’t help but think about how our lives are that way. In one moment, our lives are terrific – full of joy, laughter, and fun. But then, in other moments (often unanticipated moments), our lives are exceedingly difficult – we encounter so much sorrow, heartache, and strife that we can hardly bear it.
It’s on Palm Sunday that King Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey. This is the lasting image of Palm Sunday that is burned into our retinas, etched into our minds. Holy Week is supposed to be somber and serious, but if I’m honest, it’s hard to be somber and serious whenever I picture a donkey. Throughout ancient literature, donkeys are always portrayed as comic and foolish.
When I think about donkeys my mind always goes to the movie Shrek. If you haven’t seen Shrek, Donkey – voiced by Eddie Murphy – is the co-star of the movie and is annoying at all times. Whenever I think about Palm Sunday, I picture Jesus riding in on Eddie Murphy. Clearly, I still have a lot of maturing to do. Once, while in Israel, I rode a donkey. I can attest that they are smelly and the ride is generally unpleasant. If Jesus is the King of all creation, he should be riding in on a stallion, not a donkey!!!
But Jesus is always doing strange things like this:
— Instead of a warhorse, Jesus rides in on a donkey.
— His palace is not a marble mansion in Rome but a cow stable in Bethlehem.
— Jesus has a crown, but it is not a jewel-studded crown of gold but a crown of thorns that press into his brow.
— His following is not a legion of well-trained soldiers, but everyday clueless people like you and me.
As Jesus is riding in, people are shouting, “Hossanna in the highest.” They are right about who he is but they misunderstand what he is about:
— Jesus has come to win a victory, however it is not a victory over Rome, but a victory over death.
— It is a smashing victory, but Jesus is the one that is smashed.
Jesus rides into Jerusalem but he isn’t invited. Jesus is not issued an invitation by the mayor of Rome. He is not offered a key to the city. No one invited Jesus, and yet, there he is. What a beautiful image of the way in which God comes to us, even when uninvited. What a wonderful reminder of how God seems to show up in the most unlikely places.
Several years ago, I read a book called The Shack. There are several reasons why I don’t commend The Shack, but there is one line within its pages that has stayed with me through the years. At one point in the book, the character, Mack, is having a conversation with Jesus in which he asks as we so often do, “Do all roads lead to you?” Jesus responds, “No, not at all. Most roads don’t lead anywhere. What I do mean to say is that I will travel any road to get to you.”
Jesus will travel any road to find you!
Holy Week also includes what we know as Good Friday. This has always seemed ironic to me. Wouldn’t it be more appropriately named “Bad Friday,” or “Worst Friday?” On that Friday, the worst happened. On that Friday, Jesus reached out his arms to embrace us and our response was to nail his outstretched arms to a cross. Jesus suffered brutally, but from the cross he continued to speak words of forgiveness, words of mercy, words of hope. There, on the cross, we are reminded that even when the worst happens, God is not through with us. He is still speaking to us words of forgiveness, mercy, and hope. God’s word never says that we will not be troubled, but God’s word does say that in our trouble we will not be overcome.
Jesus will travel any road to find you!
He traveled the road from heaven to earth. On Palm Sunday, he traveled the road from Bethany to Jerusalem. On Good Friday, he traveled the road we know as the Via Dolorosa. Jesus traveled all of these roads and more to meet with you. He traveled all of these roads and more to proclaim his message of forgiveness, mercy, and hope. He traveled all of these roads to let you know that even in your worst moment you will not be overcome.
I can’t help but think about the roads we travel. Some of them are pleasant. Others are not. Maybe it’s the road to work every day? Maybe it’s the road to school? This past week, Bryan traveled down a road to be with a student before surgery. Today, Brittany traveled down a road to be with a young girl who had lost a loved one. My family and I have been traveling the road to Mobile every weekend to be with my ailing grandmother. We all have roads that we travel. But when we encounter people along those roads do we meet them with words of forgiveness, mercy, and hope? As we travel these roads, Jesus wants us to do the things that he did, so that others along that road might notice, as we have, that God has come.
At the end of the movie Shrek, that annoying donkey redeems himself. Shrek and Fiona get married and Donkey proceeds to burst out in song, the lyrics of which originated with The Monkees:
Then I saw her face, now I’m a believer.
Not a trace, of doubt in my mind.
I’m in love (ohhhh) I’m a believer
I couldn’t leave her if I tried.
This Holy Week, may we be reminded that we are often the means by which others encounter the face of Jesus. In the face of Jesus is the very power of God, yet it is filled with all tenderness and compassion. On the cross, we see the face of God’s relentless love for you and for me.
When we truly encounter God’s face, we encounter love.
We wouldn’t dare leave.
But even if we try, he continues to pursue us…always…even to the grave.