When I was a little girl, fishing and gardening my Grandparents, they taught me that when the weather is sunny, quiet, and still you can tell a bad storm is coming as the breeze begins to increase and then the leaves on the trees roll over to show you their undersides, in spite of the bright blue skies and blinding sun above them. The trees turn from their bold bright and dark greens to the pale and muted green of their backsides.
The people in the bright and sunny streets of Jerusalem joyfully waved the bold green palm fronds to welcome Jesus Christ into the city…
Hosanna in the highest! Glory to the King of Kings!
9 Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
10 I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.
11 As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit.
12 Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you.
13 I will bend Judah as I bend my bow and fill it with Ephraim. I will rouse your sons, Zion, against your sons, Greece, and make you like a warrior’s sword.
14 Then the LORD will appear over them; his arrow will flash like lightning. The Sovereign LORD will sound the trumpet; he will march in the storms of the south,
15 and the LORD Almighty will shield them. They will destroy and overcome with slingstones. They will drink and roar as with wine; they will be full like a bowl used for sprinkling the corners of the altar.
16 The LORD their God will save his people on that day as a shepherd saves his flock. They will sparkle in his land like jewels in a crown.
17 How attractive and beautiful they will be! Grain will make the young men thrive, and new wine the young women.
However, by the end of the week many of these people, including those who accompanied Jesus, would turn their pale and muted backs on Him as the winds grew and the storm clouds gathered…
N.T. Wright (4/7/17): Palm Sunday: Jesus Rides into the Perfect Storm
The Jewish story always contained one highly unpredictable element – namely, God himself. God remained free and sovereign. Again and again in the past, the way that Israel had told its own story was quite different from the way God was planning things. Jesus believed that was happening again now.
God had promised to come back, to return to his people in power and glory, to establish his kingdom on earth as in heaven. The Jewish people always hoped that this would simply underwrite their national aspirations – he was, after all, their God. But the prophets, up to and including John the Baptist, had always warned that God’s coming in power and in person would be entirely on his own terms, with his own purpose – and that his own people would be as much under judgment as anyone if their aspirations didn’t coincide with God’s.
Jesus believed that as he came to Jerusalem he was embodying, incarnating, the return of Israel’s God to his people, in power and glory (see Zechariah 9:9-17). But it was a different kind of power, a different kind of glory.
Recall that moment in Jesus Christ Superstar – produced when Tim Rice was still writing shrewd, sharp lyrics and Andrew Lloyd Webber was still writing interesting music – when Jesus is approaching Jerusalem and Simon the Zealot urges him to mount a proper revolution. “You’ll get the power and the glory,” he says, “forever and ever and ever.” But Jesus turns and sings those haunting lines: “Neither you, Simon, nor the fifty thousand; nor the Romans, nor the Jews; nor Judas, nor the Twelve, nor the priests, nor the scribes, nor doomed Jerusalem itself – understand what power is! Understand what glory is! Understand at all.”
He then continues with the warning of what was going to happen to Jerusalem, because, as he says, “You didn’t recognize the time of your visitation by God.” This is the moment, and you were looking the other way. Your dreams of national liberation, leading you into head-on confrontation with Rome, were not God’s dreams. God called Israel so that through Israel he might redeem the world; but Israel itself needs redeeming as well.
Hence God comes to Israel riding on a donkey, in fulfilment of Zechariah’s prophecy of the coming peaceful kingdom, announcing judgment on the system and the city that have turned their vocation in upon themselves, and going off to take the weight of the world’s evil and hostility onto himself, so that by dying under it he might exhaust its power.
Throughout his public career, Jesus had been embodying the rescuing, redeeming love of Israel’s God, and Israel’s own capital city and leaders couldn’t see it. The divine hurricane sweeps in from the ocean, and to accomplish its purpose it must meet, head on, the cruel western wind of pagan empire and the high-pressure system of national aspiration.
Jesus seizes the moment, the Passover-moment, the Exodus-moment, not least because these, too, speak of the sovereign freedom and presence of God as much over his rebellious and uncomprehending people as over the tyranny of Egypt.
How to Weather Holy Week
As the events of Holy Week unfold, and as we share in them and make our own pilgrimage to the foot of the cross, it should be impossible for us simply look on and register them as an odd quirk of history. This was the perfect storm. This was where the hurricane of divine love met the cold might of empire and the overheated aspiration of Israel.
Only when we pause and reflect on that combination do we begin to understand the meaning of Jesus’s death. Only then may we understand how it is that the true Son of God, the true High Priest, has indeed become King of the world. And perhaps only then can we begin to make sense of all the other things that preoccupy us, the things we carry with us as we make our pilgrimage to the foot of the cross.
“Take up your cross,” said Jesus, “and follow me” – and as we do so we often find ourselves caught up in our own micro-versions of the perfect storm. We are subject, first, to all the usual pressures of contemporary culture. If you want to get on in the world, you’ve got to play by its rules. We find quite quickly, however, that the price of “getting on” in the world is our own integrity, as secular pragmatism continues to sweep old-fashioned moralism out of the way. That is one element in our own perfect storm.
The second is that each of us has our own aspirations and expectations. We want to graduate, get a job, earn some money, perhaps get married. But somehow we have to navigate the choppy and increasingly stormy waters where all those normal and natural things meet the sharp, often heartless, wind of contemporary culture. How do we prevent our own aspirations being merely self-centered and ultimately idolatrous?
As we approach Good Friday, we should be aware of, and we should be praying for, the third element: where is God in all of this? Woe betide us if we merely invoke God to back up our own ambitions and aspirations. Woe betide us doubly if we imagine we can find God simply in the spirit of the age. These are the two weather-systems with which we live all the time – but during Holy Week we are called to open ourselves to the third one.
If we try to follow Jesus in faith and hope and love on his journey to the cross, we will find that the hurricane of love which we tremblingly call “God” will sweep in from a fresh angle, fulfilling our dreams by first shattering them, bringing something new out of the dangerous combination of personal hopes and cultural pressures. We mustn’t be surprised if in this process there are moments when it feels as though we are being sucked down to the depths, five hundred miles from shore amid hundred-foot waves, weeping for the dream that has had to die, for the kingdom that isn’t coming the way we wanted. That is what it’s like when we are caught up in Jesus’s perfect storm.
And only the most faithful and most brave would remain at His feet to endure the storm of mortal and immortal love that moves us all into eternity…