Another week rolls by. The earth turns on its axis. The seasons are changing, although Summer made a surprising re-appearance before fading into cooler, wetter days – at least along the Eastern seaboard. The news feeds roll by and the stories come and go, wax and wane. The headlines change but the essential content never seems to be different – new names or places, same old stories. Another ruthless world leader is re-elected, crushing his opposition and imposing his cold-blooded domination upon those who oppose him. Putin is not one to be messed with and he typifies everything that is narcissistic, controlling, manipulative and an abuse of power. People have been imprisoned, murdered or disappeared at the whims of Putin’s hatred and need for absolute control. He is just the latest in a long, long line of such people who dominate the world stage.
Of course, there have been more tweets from the tweet-meister himself, Donald Trump. This week he has sacked another staff member, Secretary of State, via twitter. There were more gun deaths in the US and violence across our own streets. Conflicts across the world create ongoing struggle and pain for many, ordinary people who are powerless against the forces that dominate and control their lives. We are reminded again of the dire state of our environment and the significant issues revolving around climate change and its impact upon eco-systems, oceans, polar caps and all of us.
There are forces that control our lives, things we feel powerless against and we are squeezed and pushed and manipulated. Decisions are made, and we feel powerless to contribute, to change or influence these decisions made on our behalf or that affect us in significant ways. There are things happening all around us and we feel helpless to change anything; we find ourselves at the whim of the world’s forces and powers. We also find ourselves in the slipstream of changes imposed upon our lives by forces beyond our control and for many, this is difficult.
This week begins the most sacred and holy week for Christians around the world. As we move towards Easter there are mixed messages and diverse expectations from within our churches and the culture around us. Those who have no religious faith still participate in ‘Easter’ but increasingly on their own terms, changing names of ‘Hot Cross Buns’ or ‘Easter Eggs’ to appeal to the non-religious. For some in the church this is all about victory and glory, power and might. Jesus is hailed as almighty and victorious, but his vulnerable and humble life and death are overlooked. We simply do not know how to deal with a God revealed in powerlessness and vulnerability. We seem to want to take on the world around at its own game and we become part of the power games, violence and fearfulness that typifies our world.
This Sunday around the world, churches will re-enact a simple, fun, child-friendly parade of Jesus entering the Holy City of Jerusalem. He rode in on a donkey with peasants and ordinary people wandering in from the surrounding fields and villages to join the fun. It was a hope-filled day, one when they could dare to believe that the world might be different and this one who understood them, sat with them at their own level, ate and drank with them, this one was riding into Jerusalem. It would have been somewhat obvious to them that these very images appeared in their own scriptures – the Messiah would come on a donkey, powerless and vulnerable, as the presence of God. They danced, sang and waved branches. It was fun and will be across the church this Sunday.
There is much more to Jesus seemingly innocuous entry into the Holy City. It was a statement of protest and a proclamation of another way. Jesus was entering the city of his imminent death and he knew his fate. The Jewish authorities, living in fear of Rome and upsetting the Roman leaders with anarchy and rebellion in their midst were on high alert. This was Passover Week in Jerusalem, a week that remembered and celebrated God’s deliverance of their ancestors from the oppression of Egyptian slavery many centuries earlier. Under Moses, the people were led out of Egypt and to the Promised Land and the people of Jesus’ day, fuelled by rebels and radicals, sought deliverance from the oppression of Rome. Every Passover was high tension and brought out deeply emotional responses. The crowds grew to four times the normal population – around 200,000 people. Rome sent in its governor of the region – Pontius Pilate. He paraded in through the gate on the opposite side to Jesus. He came with soldiers on foot and horse-back. There were trumpets, armies, swords, spears, shields and the ominous threat that Rome was here and would tolerate no turmoil, protest or anti-social behaviour.
So, Jesus came in a deliberate manner to rally the troops of ordinary people to believe in God’s other way. He came deliberately sending up the parade of Pilate. One came in power and might, with the threat of violence. Jesus came with no power, except love. He came without violence. He came humbly, vulnerably and offered himself and all he was for the sake of God’s way in the world. He came building relationships of love and grace with all people, offering another way to live. He came declaring that Caesar was not all powerful, nor even in control – he only thought he was. He said God was the true way into the life we all seek and yearn for. It is a life of letting go of the ego-driven, fear-fuelled, self-centred way of being that is nurtured by so many in our culture. He shunned fame, fortune and power for power’s sake. God created enough for everyone and if we shared what we have then all would have enough. Power was to be used graciously and to serve the weakest and most vulnerable and gently lift them up. Jesus’ way wasn’t terribly revolutionary because it was all there in the scriptures, but people sought to control how these were read (as still happens) and what people had to believe, think and do (as they do today) and ultimately God’s deep way of love fades behind self-gratification and the lust for more – power, wealth and fame.
Jesus paraded into the city and walked towards his death, vulnerable on a cross. He spoke of the dying-rising life in God. He spoke of how we must let die the fears and expectations that are falsely formed and driven. When we let go we will feel vulnerable. As we let go of power we will feel weak until we realise and understand that our lives are in the hands of the gracious God whose power is love and love is the first and final word in all these stories. Jesus will die but be drawn into a new way of being we call resurrection, life in God at its deepest, most profound level and this is grounded in the power of love to transform and give life in all its fullness.
This week the story of Jesus will contrast once again with the news feeds and impositions of the world around. We might do well to find ourselves in Jesus’ story yet again and learn to live in this radical, life-giving way of love, grace and humility!