This time last year, I was home for Easter break, and so yesterday was the first time I have been in church on Palm Sunday. If you’ve read my last few posts, you’ll have seen that it’s been a trying week for many reasons, and last night’s service on John 19 gave me a lot to think about.
Something I love about the Bible is that regardless of your religious affiliation, you can’t help but be moved by Jesus. Show me the person who disagrees with the basic tenants of his teaching, and well, I will fight (with tactful love, not force, obviously – smacking the gospel into someone is a slight contradiction in terms) to show that there’s no easy way of nay-saying a gospel of love, wherever it’s coming from. This is what grabbed me with Jesus – not his lineage, but his morality and message, even if the first time I went to church, I spent most of the service frantically trying to locate 1 Thessalonians in the NIV in front of me (where is this Thessalonia place anyway, and how could there be more than one, Perhaps it’s like North and South Korea…). You learn to love the teaching, and then to love the teacher, and then learn to love following them, or at least, that’s how it was with me.
Sometimes I wonder if there was this other group following him during his life in addition to the converts he collected along the way – a motely band plagued by uncertainty, but liking what they heard about loving their neighbour and feeding the poor. Maybe they were a bit like me, and had somehow escaped hard-core temple teaching and weren’t too hot on the Pentateuch and the prophecies it throws out left, right and centre. Maybe they were disillusioned with the God of their forefathers and the legalism of the Pharisees, and were looking for a new code to live by. Maybe, they were sick of the draconian politics of their societies and wanted for once, a taste of freedom, when suddenly, low and behold, they came across it in a sandal-footed social upstart who spread an unusual message to the masses and was a dab hand with a hammer and saw.
When I think of Palm Sunday, I think of Jesus as he rode on a donkey, knowing his status as a divinely marked man, into the city where he was to die and wonder what was going through his mind – was he thinking that just as Mary rode a donkey to bring him to his place of birth, the same lowly animal was carrying him to destruction? Did he look at the crowds showering him with praise and cheers, and think, you just do not know what you’re doing, do you? Did he look at the faces lining the roadside and wonder who would be throwing stones, not flowers at him in just a few short days? I’m guessing, or believing, or hoping, that what he did was look at them, and think that what he was about to do was worth it. I’m trying, and chosing to believe, that through the taunts and the shouts and the stones, he never stopped loving. This is the Jesus I follow. When my depression was at its worst, I started to feel like I was living out my very own prophecy of premature death. I was convinced I was marked to die by some unseen hand, and rather than feeling afraid, I actually felt quite peaceful and resigned (an incredibly dangerous way to be, I now realise, if you’re reading and sympathise, please get help, now). My ‘black spot’ was all due to my serotonin going completely AWOL and fortunately, started to fade as medication kicked in and I regained just enough sanity to realise that jumping off an edge or slicing a few arteries was not part of my immediate future. Jesus, however, his ‘black spot’ was real, as he rode that donkey. Carrying a prophecy is a heavy weight, indeed.
When I think of Palm Sunday, I also think of the crowds gathered to greet the disciples as they rode through the city gates. It would have been a melting pot mix of people following, hating, disagreeing, observing, and hoping to be healed by, Jesus. The crowd was heterogenous and had different agendas for being there on the streets. Although some of them may have twigged that here was a guy systematically fulfilling all the prophecies they’d been told about since childhood, a lot of them might have been unaware or unconvinced; they just wanted a glimpse of the latest town maverick. Doubtless, there would have been a few people burdened with uncertainty in that crowd, trying to work out who this man actually was, and if he could bring them the peace that had eluded them for so long. Every facet of society would have been there, from the greatest to the least, the rich to the poor, the joyful, and the pained. I think of this crowd of not-quite-there followers and know that that until recently, there’s a good chance I would have been standing among them, drunk on his radical message, but unsure of where Sonship and prophecy, and sacrifice, came into it. There is so much I do not know, and so much I struggle with.
Sometimes, I have to ask myself if I truly believe that like the crowds on the banks of the Jordan, I have been cleansed and rescued, or if I’m just living by parables and not the light of salvation. Cleanse me with hyssop and I shall be clean, wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Depression takes a lot of fighting purely because it leads to a questionning of motives and attitudes – what it me, and what it my depression? Where does it end, and where do I begin? Is it depression telling me that I am not following, am not learning as I should, or is it the truth of God? Who will I be, when all this is over, anyway? – and working out these things can be difficult, and involves at least for me, a lot of inner battles. To get through, I have to keep believing that God has me, and that any jerky feeling that He doesn’t, it just this illness that has yet to run its course. I have to believe that the promises I read are true, and that a quiet, broken, Hallelujah, is heard just as clearly as a raucous one. Jesus went to his death for every member of that crowd. He went to his death, for every member of our crowds.