Today we begin our Holy Week journey. We begin the week with shouts of Hosana, but by the end of the week, we will be shouting Crucify Him! Crucify Him! But we also cannot and should not despair because we know that in the end, love wins, and death is destroyed, and that makes the journey and the pain of the coming week worth it.
We see Jesus coming into Jerusalem riding on the humble donkey. This is an essential part of the story. This is a day of contrast, and we see the contrast in the way Jesus enters the city. When a conquering king would come into the city, he would ride on a horse, usually a large horse that would make it truly clear that he held all the power.
But here comes Jesus, being hailed as King but not riding on a horse but coming in on a donkey. The donkey is a humble beast, and if the King arrives on the donkey, it signifies that he is coming in peace. Jesus is being hailed as King, but he is not the King of power and wealth but rather the King that brings peace to the world.
Regardless of how he entered the city, he was being hailed as King, which made the establishment extremely nervous. Jesus had been this guy in the background for a long time, and he is gaining the attention of the religious and the political establishment. Not long ago, he caused quite a ruckus in the Temple when he turned the tables over, and now, he is coming into the city being proclaimed King.
Those in power do not like to give up control. When their power is threatened, they do all sorts of things. They create false situations that cause people to feel that they will somehow lose power as well. People in power can get others to believe whatever they say for no other reason than those in power. The religious authorities stayed in power by keeping the people down and subservient to them. But Jesus knew what he was doing.
Jesus had to stir the pot. Jesus had to get the religious and political folks nervous about what he was doing. Jesus needed them to get so worried that they had no other choice but to put him to death. So, he brought attention to himself in a grand way. Go big or go home!
Now, we all know the end of the story, so I want to look in a different direction. We will talk a lot over these next few days of salvation, redemption, sanctification, sacrifice, and many other Holy Week themes. But salvation did not happen on the cross; salvation happened in the cradle in Bethlehem.
We need to go back to the beginning of the story, way back to the time of creation itself. God created humanity and placed humanity in the garden. God walked, physically walked with humanity at this time, but, as we know, something happened, and humanity was placed outside of the garden, and God no longer walked with creation. There was a distance between God and humanity. I don’t want us to dwell on the why but only that it happened.
God tried to fix this relationship, but it was not until God sent Jesus, his son, to show humanity a new way, the way of love. The moment Jesus was born in Bethlehem, God and humanity’s relationship was restored, for God once again walked with humanity. Salvation came into the world not through the cross but through a tiny baby. Salvation came to the world not through violence but through love—the love of God for all of creation.
The crucifixion was necessary, but not for the sacrifice but for love. Sure, God could have done things a different way, but the way of love is a way of obedience and sacrifice. Jesus willingly went to the cross; everything he did, he did willingly. All of the pain and anguish was not some blood sacrifice to pay a debt owed to God because of something that happened “in the beginning,” but instead, it was all for love. Love requires a sacrifice; love requires death in a sense, a death to self and our ambition.
Jesus came to show us a new way to live and a new way to act, and that is the way of love. Jesus died on that cross as an ultimate expression of love. Jesus was hanging on that cross, with his arms open wide, signifying that all are welcome in the kingdom of God, not just a few select people but everyone.
As we walk the way of love this week, let us keep in mind that everything that we will witness was to show us a new way of living and a new way of interacting with each other. And remember the new commandment that Jesus gave to us, love one another.