To be the hero of the story, even comic book characters know that you have to show up on time. But at least once, Jesus deliberately stayed away until after the funeral.
Nice timing, Rabbi.
Check out this link if you’re interested in hearing what I have to say about this.
If you read the story of Jesus in the Bible, there comes a time when he enters Jerusalem and is greeted with praises and fanfare. His reputation has gone before him. Willingness to heal the sick, encourage the marginalized and annoy the religious hoity-toities has made him the Prophet of the People, and they come out in droves to shout hosanna (literally “save, we pray”, but used as expression of adoration), spreading palm fronds and coats before him. We celebrate that moment – called the Triumphal Entry – on this day of the Christian calendar, Palm Sunday.
Part of my religious upbringing sat upon my shoulder in church this morning, whispering to me the importance of worshipful and praisey emotions while stabbing a pitchfork of guilt into my ear, because I wasn’t feeling the evangelical mojo.
On the other shoulder sat the grace of imagination, and with my Pastor’s help I transported myself back a couple thousand years so that I could partake in the original festivities. There I was, on the road to Jerusalem, the city reflecting my soul in so many ways. Pride and praise, infidel and religious, sacrifice and extortion, foreign armies in charge of way too much.
And Jesus weeping, loving, worthy of more than I have to give. Today I am the poor of Jerusalem, but somehow he comes for me too.
When the Prince of Peace approaches the city of your soul and you have very little with which to offer a decadent welcome, just put before him whatever is in your hands or on your back. Palm branches, coats and burdens pave the road for the coming of Messiah.
Lay yours down…
“…looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Hebrews 12:2 English Standard Version (ESV)
As I sit here in my sweatpants, a cold Canadian wind pushes snow into drifts alongside my house. The phone is silent, for now, but all week long is has buzzed or beeped incessantly, bringing ponderous tidings too heavy for one man’s shoulders, wearing my psyche into tatters. The hope of gainful employment has risen and fallen again, battering my self worth and sense of purpose.
This morning I read in the Bible about how God isn’t blind, deaf or indifferent to our suffering.
But I wanted proof.
So I went downstairs, and what did I see? I saw a carton of instant oatmeal packets sitting on the kitchen island. I thought to myself,”When you’ve got nothing left, when everything has gone dim and grey, you’ve still got Jesus and Quaker Peaches and Cream. When you’ve exhausted all your resources, but even still you feel abandoned, misunderstood and rolled over, you’ve still got the Prince of Peace and little paper packets of warm breakfast happiness.”
And I was wrong.
It turns out Mr.Quaker is a fraud. Those precious little bits of peaches that take you back to a time of innocence and joy? They are actually apples. I know – I didn’t want to believe it at first either. I thought Quaker Peaches and Cream Oatmeal was as sacred as Saturday morning cartoons and Sunday morning flannel graphs, but I was wrong.
Apples. Once a part of God’s beautiful creation, now used for the devil’s work.
So now I’m left with Jesus, hoping that he is more than a common fruit with peachy religious colouring. The good news is I’ve been through this before, and I know that the historical Jesus is the real deal – no artificial flavours or preservatives – so my hope is based both on what I’ve read AND what I’ve seen.
To walk in the way of Jesus has very little to do with success as the world measures such things. A part of me prefers personal fulfillment, not Christianity’s sacrificial-lose-your-life-to-find-it mumbo jumbo. But when it comes down to it, someday I want to be on the inside of a tomb looking outwards, and that kind of potential only comes through crucifixion.
As we journey through life, we find that there are a million different ways to die, and Jesus will lead us both to and through them, if we’ll take his hand. And my God, it hurts.
But not as much as apples in your oatmeal.
“Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.”
Psalm 38:4 New International Version
A Seraphim sits in the heavens, breathes on a drop of water and weaves the resulting crystal into a solitary snowflake. It falls to the ground like a mother kissing her sleeping child; gently, softly, silently.
Road salt turns it from angelic art into a grime that wiper blades smudge away. A work truck drives through the slush, rocks and sand pitting its windshield. A pleasant little “Bing” warns that an important fluid is almost gone. Feeling a bit harried and beat up, the driver listens to the news on the radio. He is running near empty too, tired and burdened.
From a distance the Earth is beautiful. Up close, sometimes not so much. What gives us hope is the fact that this is the same planet with the same issues that it has always been, and that it is into all this that a child was born, and they called him Emmanuel.
God With Us.
The audacity should shock us. The gods that we make in our own image are incapable of this measure of chutzpah. They remain far off, regal, indifferent at best, condescending.
What they never do is see with love, listen with compassion…or come closer.
None of us live in a snow-globe version of life, though at times it appears that the raw ingredients are there: gently falling snow, couples walking hand in hand, carollers bundled up on the front steps of a church. Look a little closer though, and things begin to unravel:
One or two of the carollers think that freezing their buns off is better than being cooped up with family.
That couple walking together down the lane? They’re wondering how to plan a funeral during the Christmas season.
That lovely snow? It’s trying to find shelter down the frayed collar of a homeless man.
And into it all comes Emmanuel, the newborn infant laid in a feeding trough, his virgin mother wrapping him tight against the cold. That’s where the magic happens, friends: the place where everything around us screams that we are unwanted and deserted, and a gentle hand comes in to calm our fears, wrapping us up snug and tight in linens of hope.
If you fall in love with Christmas, let it be because of the story of the Humble God who wasn’t afraid to get His hands dirty. Jesus didn’t come to buy shares in Hallmark- he came to bleed.
When uncertainties come in like a killing frost, when you find yourself whispering, “This Christmas, I just hope I’m not alone…”, look at Jesus again, and hear Heaven whisper…
“This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:12 NASB
I’m a terrible Christian – a fact that spiritually speaking has always worked in my favour.
Growing up in the conservative church subculture of south-central Alberta, there was no end to the Jacob’s Ladder a young lad had to climb to attain spiritual maturity. It started with a prayer, combined with the common sense to abstain from smoking, alcohol, movie theatres and pool halls. This was Christianity for Dummies. Hatred for communists, playing cards and Rock ‘n’ Roll showed our elders that we had the potential for something greater.
I could fudge my way through these prerequisites, but after that my spiritual DNA mapping took a detour.
I tried, dammit. My faux-leather Bible cover was stuffed with Sunday School papers. I logged hundreds of humble miles down the aisles of all kinds of churches, my spirit clothed in I’ll-be-a-better-witness sackcloth. It wasn’t long before people started thinking I was enlightened beyond my years, simply because I took to heart the Proverb that says, “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.” Lastly, I’d make sure that any reference to the ancient scriptures was followed by the chapter, verse and version from whence it was gleaned.(Proverbs 17:28 ESV, in case you were wondering, with the translation stated in a condescending acronym because true believers don’t need the whole thing spelled out.)
There was one point, though, where I was a total failure: the elusive Quiet Time. I couldn’t get the formula right. All I knew was that it was different for everybody, and to be more than spiritually anemic I needed to find my own perfect combination of Time of Day, Duration and Devotional.
I’ve been a Christian probably longer than half of the world’s population has been alive, and I still haven’t figured it out.
“So,” you ask, “how did this failure to live up to such a foundational discipline work in my favour?”
Easy. I supplemented my lack of dedication with one simple, heartfelt prayer:
“GOD HELP ME!”
It helped to say this often. Over and over. Lots.
The same prayer uttered in less panicked moments has been loosely translated into “God, have mercy”, or even simply a weary sigh of “Oh God” or “Jesus”. It is a reflex prayer, but is nonetheless sincere. An awareness that prior religious works are impotent accompanies this invocation; often a recognition so deep as to be barely acknowledged.
This is the beginning of Christianity 2.0.
In time Jesus becomes everything, as I am reduced to ashes. A quest for the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, self-control and so forth – is laid to rest as I hunger instead for the Spirit alone.
My computer and the apps on my phone seem to need constant updates. The software developers are always adding something to make things go faster or run smoother. It drives me crazy; just give me the real thing! How refreshing it has been to find that upgrading my Christian experience begins with downgrading the religious caca.
The ancient prophet Isaiah wrote, “This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it…””
Let it be said of us, that we would have ALL of it. If spiritual strength comes through quietness and trust, may my whole life be a Quiet Time.