I’m back at the church this week. I’ve been on sabbatical since Christmas and I’m very grateful for the members of the congregation who’ve taken a leadership role in our faith community during that time. They’ve inspired others with a variety of ideas and experiences, taken care of the administration and the week to week busy-ness of the church community. Including changing the sign out front each week.
RETURN OF THE KING.
That’s what the sign reads right now. Thanks for the welcome back pun, Ben, and for the wisdom and insight. It’s all capital letters, though, so I’m not really sure if it says “the return of the king,” “the King” or “The King.” And I don’t think they’re all the same thing.
What the church calendar calls Holy Week is a daily chronology of events which begins with Palm Sunday and ends with Easter, though Easter isn’t part of Holy Week. After all, it’s “the first day of the week” after the sabbath, that’s why Mary and the others can come to the tomb (Mark 16:1-2). It’s a “new day” all round.
There was a time when we’d all be going to church each day (some still do) in order to hear the story as it’s told, day by day. We do things a little differently now. At our church, we still have services Maundy Thursday and Good Friday as well as the Sundays, but many often bundle everything but the resurrection into Palm Sunday. Oh, the resurrection, yes, sorry, spoiler alert: Jesus lives.
I wonder if that’s part of our problem. We know what happens, so, rather than make time for the story, we cut to the chase: one week Jesus is being celebrated, the next thing you know, his enemies have had him killed, but he’s not dead, he’s alive.
Read the story. Please. Read. The. Story. Imagine each day as if it were happening and what it might mean: the bewilderment of his followers through the week and their despair at his death, the anger of those that feared him, the disdain of the Romans, the surprise and joy of the disciples that the tomb was empty. New life can only come with a death and death comes only after a journey.
Part of that journey is wondering about kingship. It’s old language, perhaps, to refer to Jesus as King, but consider how the resurrected Jesus rules: the power of love, a love so great as to be worth dying for. When love rules our hearts and our lives, it’s not a power over others, but with others. It’s not about conflict, military might, control or dominance, it’s about grace, care and compassion. It’s not about geography, it’s about life.
I don’t think that was the kind of king that people were expecting, coming into Jerusalem the week before. Unarmed and riding a donkey (a sign of peace and humility), they celebrated his arrival waving palm branches and shouting “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” because they still expected a king who would overthrow the Romans and restore the glory of Israel. Jesus did not ever mean to be that kind of king.
It might well have seemed to his followers, in those last few days, that Jesus was no king, anymore than Pilate believed he was. Where was his power?
And then Easter happened.
Take a moment this week to reflect on how we move from greeting a king on Palm Sunday to The King of Easter morning. The journey is through judgement and death and a tomb overcome by love. It’s a whole new kingdom.