Via Negativa

Photo by Hrishikesh Deshkar on

“Say to Daughter Zion,

‘See. your king come to you,

gentle and riding on a donkey,

and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

Matthew 21:5, quoting Zechariah 9:9

I think this is a weird passage of Scripture. Well, maybe the Scripture isn’t weird, but our relationship with it as Christians has also struck me as dissonant. Even in fairly stoic, conservative, evangelical churches–churches not given to pomp and circumstance– we celebrate Palm Sunday with a fair bit of pageantry.

Yes, there is an air of celebration about the event that even in retrospect does not fade. But the day is so bittersweet because we know what is coming. Yes, He is greeted with a joyous crowd pronouncing a biblical blessing on Him. Yes, Jesus is consciously covering Himself with all the symbols of a king ushering peace into the city. But every element of this scene will be subverted.

The crowds will either dissolve or turn against Him. The great blessing returned to the people will become a curse to Him. A king of peace indeed, one who is going to upset the religious establishment in profound ways. The very next scene is one of chaos in the temple precincts. Everything here turns out against expectation. This is a party that ends with capital punishment.

So why do we keep trying to throw a party? Give some kids some palm branches and sing “Hosanna!” Maybe Good Friday shouldn’t be the only somber day in Holy Week. Palm Sunday has a veneer of holiday about it, but it is also so dark the veneer should fool no one. Like a chocolate in a mousetrap or a clown in a street gutter.

Now I know how we pat ourselves on the back, as though looking in a rearview mirror were some great accomplishment. “We know what kind of king He really came to be! That is what we celebrate as the church.” But, are we really so much further ahead? Are we not still awaiting His return, wondering what it will be like? We have hints and suggestions in Scripture, giving us great hope but the concrete manifestation of God’s ultimate manifestation of Himself at the end of time will likely fly past us like a wild curveball. We are not any better at cramming the Infinite God Of The Universe into the itty, bitty living space of our brains than people were 2000 years ago.

So let’s worship God in all humility. He is free to be who He will be (that’s what He told Moses). We hope for, anticipate and long for the return of Jesus. But let’s not pretend we have it all figured out.

Lord, you are God and I am not.

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