Sunday, March 24, 2013

Passion Week

Today begins the Passion week with Palm Sunday: the day the Lord, after months of slowly wending his way toward Jerusalem, healing and preaching and hanging out with people while he went, finally arrived in the Holy City of the Jewish people. Everyone was so excited that this big national hero was in town. Some were excited that he would be doing more healing; others, more zealous, hoped this would be the beginning of him fighting off the Romans, destroying the evil regime that practically enslaved them, and freeing the people at long last to enjoy peace and rest and prosperity.

Jesus looked around and wept, because he wanted these people to understand that he wasn't just here for a day, not just coming to do a little healing: he was permanent, here to stay, here to be their long-awaited good king, the kind and wise leader. He wanted to gather them into this beautiful, heaven-bringing kingdom of God as his people, his children: healed, built up, and sent out to bring all the world and all the Gentiles the news about a true peace on earth.

But a good number of the Jews he encountered weren't looking for that. They wanted war on Rome, peace in Jerusalem, to be made the top-dog nation because they were God's people. Their leaders had led them astray and kept them from understanding that Jesus meant for all the world to have a chance to enter the glory and wonderfulness of the kingdom of God. They didn't see how the sacrificial system had broken down, how they needed a new sacrifice to purify and bring down the glory of God. Their offerings to God weren't enough; their love for God too broken and impermanent. They were stuck in the broken world of pain and hurtfulness. Stuck in a hovel of a world, in need of a haven, worthy of a castle.

The prince who wanted to marry Cindarella brought her first to the castle where she washed, put on a beautiful gown, and was seen in all her beauty that could not be seen before underneath the soot. He didn't marry her and crown her queen in a hovel.

I think God looks at us and says something like: I love you, and I want to relate to you, but you're not up here, at my level, just and perfect and loving; you don't appreciate what I have to offer and can't enjoy the good things I want to give you. I want you to be cleaned of the dirt and beautiful again, but you don't even realize you're dirty, because it's all you've ever known. You don't even realize it can be better than this, nor realize just how much better! I want to marry you, but you have to come with me to the castle. I want to give you a perfect home, a perfect life, but you have to choose me. You have to want to marry me, because I won't force you.

This is our story. In a hovel. Unaware. Ignorant of how dirty we are. Innocent of how much we are loved.

Cindarella has been enslaved. Taken captive. A price has to be paid; someone has to buy her back. And what if the price for her is another life in return?

This is what Jerusalem didn't understand when her king came in. They called out, "save us!" and waved palm branches and put jackets on the road--just like a king with a grand and joyous entrance. But Jesus wept. They didn't understand that they were still in the hovel. Jesus wanted to bring her to the castle, but she didn't even know she was dirty and a slave. The beloved didn't even realize how her prince wanted to rescue her. She didn't recognize the extent of his love. She didn't know she needed to be bought. And she didn't know that the price for her life would be his own. She didn't know that he would pay for her with everything he had.

That is passion beyond anything else.


I always had a hard time understanding the sacrificial system. I have a hard enough time understanding salvation through the blood of Christ. But silly as it may sound, the things that helped me most were fairytales.

Now, the nation of Israel had sacrifices they offered to God every year at certain times. Truly: animals killed and sacrificed; a life for a life kind of thing. It was to purify them before God. But like a typical person of the West--heck, anyone of modern times (I mean, who sacrifices animals on altars any more?)--I don't really understand how that works. But I understand fairtytales.

So the princess (the prince's beloved, i.e. Israel) has been cursed so that she turns into a monster or beast. The prince falls in love with her as she truly is underneath the curse, but the pitfall obviously keeps them from being married and living blissfully happily ever after. So the prince hunts down the wicked sorceress who cursed his love and bandies for her life. After whatever threats or bribery or cost or fight or plot device the fairytale employs, the prince persuades the sorceress to lift the curse, but the sorceress retains this one stipulation: that once every year the princess should go into the wild and turn into a monster again, running wild for one night.

It's an imperfect allegory, but go with me on this. So Israel, like the rest of us, originated from people and from a world where everything and everyone was perfect and perfectly good. Nothing was evil, wrong, or hurtful. The evil, plotting sorcerer, aka Satan, was able to entice these perfect, good, and wonderful people with many lies and much sweet-talking to drink his poisons--and the goodness was rent, torn like a curtain top to bottom. The world hasn't been the same since. Evil, pain, cowardice, malice, greed, disregard, untruths, manipulation. People trying to get back an experience of the goodness, but winding up with casualties in their wake.

The good king loves his beloved Israel dearly. He wants to forgive the wrongs they commit, but the perfect justice system that he set in place requires recompense for wrongs committed against man, God, creature, or earth, because wrongs committed leave scars, and payment is needed to make things right.

Picture the Israelites' lives like a table. It's been laid but it's been made dirty with spills and messes--maybe even a bit of a food fight. It's not worthy to be eaten at. God gave them directions on how to give sacrifices to atone for it--basically how to put a table-cloth over the table and cover the spills. So the Israelites do so. But during the year, the new cloth gets wrecked with more stains and spills--some not even on purpose, but they're there. So they put on a new table-cloth, year after year, to cover up the previous year's mess and present a surface ready for a feast!

But the fact is, underneath each new table-cloth, all the old stuff remains. The princess is still a monster and a beast, still held captive by the curse. It's still there. She needs something more.

Could someone come and pick up the whole giant pile of soiled cloths, clear them away, and wipe the table clean? Who is strong enough? Who loves her enough? Who will pay the price to clean up all that nastiness? It would take a true servant.


Consider this to be Part I, with the completion of the story coming next Sunday on Easter (although you already have an idea of what it will be..!). I wanted to start off Passion week with a reminder of what this is all about. How we're even here, at this place. It's time to start thinking about that princess and the terrible enslavement she is in, by the constant effort of her captor and by her own teenager rebellion from mom and dad. Start thinking about that prince, and what lengths he would go to in order to rescue her and set her free.

What would you do to be set free?

What would you do to set someone else free?

This week I had hoped to leave a short post every day, but I won't be in reach of internet every day, so I'll just leave a few short ones here and there. Try to get us thinking. Not just about the resurrection, but also about what it means. Why are we here? What do we do now? If you're free, like what? There is something ahead of us, a purpose that burns brighter than any we've ever had. My hope this week and in this whole blog is to explore what it looks like to be living under the reign of grace, and how that changes the way we touch others and touch our world, relate to God and to ourselves.