On Palm Sunday, we remember Jesus’ dramatic entry into Jerusalem: The Crowds celebrate his arrival, believing it heralds a new era for the people of Israel. The Messiah has come, and will set everything right: the occupiers and their Empire will vanish; the evils and oppression they brought with them will be cleansed from the land. The incompetence and greed of Israel’s own leaders will be made as if it had never been, once David’s descendant, anointed by God himself, takes his rightful place on the throne.
Israel will regain its long lost greatness, and will indeed become greater than ever: a new Empire of God, with the Son of God himself as their King. The glory of the Temple and God’s renewed presence within it will shine forth to every nation and people in all the world, forevermore. It’s all so beautiful, so wonderful, so magical: what a great thing to witness. What a great time to be alive.
But then it all comes crashing down. Now, just a few days later, Jesus and his disciples are hunted by the authorities: they know it is only a matter of time before Jesus, and maybe all of them, are arrested and maybe even executed.
The crowds are turning against this latest in a long string of disappointing Messiahs. They now see that the magic they’d seen in him has no substance or reality at all. In the eyes of the people and their leaders, he is a fraud.
The magic is gone. The people feel that Jesus has betrayed them; and the disciples feel that God has betrayed them, and it seems like everyone has betrayed Jesus.
That’s the problem with magic. It never has substance. It never has reality. Magical thinking deceives us into believing that we have no responsibility for our own future, or our own salvation. Magical thinking leads us to believe that God will do it all for us, and that we will just be along for the ride. Magic is never more than an easy solution to our problems, one that requires little or nothing from us to be accomplished.
But it never works out that way: God won’t undo our mistakes, nor our failures, nor our tragedies; just like God will not undo our triumphs, nor our good memories, nor our talents. God values us, and treasures all of the failures and successes and experiences and talents and capabilities and attributes that are so integral to who and what each of us are. God values the entirety of the uniqueness of each and every one of us too much to make any of it magically vanish. The scriptures teach us that we will be healed, but that we’ve earned those scars, and we will keep them: because they are part of who we are!
But the people and not even the disciples have learned this lesson yet: and now they are cowering in fear, believing that God will protect them in this time of great darkness, and praying they will live to see the dawn. It is a bitter cup, one they all have a hard time accepting, including Jesus. This is no different then our own experience in today’s the scary world.
Magical Thinking. It always disappoints. Magical thinking masks the realities of the pain within and around us. It hides our own faults and failures. It leads us to believe we have no responsibility for the situation in which we find ourselves, and no responsibility to make it better. Magical thinking claims that someone else, or something else, will do it all for us: a cosmic “Get Out of Jail Free” card. And such a magical savoir, even if they existed, could never fulfill all of our expectations. Jesus knew this; and so, doing so was not his mission.
We love Magic, but is that “love” with a small “L” or a capital “L”? Are we confusing our hopes for the end of our pains and fears with God’s Love and plan for us? Are we blinding ourselves to what we must do to make the Kingdom of God present and real here in this world? Do we believe that God is Magical, or that God is Love? God is not both.
The disciples and the people feel betrayed. And like all betrayed lovers, they are angry and hurt. The crowds become murderous. The disciples become afraid. And yet, both are feeling the same thing. And those fears and anger are made concrete through the betrayal of Judas.
And so I wonder, in this current incredibly divisive and painful Election Season, when we see people saying and doing things that are so hateful, how different is this from what we see in our reading this morning from the Gospel of Luke? Yes, the hateful actions and words of our neighbors here and now are incomprehensible to us. But, the words and actions of those who shout for Jesus’ death are equally incomprehensible, and we also wonder why the disciples cower in the darkness. How come none of those people realized who Jesus really is? We do! Or do we?
Do we really see who Jesus is, two thousand years later? If we did, we would not be acting as we do now – whether we are shouting for walls to be built and those not like us to be exiled or stoned; or whether we are condemning those who do and say such things.
The beautiful future we spent a lifetime building is crumbling away. Our future is cloaked in darkness. We see hate and failure and despair all around us, and within us. We are afraid. Where is the Love that will magically fulfill all of those now broken promises? We are angry, for we have been betrayed, but who is the betrayer? Is it God, or us?
This is what Lent teaches us: The Kingdom of God is not some magical Empire that washes away all of the bad things we’ve had to endure. The Kingdom of God will not take away our pains or erase our scars. The Kingdom of God is about Love, not hate. It is about healing, not magic; it is about conquering fear, not eliminating what spawned that fear within us. The Kingdom of God comes about after the death of all of our hope, and all of our fear. The Kingdom of God is realized only through our openness, brokenness, and repentance.
Easter is almost upon us. The darkness is at its thickest; the end has come; but the curtain will soon be torn asunder, and we will behold what God’s plan for us really is, not what our magical thinking has made it to be. And when that moment comes, we will finally let go of our magical preconceptions and come to know what Love really is.
Delivered at ARK Community Church, Dalton MA, March 20, 2016 (Palm Sunday).
“The Passion of Jesus Christ According to St. Luke” (Luke 22:14-23:56) as a Passion Drama read by the entire congregation, using pamphlets available from St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church, Norton Shores, MI.
Copyright (c) 2016, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved. I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as proper credit for my authorship is given. (e.g., via a credit that gives my full name and/or provides a link back to this site – or just email me and ask!)