What a drastic change from Sunday to Friday!
On Sunday afternoon Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. On Friday morning Jesus staggered out of Jerusalem carrying the cross. On Sunday, he rode in on the equivalent of a red carpet – a carpet of coats and palm branches. On Friday, the stones of the roads and the rocky hill bruised the feet which soon would be nailed to the cross. On Sunday, the crowds were cheering and praising God – on Friday the people were either silent or mocking him. On Sunday, his disciples were by his side – on Friday? Nowhere to be found. On Sunday, the mood was full of expectation of God’s victory – on Friday, the only expectation was death.
Everything had changed – and yet one thing had not changed. The one thing that hadn’t changed was Jesus’ faith in his Father. Neither the Palm Sunday procession nor the procession to the cross was the object of Jesus’ faith. The object of Jesus’ faith was the Father.
This doesn’t mean that he had no emotions or feelings. On the contrary. We read that in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was grieved and agitated. We hear his great cry from the cross, Eli, eli, lama sabachthani! (My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?)
And yet even in the moments of great fear, grief, and pain, Jesus prayed words of faith. In the garden he prayed that the cup would pass, yet prayed even more for the Father’s will to be done. The Father’s will was not specifically that Jesus would suffer, but it was that the connection between the Father and Jesus endure through suffering. The Father’s good and gracious will was that through the cross, the separation between God and humanity be overcome, the chasm bridged. And it is that good and gracious will which was accomplished.
I imagine the worst moment of Satan’s existence was when he heard Jesus say, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!’ Here everything seemed to be perfect for evil – the shouts of the crowd, the pain and the stench, the thirst and the coming death, and yet here was Jesus, still praying. And so in the midst of all this sin and death, holiness and life were still present.
Against appearances, all the expectations of Palm Sunday came true! On the cross, God made known his victory over his enemies, sin, death and the devil. The sin of humanity would not turn Jesus against his brothers and sisters. The devil could not stop him from praying. Death could not separate Jesus from his Father.
This Holy Week is going to look very different from last year’s. No eating together at the table. No silent reflective time together on Good Friday. On Sunday, no church packed with people, no sound of trumpets, no aroma of flowers. Everything will have changed – but what will not have changed? The promise in which we trust – that on the cross, Christ won our salvation. That the Father accepts his faithful act on behalf of all our unfaithfulness. Against all appearances, the news is good!
On this we base our trust – not our external circumstances, which we really shouldn’t have needed a global pandemic to know can change in a heartbeat. Just as Jesus’ trust and faith changed not one bit between Sunday and Friday, so our faith and trust need not change between last year and this.
Indeed, let our faith and trust be strengthened, whether we are content and happy or anxious and grieving, whether we are together with people or alone, whether or not we are at high risk, whether or not we become sick, whether or not we die, let our faith in God be strong. For Jesus has gone through whatever humanity can go through and has come through with faith in God. That he did this for us. This is our hope, and our consolation, though everything should change, yet he not at all.