Today marks the beginning of Holy week, the holiest of weeks of the calendar for those of us who call ourselves followers of Christ. For most of the western church, this Sunday is a day when children march around the sanctuary carrying palm branches and singing, much like the crowds on the streets of Jerusalem waved palm frongs and sang when Jesus came riding on a previously unridden colt.
It's usually a day of celebration, isn't it? Kind of an Easter Eve, one might say. There's a lot of joy in Palm Sunday services. But our pastor reminded us that all those words called out by the people on the streets of Jerusalem, the ones we usually say ourselves during such services, are, in fact, empty words. They are empty because in a mere five days, those very same voices would be raised again, saying, "Crucify Him!" But on that Sunday when Jesus rode that young colt into the city, only He had an idea that such a 180 degree turn was possible from those people, from His own disciples.
Because Jesus knew what was in them. He--being God--knew what was in the heart of those lining the streets. He had been with God--had been God--in the Garden, knew when temptation--hiss, hiss-- first reared its ugly head, and sin had snatched the one thing, the single thing God had forbidden. Think of it. You can have every single thing in this whole garden. You are responsible for every single animal, even for naming them. You are lord and master over all you see. There is just one thing, one single thing you must not have. Other than that, it's all yours. And like a magnet, the eye goes to that one thing. The only thing you cannot have, becomes the single thing you think you need. This is Eve's situation, the situation the serpent exploited. She took the bait, and Adam took it as well, and the rest, as we all know, is history. And Jesus knew this. He knew all about the curse that sent the serpent slithering along the ground for all of eternity, and the emnity not merely between women and snakes but between God and the evil one. And He knew He was the promise uttered right there in the Garden--"He will crush your head!" (Genesis3:15)
Then He banished them from the Garden. And we often think that the sad end of this episode. But God is always, always about saving humans, even when He's most disappointed in us. He sends them out of the Garden, but first, "the Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and His wife and clothed them." (3: 21) Cursing the serpent, promising an ultimate victory over him, and, because He's also practical, and those fig leaves surely aren't!, killing animals He had created in order to make clothes for them. This is how God cares.
So fast-forward to Palm Sunday in Jerusalem. Jesus knows what lies ahead. He knows what's expected of Him, what humans not only are capable of, but absolutely will do. Yet He rides that donkey. He allows them to believe they are true and good and honest. Was His heart heavy with sorrow as He listened to them? Or did He simply love them?
Fast forward to this Palm Sunday night. He knows exactly who I am as I sit on my bed beside my sleeping husband. He knows the good, the bad and the ugly, as the cliche goes. And I am all. Mostly I am ugly. Ugly with sin, that is. I've been thinking about sin a lot today. Thinking about what sin is, I mean. Of all the definitions I've heard in my life, and there have been plenty, the best is the one I probably learned first. When I was a teenager, a baby Christian,I spent Sunday afternoons sitting on the floor of my Young Life leader's den, listening to his Texan drawl explain the mysteries of faith, "Sin," he said, "is acting without considering God." That's it. Anything, I mean, any single action I make without considering God, is sin.
This morning, before I got out of bed, I was thinking about that. Praying that God would give me an "undivided heart, that I might not sin against you," I wondered how long it would take before I made a single action without thinking about Him. Five minutes? Could I really go five minutes after finishing my devotions without doing something thoughtless or mindless? Or just without considering Him? "It's not the big things that are really dangerous," E said last night when we were talking about this, "but all the little ones you just don't think about."
She's absolutely right, I think. So that's why I know I'm ugly with sin. Thoughtlessly selfish through and through. And it's only as I face this reality--as we all face this absolute reality--this week, that we have any chance of really getting what and why and WHO this week is all about. And why we need it. Need Him.