Psalm 24, 29; Zech. 9:9-12; 1 Tim. 6:12-16 (Morning)
Psalm 103; Zech. 12:9-11,13:1,7-9; Luke 19:41-48 (Evening)
Although the Daily Office readings for Palm Sunday seem somewhat out of kilter to the Sunday Eucharistic readings we’ve come to expect on Palm Sunday, our morning reading from Zechariah 9 certainly sets a prelude to what we have come to expect during the Liturgy of the Palms.
It’s important to remember, as we wave our little palm slivers and holler “Hosanna!” during the Sunday Eucharistic service, that a lot of those folks in the crowd were familiar with the notion that the ruler of the Hebrew people would be “triumphant, victorious, humble, riding in on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
Woo hoo! Let the good times roll, right?
Ehhh…well…not so much, as it turned out.
It speaks to those times we have expectations, and those expectations don’t get fulfilled, whether that “non-fulfillment” is a slow fadeout or a cataclysmic jolt.
The problem is, it’s not wrong to have reasonable expectations. Experience, by and large, is an effective teacher. I remember going to see the movie “Snakes on a Plane” a few years back, and as the passengers boarded the plane, I realized I’d seen enough movies of this type to be able to effectively predict who the snakes were going to dispatch (for instance, I knew within 10 nanoseconds that the chihuahua in the carry-on was going to be toast.)
Most of the time, our expectations are reasonably accurate–but not always, because life has a way of dealing twists and turns and emotional earthquakes. When it does, we can very easily become palpably disillusioned. So, it’s not hard to imagine the absolute disillusionment of the people of Jesus’ day. They had heard it proclaimed in the temple that this would be how the Messiah would appear. They expected the Messiah to be a mighty king, and I suspect they were hoping there was going to be some serious Roman butt-kicking when that happened. It must have really knocked a lot of folks off-kilter. How could they possibly believe anything after all that? How does one move forward from it?
When we are knocked off-kilter, a side effect of it is that many things that would feel at least “workable” in our more emotionally healthy times, can become crises under stress. We lose our barometer for what to expect; we find ourselves in the middle of an unfamiliar place but our GPS says “Cannot acquire satellites.”
Yet time and time again, the stories of the Bible–and particularly the stories we proclaim in that time from Holy Week to Easter Day–remind us to remain grounded in an expectant hope, despite our being burned on a set of our own expectations. Howard Thurman says it better than I possibly can, in an excerpt from a commencement speech in 1943 (Keep in mind his words are from a time the word “men” was used for “humankind,” and adjust your hearing accordingly:)
Curious indeed is the fact that at a time of crisis men must be constantly reminded that the crisis does not mark the end of all things. It is of the nature of crisis so to dominate the horizon of men’s thoughts that everything that is not directly related to the crisis situation seems irrelevant and without significance. At such times men seem to accept the contradictions of experience as being in themselves ultimate. The crisis throws everything out of proportion, out of balance, and the balance seems always superficially to be on the side of disaster, on the side of negation…If the contradictions of experience are ultimate, then the conflict between right and wrong, good and evil, order and chaos can never be resolved and human life is caught eternally in the agonizing grip of a firm and eternal struggle between the two forces. But such a dualism has never been able to satisfy the deepest searchings of the mind and the heart of man. The human spirit at long last is not willing to accept the contradiction of life as being ultimate. There continues ever a margin on the side of the good–yes, the ultimate destiny of man is good–this affirmation becomes the ground of optimism and inspiration in the bitterest crisis when times are “out of joint,” when men have lost their reason and sitting in the “sepulchers of gloom watch their dreams go silently to dust.”
When is a time your expectations sucked you into the wormhole of disillusionment? How did you feel your way to a quiet place where you could avoid the dualism of those expectations and begin to regain the expectant hope that leads to a surprising resurrection?
Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid