Moderators Note: Bishop Lowry's video message to the conference for Palm Sunday and Holy Week is available for viewing or downloading at the end of this post.
As we begin the week that we Christians call “Holy,” I invite you to step back with me into a scriptural passage that we know well…
“When they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus gave two disciples a task. He said to them, ‘Go into the village over there. As soon as you enter, you will find a donkey tied up and a colt with it. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that their master needs them.’ He sent them off right away. Now this happened to fulfill what the prophet said, ‘Say to Daughter Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble and riding on a donkey, and on a colt the donkey’s offspring.’” (Matthew 21: 1-5 CEB)
In an age saturated with the clamor of self-will and ardent personal preference, the Bible story of Palm Sunday shares a very different lesson. The ancient prophecy speaks forth again to us this day… “Look, your king is coming to you, humble and riding on a donkey, and on a colt the donkey’s offspring.”
Your King Is Coming!
We live in a day and time when, of course, we do not have kings in America. We squabble about the policy and priorities of whomever is President. We fuss and fume over whatever Congress may be doing. We even wrestle in our own homes with issues of who is in charge, and who rules. Do you recall the closing words of William Henley’s great poem Invictus?
“It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.”
In our age of religious anarchy, this is almost a battle cry. Yet, this week we call “Holy” starts at the opposite end of the spectrum.
“Your King is coming.”
This means the one who is to rule our lives – yours, mine and our churches’ lives - is the one who comes to us at the beginning of this week. Let this great truth settle into your being. Amid the cacophony of voices screaming for our attention and clamoring for positions of power in our day, remember the words of Christ to the disciples, “say to them, the Lord [that is, our ruler] has need of it.” New Testament scholar Scot McKnight writes, “I agree with how Michael Bird puts this: ‘Nero did not throw Christians to the lions because they confessed that ‘Jesus is Lord of my heart.’ It was rather because they confessed that ‘Jesus is Lord of all,’ meaning that Jesus was Lord even over the realm Caesar claimed as his domain of absolute authority.’” (From The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight; pg. 144)
I challenge us with revolutionary thinking this Holy Week. Let’s drop our clamoring pretense. Let us abandon position, place and power to proclaim Jesus our Lord, our ruler. In confession, let us settle in on verse six of that great 21st chapter of Matthew for a response that lives in a faithfulness that will take you and me with Christ from the great triumphant entry of Palm Sunday to the cross – and yes, beyond.
God’s purposes must trump our preferences. The great missionary evangelist E. Stanley Jones was right, “Jesus Christ will be Lord of all or he will not be Lord at all.” (from The Seedbed Daily Text: The Domino Effect of Colossians by J.D. Walt, page 23) This is as counter-cultural and as counter-intuitive as it gets. It is our journey to the cross … and beyond. It the path to greatness of life and love. It has been written…
“If people called Methodist are once again to represent a mighty movement of God in North America, we will have to recover a clear sense of what it means to call Jesus ‘Lord.’ In Wesley’s day, the Methodist movement stood in sharp contrast to the values, practices, and world-view of the surrounding culture. In our own day, we must again find our voice as a Christian counterculture. We will necessarily have a deeper sense of being in this world, but not of it. We will once again feel the friction of being ‘foreigners and exiles’ (1 Pet. 2:11). To give Jesus our obedience, trust, and love will inevitably place us in tension with those who do not believe. Are we willing to live in this tension? Are we willing to experience ridicule for Jesus, to lose friends and be misunderstood by family? To say that Jesus is Lord is more than simply a doctrinal confession. It is a declaration of ultimate allegiance. May God give us the will and strength to be a peculiar people once again, to obey, trust, and love the one who is Lord of all.” (A Firm Foundation: hope and vision for a new Methodist future, pp. 30-31)
Verse six of the 21st chapter of Matthew simply reads, “The disciples went and did just as Jesus had ordered them.” (Matthew 21:6 CEB) This is where Holy Week and holy living starts. May it be so for us as well. May you walk with the Lord to the cross and beyond in this week called Holy.