KING FOR A DAY
John 12: 12-16
Have you ever been at an event that was supposed to be a happy one, and feigned joy so you didn’t rain on the parade of someone else? Perhaps you went to your son or daughter’s wedding after just receiving a diagnosis of cancer. Or perhaps a best friend of your just lost a baby, but you hoped your face wouldn’t show your sorrow while attending a special event. One of my favorite singers performed through her illness, seeking to hide her pain: Eva Cassidy. I first heard her sing Sting’s song “Fields of Gold” to accompany an Olympic skater. Her version and her voice were so haunting. On our church cruise, a woman offering the evening’s entertainment sang that, and I was mesmerized hearing it live. Eva, like two young men in our church, died at just 34 years of age. Like them, she had melanoma. Here’s the story of what she did to try to put on a game face in the midst of her illness:
In 1993, Cassidy had a malignant removed from her back. Three years later, during a promotional event she noticed an ache in her hips, which she attributed to stiffness from painting murals while perched on a stepladder. The pain persisted and x-rays revealed a fracture. Further tests found that cancer had spread to her bones as well as to her lungs. Her doctors estimated she had three to five months to live. Eva opted for aggressive treatment, but her health deteriorated rapidly. On September 17 at a benefit concert she made her final public appearance, closing the set with “What a Wonderful World” in front of an audience of family, friends, and fans. She died on November 2, 1996 at her family’s home. [Wikopedia]
How many other inspirational stories might come to your mind? So many people push down their pain so as not to disturb other’s joy. Some of them have just months to live; some have just weeks to live. Jesus, I believe, knew he had just days to live. And what did he do? In spite of that knowledge, he joined in the celebration; they wanted a king! He was not the next Caesar, but he was a different kind of king. He may not have had full energy that day, but he knew what he had to do and what prophesies he came to fulfill. Jesus grew up reading from prophets like Zechariah, who predicted: “Your king is coming to you; a righteous king and a saving one; humble and riding on a donkey; on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” [Zechariah 9:9] Jesus knew the messiah would save the people; but he also knew the cost. That had to be in the back of his mind, even as children cheered and adults shouted “Hosanna!” “Hosanna” doesn’t mean “praise,” it means “save us!” Yes he had come to save them, but not in the way they hoped. They wanted him to fight, but he came as the prince of peace. They wanted him to save them from burdensome Roman taxes, but he was coming to save them from their sins. They wanted revolt; instead they got a king whose kingdom wasn’t of this world. God knows how to, as the late Robert Schuller put it, “turn our scars into stars,” but the transformation comes with cost. God sees the big picture, while people hope for instant satisfaction or quick answers. Here’s another story, told 5 years ago tomorrow, by a blogger named Christine Hassler:
This past weekend I had the honor of standing up in my bestie Melissa’s wedding. It was an incredibly beautiful ceremony full of love, connection and tears of joy. I am inspired to share with you their incredible love story which will reaffirm your faith in the universe’s timing…
When they were 19-years-old Melissa and Chris met at a club in New York. They dated for just three short months, as it seemed they were headed in different directions. They each went on with their lives and didn’t speak after their short relationship. Melissa worked her way up the corporate ladder and eventually moved to L.A. Chris established his career on the east coast. They both had other relationships and really never thought about each other until…
One day in 2010 Melissa was having one of those moments we can all relate to when she felt alone, sad, and questioned the universe. In that rather dark moment she threw her hands up to the Divine and asked for help. Instead she heard to “look in the envelope.” Melissa knew exactly what envelope to look in. It was one she had put aside full of old pictures. Knowing not to ignore the voice of her intuition, she looked through the pictures and was surprised to find one photo of her and a guy she dated briefly her sophomore year of college named Chris. “Hmmmm…” she thought, “He was a nice guy, I wonder what happened to him?” Well thanks to Facebook this is an easy question to answer. The Facebook request was quickly accepted and he wrote her back. The emails became longer. Then the emails transitioned to a phone call. I knew immediately something was different about this guy. “Does this sound crazy?” she asked me. “No,” I replied, “It sounds like a miracle. Keep your mind and heart open.”
God has a long-term plan for your life. Part of it is a love story; God loves you, and me, and the world so much that he was willing to pay a great price to have us together here and in the hereafter. Some just see the darkness of the cross as a terrible act: why would a Father send a Son to die? Think of it this way instead: if the church is known as the bride of Christ, then a splendid marriage was in the works! In Jesus’ day a father would select a bride who he thought would be a good match for his son. Sometimes the father would use the services of a yenta—a matchmaker—but sometimes the father would make his own choice. Then the father and the son would go and ask the father of the chosen girl for her hand in marriage. The father might agree, but part of the deal would be the bride price—it was always a very high price for his daughter. Once the deal was struck, the father would take his son home and build a room on the father’s house where his son, and his new bride, would live. But as I mentioned, the price for the bride was very high.
Today we are facing a week where the arrangements have been made. The Father has selected a bride for his son, and it is you and me. The price will be very high; the prospective groom will pay for our souls with his life. After the price has been paid, the groom—Jesus—and his followers—the disciples and the church today—will together … in the Father’s house!
That is the great Easter drama! But the road to Easter includes betrayals, not just bunnies; the road to Easter includes a seamless tunic, not just pretty dresses. And the road to Easter—like other events you might have had in your life—includes conflict, pain, and stress. This time the road will include death. But I hope you will join me for the powerful story: the Upper Room dialogue and Upper Room meal remembered this Thursday night; and the words Jesus said from the cross from the sixth hour until the ninth hour, on Friday from 12 noon until 3. Much of the story will be recalled Thursday night, but you can get more Friday afternoon. Then and only then—when you understand the price that was paid, and that the Father had already informed his Son of the plan, and that they were in agreement—can you understand what was likely going through Jesus’ mind. Making his way down a steep hillside on a donkey to enter Jerusalem through the Golden Gate was the last beautiful thing that would happen to him that week.
Love always has a cost; but to understand the plan, made long before the Palm Sunday ride, we move into the mind of Jesus and into the plan of God had for the world. Today it’s about palms. But the journey is about to continue. I hope you will take it with Jesus this week.
Jeffrey A. Sumner March 25, 2018