“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
These old words sprung to life when an awkward request from the Rabbi had to be carried out by a nervous disciple. Jesus, their teacher, asked them to go asking for a donkey, so he could ride into Jerusalem. I wonder if some knew that he was walking into a trap, or perhaps it would be a trap from which he would emerge and pull off that one hattrick that would prove him to be their radical warrior king. Is this where he would shame the empire and show its finite capability in quenching the coming kingdom? Jerusalem, a congested city of many reveries and divided allegiance, was alive with festivities. It was the Passover and its lamb was watching from a distance. He watched the city as though watching his path towards a lover for whom he would give everything to love, yet knowing that the ultimate act of his love would be unrequited. The elite of the city undermined him, with their eyes and scaling hands they had already weighed him.
But there was a place where this Savior was visible. Just like his entry into the world, he was shown to be of the highest order of royalty to the lowliest in society: the shepherds, the peasants Mary and Joseph, prophet Simeon and prophetess Anna. Throughout his life, these margin bodies, the adulteresses, tax payers, and outcasts, they saw God with them, talking to them, eating with them, putting their lives together. And there, at the edge of the city, they saw him. And so they did what the common people did in that culture when a king would grace their streets. They placed palms on the floor to let him triumphally parade himself among them.
In this hour of global crisis, this part of our Lenten journey finds us forced to pause with pain as we reflect again on this Holy Week entry into the city of Jerusalem. Covid-19 has dealt a global blow to us that has us feeling exceptionally out of control. Whether we have our social immersion at the margins of the city, where life is hard and poverty and lack of access makes room for more destruction, or in the heights of the affluence of the city, where consumption disguises itself as the acquisition of meaning, where anxiety and emptiness cause havoc, in this moment we have a common vantage point. We see that the flesh alone has no capacity to shield itself from forces bigger than itself. Our finiteness is on full display.
All of us would not be lost for words to describe our disorientation in this period. The haunting realization that there is no certainty around our approach and longing for a future after this virus calls us to find a more tangible and concrete point of reference for time and its motion towards purpose. It is this kind of Lenten season that invites us to re-enter into the story of Holy Week with a more humble posture. We all stand at the threshold of the city with him, hoping that somewhere in the distance, our warrior king could flip the script on us and give us a reprieve from this global nightmare.
I wonder if we could think about this accompanying party of Jesus as they watched this pilgrimage towards what we as modern readers know was a certain death. Jesus knew the condition of the city that would swallow him whole. Maybe they held on to a hope that this trip would not end in a grave, but he knew. Yet he dared to journey on. If this pandemic is yet to swallow more lives and leave our cities on their knees, we may need to take the cue here, not from the posture of the disciples, but from Jesus. In his body was the anticipation of tearing hands drenched in violence. Romans would butcher his body, Jewish leaders would profane his ideology, feasting on the perversion of a counter-communion, breaking both our bread and our water. Yet he headed towards the city.
I wonder if I could invite you to find comfort in the reality that Jesus knew that the road ahead held more tragedy than the disciples understood, as well as more life-giving hope than they would ever have imagined.
We are all located in differing socio-economic spaces and each presents their own challenges. For instance, a lockdown in the township with its social complexity and structural struggle will be different from a lockdown in Camps Bay with its own complexities and excess-related problems. We have a commonality here, however. We can all agree that the tragedy that haunts us is the same; we do not know what the future holds. But we all are being invited to find our place like these disciples alongside Jesus, to follow him into the uncertainty of coming pain and yet to live in confidence that the end picture is unimaginable hope and insufferable satisfaction in God’s love.
Jesus, the man of many tensions, tends to navigate impending death and unstoppable life perfectly, somehow holding them in balance. Today, I believe we get to step again with him into Holy Week, holding the tension that even though we journey together into certain tragedy, suffering, and economic disruption, the end of the journey is a believable and unimaginable reality of hope. Will you allow yourself to trust this journey?
He is on the move.
Lusanda Mashua is a member of the writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Cape Town, South Africa.