Real Power

PALM SUNDAY

Today our scripture is based on one of my favorite stories about Jesus: The Triumphal Entry. I’m not sure why I love it so much, except that it is such a pinnacle moment for Jesus, such a cinematic scene, filled with color and movement, celebration and joy. It is a high point in his short ministry; his return—triumphant—to the Jerusalem he loves, arriving in town to the welcome of a great crowd, preparing to teach in the temple in the heart of the city, the center of his tradition’s faith.

In our day we know this as the beginning of Holy Week, which ultimately, sadly, redemptively leads to Jesus’ death on the cross. We don’t know whether Jesus realized in those moments that that’s where he was headed. He did have the foreknowledge to be able to tell the disciples where to find the donkey and colt he would need as he rode into the city. Scholars tell us that this part of the story fits the narrative offered by the prophet Zechariah hundreds of years before when he wrote,

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Zechariah saw a king of peace, coming humbly to the people of the city, riding on a donkey and its colt together. In fulfillment of this prophesy, Jesus somehow knew they’d find a donkey and a colt that had never before been ridden by anyone, and when people asked them why they were needed, he told them to say, “The Lord has need of it.” And when the disciples went to the town, to the place he’d instructed, they found everything just as Jesus as told them it would be.

It’s interesting that the writers of all the gospels felt this was an important part of the story to tell. We don’t often have that kind of consistency across all four voices from that time. And they all—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—include the whole story of Jesus’ return Jerusalem. When he told the disciples where to find the donkey and colt, Jesus, the teacher, the prophet, and son of God—as we know and they were only just realizing—already knew where to find what they needed and told them how to manage the outcome so things would turn out right. This seemingly minor detail gives us an important glimpse into his divinity—it’s so small we might miss it if we weren’t paying attention. Jesus showed that his understanding transcended time and space because the donkey and colt were, of course, “not here” and the encounter was “not yet.” He told them what they would find when they went to a different place and what to say in a future interaction. And it all unfolded, just as he said.

So the disciples come back with the animals and then spread their coats over the their backs so Jesus can ride in comfort. It is a gesture of respect and honor. As Jesus begins his journey—over the Mount of Olives, down into the Kidron Valley, and then toward the gates of Temple Mount—crowds of people come to line the roadway, cheering and waving palm fronds in the breeze. They have heard of this teacher, this prophet, from Galilee. Each person rushes to see, eager to feel what it will be like to be in this man’s presence.

It must have been such a beautiful scene—a crystal clear blue day, the striking contrasts of sun and shadow on the sand, and thousands and thousands of people, peering over one another in excitement, wanting to see this great teacher with their own eyes, feel him pass by in their hearts. They were celebrating and calling out, and spreading their own garments over the road, making way for greatness. It was a show of tremendous honor, an unmistakable statement of belief in him. And then the people began shouting in unison the verses from Psalm 118 that are often recited at Jewish festivals:

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord;
Hosanna in the highest!

This high praise—and the fact that the crowds of people were lining Jesus’ way with their own clothing—would have made a big impact on the Pharisees and scribes in the crowd. The saw clearly their star was slipping; there was one among them who the people lifted up as greater than they. Most likely they felt a new urgency to remove Jesus from his position of power among the people—and fast. Their plotting intensified.

So much of our focus in this story is on Jesus—and for good reason. But this week I’ve been thinking about power—real power—where it is found and what it can do and how we can shine it into each other’s lives to bring light and life and goodwill to all who need it. And we all need it. Real power is the ability to be an agent of the ocean of Light George Fox saw, to hold on to hope for others when its dipping low, to speak the truth when people are bound by lies, to offer kindness and mercy to those badly and wrongly treated, to make a difference, to tip the scales, to do what we can to help the waves of Light flow over the waves of darkness that seem to be all around.

In the story of the Triumphal Entry, Jesus did of course have great power—divine power—and it may have been omniscient (which means all-knowing) and omnipresent (which means everywhere, always) power, just like his heavenly Father. But that’s really only a part of the story because our God is not a God who “does unto others” without their permission. We are each and all given free will to create what we choose in our lives—the older I get, the more astounding and amazing that gift seems to me. We are free to respond however we will with our hearts, to join the efforts and energies of those causes and purposes that seem right to us.

And because of that great freedom of soul, the power in this huge celebratory moment would have fallen flat without souls who were listening, hearts that quickened at his words, spirits that drank in the truth, and minds that resonated with his ideas and acted on those good seeds he planted, Without the power in the hearts of those listening, Jesus’ ministry could have gone the way of so many ministries before him and ever since: Words and ideas that inspired for a moment and then went to sleep in the minds and hearts of people, seeds that bore little fruit and made few if any lasting changes for the listeners, for their families, for the world.

But the people along the roadway that day as Jesus approached Jerusalem were full of energy and joy, eager to hear and see this great teacher, certain he was—and proclaiming him to be—on the level of a king. Their minds listened and their souls rejoiced. The jubilant power was evident for all to see. The true power on display in that great spectacle of arrival in Jerusalem was God’s power, inspiring and transforming hearts and minds, reclaiming souls to draw his children back into relationship with him, through the presence and teaching and merciful and true example of his son Jesus.

This is the power at the heart of George Fox’s experience of God and it was the seed of his ministry, from the day he had his personal encounter with the living Christ throughout the whole rest of his life. Fox understood the power and Spirit of God’s word, but even more profoundly, he grasped the power and potential of each of our personal responses to the indwelling, living truth of God that’s with us always.

In 1694, Margaret Fell wrote about what a shock Fox’s ideas were to her beliefs when she first heard them. This is how she described that first encounter:

And so he went on and said, How that Christ was the Light of the world and lighteth every man that cometh into the world; and that by this Light they might be gathered to God. And I stood up in my pew, and I wondered at his doctrine, for I had never heard such before. And then he went on, and opened the Scriptures, and said, ‘The Scriptures were the prophets’ words and Christ’s and the apostles’ words, and what as they spoke they enjoyed and possessed and had it from the Lord’. And said, ‘Then what had any to do with the Scriptures, but as they came to the Spirit that gave them forth. You will say, Christ saith this, and the apostles say this; but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of Light and hast walked in the Light, and what thou speakest is it inwardly from God?’

This opened me so that it cut me to the heart; and then I saw clearly we were all wrong. So I sat me down in my pew again, and cried bitterly. And I cried in my spirit to the Lord, ‘We are all thieves, we are all thieves, we have taken the Scriptures in words and know nothing of them in ourselves’… I saw it was the truth, and I could not deny it; and I did as the apostle saith, I ‘received the truth in the love of it’. And it was opened to me so clear that I had never a tittle in my heart against it; but I desired the Lord that I might be kept in it, and then I desired no greater portion.

That is the true point of power in every life, Friends, our capacity, our freedom, our choice to respond to the leading of truth within us. Where are we along the roadway, celebrating the arrival of Christ? Do we spread our coats on the road and cheer with the crowd? And when we return home in the evening, having seen and felt and lived such a create moment, is the spirit of God’s love alive and shining in our hearts?

Fox would tell us that our lived faith in response to God’s call of love is what all this is about. All this life, all this faith, all this prayer, all this Light—we are invited, we are needed to become agents and emissaries of God’s light, helping to rise the tide of Love, making it real for others in this world,  so it will sooner, rather than later flow over the ocean of darkness.

In 1657, George Fox wrote,

The intent of all speaking is to bring into the life, and to walk in, and to possess the same, and to live in and enjoy it, and to feel God’s presence.

Our ability to choose to stop everything and come to the roadway and witness for ourselves the arrival of Christ is the heart of our God-given power in this world. Let’s recognize and celebrate that and safeguard it against the tempting forces of discouragement and cynicism so prevalent in our world. We know the Light and the Light knows us. Let’s welcome its arrival in our hearts and lives and shine it out into the world, everywhere we can.

In closing I share the wise words of Early Friend Isaac Penington:

This then is the way of redemption; to wait to feel the appearance of the light of the Spirit in the heart; and, at its least or lowest appearance, to be turned from the darkness towards it. 

That is our power and our privilege, Friends, as children of God. Let’s use it, enjoy it, and share it, for God’s glory. Amen.

RESOURCES:

  • OT Zechariah 9:9
  • NT Matthew 21: 1-11

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