The Road to Palm Leaves & Extraordinary Days

Last Sunday, my daughter and I were pulling into the parking lot of our church and I thought to myself, “OK, palm Sunday is next week, Easter follows... so what is this week?” Then, the answer came to me: “Nothing. Its just an ordinary day.” I pulled into a parking space while my daughter chittered away about who she would see in her class and a thought came to me unbidden “It wasn't an ordinary day to Jesus. In fact every day was extraordinary to Him.”

When I got home, I decided to crack open the Gospels and search for what Jesus was up to the week before what we would refer to as “Holy Week;” the week that begins with Palm Sunday, today, and runs through Easter. If you're not familiar with the books of the Bible, in the New Testament there are 4 books referred to as “The Gospels,” they are Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These books contain four different accounts of Jesus' life here on Earth. They each carry unique perspectives based on who the authors were and where their information came from. Only one of them is a truly eye-witness account, the book of John, one of Jesus' twelve disciples, His closest friends and partners in ministry on Earth. The others are written from the pens of second-hand sources who took down eye-witness accounts who saw and heard Jesus in the flesh. Some Gospels share the same account almost verbatim, others leave details and pieces out or focus more on certain teachings and happenings of Jesus. All of them, however, share the essentials of Jesus' message, how He lived and moved amongst the people of Ancient Israel, and most importantly how He died and was raised again from the dead.

The week before Easter, is no exception in the varied account of the days leading up to what many called Jesus' “Triumphant Entry” into Jerusalem, what we now know as Palm Sunday. It earned its name because Jesus came into Jerusalem for the final time before His death to the sound of praise and the waving of palm branches (John 12:13). People lined the streets like a parade, screaming “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” They laid down their coats on the dusty ground in front of the donkey Jesus was riding on (Mark 11:8), and they accented their shouts of praise with the first thing at their disposal, palm leaves.

But what about before all that? What about the days leading up to that moment? What made each day extraordinary to Jesus?

When I looked through each of the Gospels, I searched for a marker in time, a place to start to know I might be in the vicinity of the road to dusty coats and palm leaves. I found Him in Matthew 25 teaching hard lessons in the form of parables to His followers, which led to Him dining in a house only known as “the home of Simon the Leper,” in chapter 26 , where a woman brought a jar of expensive oil, cracked it open, anointed His feet, and wiped the oil with her hair, tears streaming down her face and splashing onto Jesus' feet. Over her head there was mocking of her sacrificial act, Judas, one of His disciples, runs off to make a deal with the Devil and Jesus predicts that another one of His disciples, Peter, would betray Him.

In Mark, I found Jesus teaching about hard things. Things like divorce, predicting His own death and settling ridiculous squabbles amongst His disciples about who is first and last. We also see Him honor and bless a group of hushed children and heal a blind man with a simple word of “Go, your faith has healed you.”

In Luke, I saw glimpses of similarities in the teachings and hard conversations of the other Gospels. We also see Him honor and esteem a poor widow who brings her very last penny to the temple as her offering. He then bursts the disciples' bubbles about how the seemingly strong Temple they are standing in awe of will be destroyed, which leads into a discussion of prophecy, and a promise of how things will go from bad to worse, but in that same promise, that the Son of Man will bring redemption, once and for all.

And in John, I can practically smell the dust of the road as John details the movements of Jesus on His way to Jerusalem. I see a similar, but more detailed, telling of the healing of a blind man, I hear a sermon on spiritual blindness, and the relationship between the Good Shepherd and His ever wandering sheep. Then, I arrive at the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, three of Jesus' beloved friends and followers, and Lazarus has died. Mary and Martha are heartbroken, the disciples are full of questions and Jesus weeps.

I wonder if Jesus felt there, at the home of his friends, where things have gone from bad to the absolute worst, the weight of each choice He made to be obedient to His Father that made even the most ordinary day, truly an extraordinary day. Just walking distance from the city where He would enter as a victor but be put to death by the same voices that shouted “Hosanna” over the fringe of the palms, did He weep in that moment because He knew? He knew what was to come? The gravity, the necessity, the temptation to bolt back to Heaven into the safety of His own skin? Here, is where I see the weight of what Jesus is carrying, what He has always carried, break through the surface of His donned humanity. That without choosing the road ahead of Him, without taking each day as its own in its potential for the extraordinary, without choosing to watch the faces of those He loved change from elation to murderous, without being betrayed by a friend's kiss and the sound of the rest as they hit the ground running, without choosing to see the back side of His Father and choosing to bear the weight of the sin that entangles all of us, all that would be left was what He saw in front of Him that day with Mary and Martha: Weeping at tombs.

In John's account of this experience, Jesus asks to be taken to the tomb of his friend, who has now been dead for days. He even goes as far as to ask those in attendance to roll away the stone that has sealed up Lazarus' grave. Then, amongst the confused and frankly appalled crowd, the most amazing conversation takes place:

Then Jesus said, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe You sent Me.’ When He had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go.’
— John 11:40-44

I wonder what kind of experience this would have been if Jesus had spent His days on Earth differently? I wonder at the power of the words “but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe You sent me.” (v42) I think the days that led Him here, and would ultimately lead Him to the cross, were spent in such a way that we would not be able to miss the reality of Him. The reality of His words, His work, His passion and His love, that's what makes the cross and ultimately the resurrection such a scandalous mystery.

No matter where you are in your life, whether Jesus is nothing but a fantastical idea, a story, a good person in history or in mysticism, or maybe even a bad word in your vocabulary because He has not met your expectations of a Savior, I just want to say this to you:

He knows you.
He sees you.
He hears your wailing on whatever side of the tomb you are on.

Whether that's an internal cry because you have deadened your heart to the cruelty of feeling and it is safer to stay in the hole you've created for yourself, or if that's a literal wailing outside the tomb of something or someone that has been ripped from your reality, reeling at the lack of control, the lack of understanding, and full of all the whys and where were yous.

He knows you
He sees you.
He hears you.
He loves you.

How do I know that? Because He still loved the ones who saw Him walk in each extraordinary day of His ministry on Earth. The same ones who welcomed Him with praise and expectation because they thought they were going to give them the deliverance they sought, but when He didn't, they turned on Him. He still chose the cross. He still died. But on that third day, He was called by the name of His Creator and came out of that grave. Just like Lazarus. When He appeared to more and more people, He made the same offer to every single one of those who had hurt Him, and with no hesitation, to love them, to call them by name, and to not leave them in the tomb of their own making. He became the Savior they desperately needed, not just the one the believed they wanted. Because now, for those who believe Him, they will see the glory of God, here on Earth or one day face to face in Heaven.

Jesus altered our destiny by His choice to let no day remain ordinary. He had a mission, to be among us, to know us from the inside out by taking on our very likeness and to not leave us here hopeless. Hope knows no boundaries this side of the cross.

I once heard someone say “At the end of the worst thing that can happen to me is Jesus.” There are days that that feels enough, there are days that it doesn't. That's the beauty of Him, He can handle you on all the days. Because His days here on Earth were extraordinary, He can meet us in our ordinary, our depths of despair and the heights of our anger. He has hope for you in all the seasons, on any day, because His love for you is one He chose, each day and His hope is one that lasts beyond the turmoil of what we can see.

One day in the midst of His hope, is better than any day weeping at tombs.