In Matthew 21 we find Jesus on his way to Jerusalem. It is a passage riddled with quotes from the prophets and the psalms, put in by the gospel writer to indicate that something really significant and important is happening.
Time is contracting to one single point where past, present and future is coming together. Prophets, psalms, the people in Jesus day and the people remembering the event afterwards are all speaking the same language and speaking the same words for just one moment. We know what is happening here: "Tell daughter of Zion, Look, your King is coming to you, humble and mounted on a donkey" (Zacharias 9:9-10). We also know who we are welcoming:
"The Son of David, he who comes in the name of the Lord" (Psalm 118: 26). We also know what we expect from him: Hosanna! - Which means "Save us", or "Bless us".
In the last couple of chapters the tension has been building - we have all seen this moment coming closer. The crowds building, the plotting intensifying, the anxiety of the disciples getting worse and worse.
Is this it? The moment where Gods revelation in Christ will reach its climax? Will he finally put the world to rights, bring justice and mercy, bring back the glory days of David and Solomon - Davids Son? Will there once more be a king who will rule with wisdom and insight, bringing prosperity and peace to his people?
Will the oppressor be kicked out, Israel finally be restored to its former glory?
The tension is palpable, we can hear it, feel it, smell it as the passage unfolds. The shouts of the crowds, the feel of bodies pushing into each other, the smell of the donkey, the dust, the sweat of people swept away on a wave of enthusiasm and eager expectation. Those who have attended the lenten studies will remember the images Rob showed us on the first night and the emotion and feeling emanating from them.
No, this is not it.
That is what Christians have confessed over two thousand years of Christianity. That this is not "it". "It" happens 5 days later when "Hosanna" has turned into "crucify him" and God identifies with the suffering rather than with the successful, with the downtrodden, rather than with the powerfully victorious.
The pinnacle of Gods revealing himself in Jesus Christ does not happen when he rides into Jerusalem victorious, cheered on by the crowds. His mount is not a warhorse, but a donkey. His attire not the armour of a general in command of a great army, but the simple cloak of a wandering teacher.
It happens in humility, a king on a donkey, more like a shepherd, gentle, caring and full of compassion.
In him God comes to his people, not overthrowing the violent oppressor with force, but winning the world with love, looking after those who hurt, caring for those who have been bruised.
Hang on, no, but actually...... that is not the whole of the story either.
In 5 days Jesus will be on a cross. Suffering a most horrible death of asphyxiation through an excruciatingly slow process that will literally pull his body apart. He will go down into the deepest valley of darkness, experience hell as only people can invent it for each other. And deeper than that, beyond the boundary of death itself.
We, as Christians, confess that it is there the climax of Gods revealing himself in Jesus Christ took place. Not in his life of gentle compassion and deep faith. Not in his humble entry into Jerusalem. But on that day when he died crying: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
Not many of us get to meet God in that place. Joan did, when the arthritis combined with other illnesses and she was very close to death for a while.
After a life of faith, of following Jesus and trusting that God was looking after her like a shepherd, even where she did not always understand the logic of it, she came to a point where she could not make head or tail of it any more and where she felt abandoned by the God she had so faithfully worshipped all her life.
Why does this have to happen? Is a question many of us ask. Not only in relation to ourselves, but also in relation to the suffering of so many others. Where is the God that cares? Where is his compassion?
The answer we get with Easter is that God is right there, in the suffering. There where what happens to us is more than we can bear, more than we can manage. And bears it with us.
The story of the Cross tells us that in Christ God went into hell further than most of us will ever have to go and pulled through. That somehow he took on the darkness and did not let go of the light, but rose out of the night into a new day.
Today "it" happens: We start the week of remembering what happened and how. How through the darkness of evil the morning of a new creation was born. How a body broken and blood spilled, and all hell breaking lose did not leave the world in ruins, but created a new community in the name of the crucified one, to follow in his footsteps, to live life in his name, to take on his humility and love and let gentleness and compassion be the foundation of their faith. Amen.