I had had been reflecting on the Easter season when my kids and I had read through the book of John, we came to the chapter about the “Triumphal Entry” of Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem on the foal of a donkey. Often in our churches, Palm Sunday will be marked by children walking into the sanctuary waving palm branches and shouting out what the people of Jerusalem did, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” Palm Sunday is a cheery, celebratory day and we revel in the history and joy of Jesus’ entry, but how did the same cheering crowd praise Jesus one day and crucify him on another?
Several years ago a dear friend of mine began a battle with breast cancer. She is a pastor’s wife and a woman of great faith, so she began this fight with much optimism. Her life was on display, and her community was ready to witness a miracle in her life as we expected God to do a miraculous healing. Many weeks passed, many prayer vigils held, many prayer chains contacted, and many encouraging words spoken, but the healing did not come. She stood on God’s promises of healing and quoted the scriptures that declare that He is a healer, but still the cancer prevailed. The tumor was growing and she had decisions that had to be made quickly.
I remember her sharing with me that late into her cancer, at one doctor’s appointment, a nurse began sharing with her that there was a “Spiritual Healer” in town who lived not far from her. The man was a Shaman who used incantations and different concoctions to cure his patients. Many from our town had used his services and were cured, and my friend would have been a perfect candidate for his help. With quiet resolve, my friend declined the invitation to put her hope in a Shaman and journeyed home with the cancer still present in her body and questions in her mind.
What do you do when the Jesus you are expecting isn’t the Jesus who shows up in your life? When you are expecting a King to come and overthrow the Roman government, set you free from tyranny, and bring governmental peace decides instead to be crucified and taken from the political scene you are living in? What do you do when God the Healer decides instead to walk you through your pain rather than deliver you from it? What do you do with this Jesus?
We all face this dilemma. We love God, worship Him whole-heartedly, and celebrate Him on Sunday morning, but on Tuesday when our child is incurably ill, or our cancer is still growing, or we lose our job, home, or spouse we begin to doubt and wonder– “Is there possibly another solution? God doesn’t seem to be coming through for me. Should I look for another Savior?”
Jesus looked pretty legitimate riding in on that donkey. After all He was fulfilling the scriptures prophesied hundreds of years before in Zechariah 9:9. The people also shouted something they had rehearsed from scripture in Psalm 118:25-26. They were ready for His arrival! They recognized the King in the parade. He wasn’t as recognizable, however, when He was silent before His accusers.
When we can’t “see” Him in our circumstances, when we don’t recognize His presence in our pain we begin to doubt and look for another Savior. We can be quick to crucify or abandon our Help when it doesn’t come in our time-table dressed the way we are expecting it.
In his book “The Mystery of the Cross”, Alister McGrath, professor of theology, ministry and education in King’s College, London said: “Just as God has humbled himself in making himself known ‘in the humility and shame of the cross,’ we must humble ourselves if we are to encounter him. We must humble ourselves by being prepared to be told where to look to find God, rather than trusting in our own insights and speculative abilities. In effect, we are forced to turn our eyes from contemplation of where we would like to see God revealed, and to turn them instead upon a place which is not of our choosing, but which is given to us.”
My friend scheduled the surgery she wanted to avoid, and had the mastectomy. She grieved her losses, embraced the pain and embraced her Savior even tighter. She learned to trust God in the dark and walked with Him in the light. She would tell you that cancer taught her more about the love and grace of God than any other experience. She found her Savior. He was there in the suffering– promising to never leave her.
Today I will celebrate the life of that dear friend, as she has gone home to be with Jesus–the One she put her trust in. I will celebrate the battle she won in faithfulness and perseverance. I will joy in the fact that she positioned her life to “see” her Savior even when she could have kept her eyes solely on her pain. Even in the face of cancer, she was able to say “Blessed is HE who comes in the name of the Lord.”
I am forever grateful for her faithfulness, and for who she was to me and this community. She is deeply missed.
Dedicated to Lorraine Williams (1959-2018)
When we wanted a King, God sent a baby. When we wanted revolution, God sent a Redeemer. When we wanted freedom, God sent a cross.