The Rev. Peter Faass, Rector
There’s a Holy Week prayer that states, “O Holy Jesus, we remember that many who claimed you as King on Palm Sunday shouted ‘Crucify’ on Friday.”
What caused the crowds who hailed Jesus with their wildly enthusiastic Hosanna’s on Palm Sunday to turn against Jesus so that they wanted him dead and gone by Good Friday?
Those sage theologians Mick Jagger and Keith Richards offer some crucial insight into this question when they sing:
“You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometimes well you might find
You get what you need.”
Mick Jagger and Keith Richards
The Rolling Stones would have understood what the crowds in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and Good Friday did not: that in Jesus they were not going to get what they wanted, but in Jesus they would end up getting what they needed.
You see the crowds who hailed Jesus as King, waving palm branches and throwing down their cloaks before him, did so because they wanted a Messiah who would lead them to overthrow the oppressive rule of the Roman Empire. They wanted a warrior, a mighty leader of King David’s lineage. As the events of Holy Week unfolded and Jesus did not so much as lift a finger to organize an insurrection, (in fact he prevented any violence on the part of his followers,) these same crowds came to the realization they were not going to get the Messiah they wanted. And so, in their eyes he was a failure, a disappointment and they turned on him. By Friday those who had proclaimed, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord” were screaming for Jesus’ blood. When Pilate presented the arrested Jesus to the crowds saying, “Here is your King!” the crowds cried out, “Away with him! Crucify him!” (Jn. 19:14c, 15a)
William Temple, one of the great Archbishop’s of Canterbury once said, “If you have a false idea of God, the more religious you are, the worse it is for you - it were better for you to be an atheist.”
That’s the lesson we can learn from the crowds in Jerusalem that final week of Jesus’ life. False images of God always lead to huge disappointment for those who see themselves as being religious. Our false ideas of God will lead us to believe that God has failed us, because we don’t get what we want.
But it doesn’t only lead to disappointment; the failure of our false images can incite people to resentment, hatred, revenge, betrayal and violence. Not getting the god we want infuses people with hideous ugliness.
Look at the current debate in the public square with voices of progressive Christians rising up against right-wing Evangelicals who have created a god they want; a god of hatred, exclusion, and even violence, but deny the God they need, which is the one and only God, the God of radical inclusion, non-violence and love. And as we have witnessed, when political leaders follow the gods they want, it leads not only to bad public policy, but an endangered society. When the false god you want encounters the God you need, things can get very ugly.
Which god do we profess? The one we want or the one we need? The one we pray, “thy will be done” to, or the one we say, “my will be done” too.
When we don’t get what we want, when things do not turn out the way we desire, when we believe God doesn’t answer our prayers, or at least doesn’t answer them in the way we want, we ask “Why?”
I am sure the people who wanted Jesus to lead an insurrection against Rome and instead got a non-violent, pacifist, asked “Why?”
“We thought you were the one. Why did you fail us? Why did you let yourself get arrested? Why didn’t you fight, draw swords? Why did you have to die on a cross? The Messiah’s not supposed to get crucified.”
I know plenty of people who struggle with serious doubts and even have left their faith behind because they keep asking God similar “why” questions. Why did this person have to die? Why do I have cancer? Why do millions go hungry every day? Why did I loose my job? And when they do not get the answer they want their faith crumbles, some even leave their faith, even calling it false. Oddly enough this fulfills Archbishop Temple’s observance that they would be better of being an atheist. But is what they need still present in the God they think has failed them?
The truth is, God is not absent when the why questions come up in life. We just get focused on what we want that we fail to see the presence of the God we need.
Jesus also had his moments when it all didn’t make sense to him. Moments of fear, doubt, feeling abandoned by God as he endured some of the worst “why” evoking treatment any human being could imagine. In the Garden of Gethsemane he prayed to God, “If it be possible let this cup pass from my lips. Never the less, not my will, but your will be done.” In that plaintive prayer we understand that Jesus can’t get what he wants, because if he did, we would not have the Messiah we need.
Brian McLaren writes this about Jesus in Gethsemane: “Jesus is trusting God. He believes that, whatever happens, God can turn it for good. I have tried, but I have never succeeded in imagining a trust more naked and pure than this.” McLaren says.
In the midst of facing unspeakable suffering, pain, humiliation, abandonment and death, Jesus trusts God.
His is an incomparable witness of being the Messiah we need, not the one we want. And he does this for us.
On the night before he died, at that last meal with his disciples, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and gave to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given . . . for you.”
And he says this to people for whom he was the biggest disappointment: the man who would betray him, the man who would deny him three times before the morning dawned, the men who would run from him like so many rats deserting a sinking ship when he was arrested.
“This is my body, which is given . . . for you.”
And he gave his body for us as well. Everything Jesus endures – including our false ideas of who he should be - he does for us so that we might have life and light and hope in his name: Even for those who profess the false gods we want, even for those who are disappointed in him; even for those who have abandoned him; even those who no longer believe.
My sisters and brother, if you try to get to Easter without going through Good Friday you end up with a false god. You may believe that to be a perpetually happy god who will make you always feel good. But ultimately, that god will let you down and let you down hard. Because of your pain, fears, and uncertainties this happy god may be the one you want, but that god has no ability to provide you with hope or light or new life; only of temporarily forgetting your problems. This is a god who is an escape from reality, a god who anesthetizes you with false promises. That god is impotent. That god has no ability to turn the worst that life will bring you into anything good. This is not a god to place our trust in. Although you may want this god, you don’t need this god.
That’s the lesson of Holy Week. In all it’s myriad events we witness the God we need: the authentic God of compassion and forgiveness and radical love, the God who comes to know our human pain and suffering – (who bears the scars of our wounds) and who then over-comes it all - including death itself - through love.
Trusting in God’s desire to bring good out of all things, Jesus got to Easter. In Jesus we get the God we need. We get the God who actually saves us from those false gods. Because of that with Jesus we too will get to Easter and new, resurrected life. Thanks be to God! Amen.
The Reverend Peter Faass
The Reverend Peter Faass was born in Delft, Netherlands. He is a graduate of the General Theological Seminary in New York City and has been at Christ Church since 2006.