I’ve often said that we Christians get so caught up in the unbelievable parts of Bible stories that we miss out on the practical, more contemporarily impactful parts of the stories. Easter is no exception.
As the story is told from most Christian pulpits from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, it is an epic tale full of surprise and the miraculous. It is almost other-worldly in how the events go down and the miracles occur. The betrayal scene almost feels like something from Shakespeare and the Resurrection insists that Christians place the realities of our scientific age to the side all for the sake of being part of the movement.
All the while, practically hidden in plain sight, amid the surprise and the miraculous, is a story that is needed in every age. A lesson that cannot be taught frequently enough. A conviction that far too few are ever willing to carry out to its fullness. A message that is needed today as much as it has ever been needed.
The setup for this part of the story is highlighted on Palm Sunday. Frequently, it’s referred to as the “triumphal entry.” Personally, I think of it more as the “humble entry.” You see, in those days, anyone hearing the tale of Jesus riding into town bouncing around on a previously unridden donkey as people shout, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord,” would find it difficult to not compare it to the entry of the actual ruler of the region who would have been coming to town around the same time. Pontius Pilate’s entry would have looked quite different. As Rome’s official authority, he would have paraded through the front of the city’s gates on a mighty steed while surrounded by Roman soldiers.
The contrast is stark and intentional. It is the setup for the rest of the Holy Week story.
While it is true that this will be a story about atonement, it’s not the atonement of sins that far too many Christian ministers tell us about this time of year. This is not substitutionary atonement where a mighty god’s only choice to save all of humanity is to painfully kill his [intentional use of male pronoun] one and only son. One, that’s no god. And, two, that’s no god worth worshiping. No, this will be the story of real atonement – going back to the meaning of the word “atonement.” This is about at-one-ment with God. That is being one with God.
Contrary to the traditional telling of this story, the at-one-ment with God is not done through the work of God.
At-one-ment is not a lackadaisical pursuit.
Yes, it does require sacrifice, but not on the part of God. It requires it of us.
In that sense, Easter is not a story of God saving us, but rather a story about our call to save God.
The Holy Week story begins with a clear contrast between Jesus and the Powers That Be. It’s a wink-wink, nudge-nudge from the storyteller. A foreshadowing of what’s about to happen. It intentionally places the less-than-flashy over and against the powerful.
We must be cautious readers though. If we focus on the large, flashy parts of the Easter story (as most tellings do), we will miss the powerful message tucked inside the less-than-flashy parts. We will miss the true story of what at-one-ment looks like.
For the remainder of the Holy Week to Easter story, Jesus sets the stage.
It’s up to us to follow.
[I’ll continue with my look at what I’m calling the “true” Easter story with my next post.]