As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. ~Ephesians 2:1-10
Our Lent focus turns to Holy Week and I invite you to imagine yourselves with the crowd of pilgrims preparing for the entry into Jerusalem, or Palm Sunday as we know it. The pilgrims were coming to celebrate the great Jewish stories of freedom and hope. Many of the participants along with the disciples believed that Jesus deserved a royal entry. But it seemed that few understood what Jesus was about when he entered Jerusalem on that colt, so who would be really prepared for the upside down turn of events. Even though Jesus had told his disciples that he would be mocked, insulted, flogged and killed, then rise again on the third day, they did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them and they did not know what he was talking about. (Luke 18:34)
It's interesting that while the crowds were cheering about what they knew not – Jesus wept. They just weren't in tune with the mission of Jesus.
The atmosphere was full of expectation, turmoil, uprising, and then a big disappointment for the disciples. I imagine if I were part of the scene at that time I'd have my own expectations and most likely they would have been displaced. I'd be focusing on the great kingdom life I was going to have once Jesus rose to the top, claimed his sovereignty, his Lordship over all. Of course I had not absorbed all the teaching he so diligently brought forth and I hardly knew him well enough to understand anyway. So naturally when he was crucified I'd be walking on the road to despair, wondering how I could have been so mistaken, so gullible to believe in the first place.
Holy Week is both about Jesus' outward, visible and historical entry into Jerusalem and what he did there, and yet also about his entry into the inner Jerusalem – the seething holy city as writer / poet Malcolm Guite calls it – of our own hearts. In his poem Palm Sunday he suggests that we pose a few questions about our inner lives.
Now to the gate of my Jerusalem,
The seething holy city of my heart,
The Saviour comes. But will I welcome him?
Oh crowds of easy feelings make a start;
They raise their hands get caught up in the singing,
And think the battle won. Too soon they'll find
The challenge, the reversal he is bringing…
The expectations of the crowd as well as my own are easily displaced. Disappointment follows. Jesus understood, as he wept over Jerusalem. It's taken me years to understand that scene. But somehow as I've returned to him repeatedly with misplaced expectations and disappointments he has met me with compassion and, of course, grace.
I've had my own intimate encounter with Jesus this past few months as I came to terms not just with a diagnosis of breast cancer but the difficult acceptance of the loss of Wendy Dubois, Elder of Redemption and friend, to cancer.
Wendy texted me in November during a Sunday service about her diagnosis.
I texted her several weeks later about mine, and she died shortly after. The gate in my heart closed and the walls went up for a season as I struggled to find my anchor in the dark days of January following her death and my own upcoming surgery in February. My journal entry records a time of depression, anguish, fear, doubt, repentance, faith, confidence and then true trust. Trust based on the progression in Holy Week that leads us to a new and greater understanding of what our Christian faith is about: cleansing the temple of our hearts, acknowledging his death on the cross for our sins as the means of a new life that is full of hope and faith, and perhaps fewer misplaced expectations.
I’m grateful to have recovered what Eugene Peterson refers to as my 'resurrection centre' – not just for my life, but Wendy's as well. The death and resurrection of Jesus creates and then makes available the reality in which we become God's workmanship. (Ephesians 2:10) I need to be reminded not just during Holy Week but especially those times when the gate in my heart closes and the walls go up. This year especially I’m looking forward to celebrating Easter with all of you.
P.S. Follow along with the continuation of this selected passage with the upcoming blogs of this lenten season here.
Deborah A. M. Phillips is an Elder at Redemption. She is the author of the novel Argonauta. Her poetry, and essays have been published in English and French. Deborah previously worked as a church planter. She taught at Institute Biblique du Québec, and is the former Director of Women's Ministries for the province of Québec.