This morning when Steve and I were out walking the dogs before sunrise, I noticed a long shadow in front of me from the streetlamp we had just passed. The shadow reached forward a dozen yards or so, and then there was only darkness. But not for long. Another yard or two beyond that, the light of the next streetlamp was spilling onto the sidewalk.
What a beautiful picture of the week ahead of us. It’s hard to walk confidently into the deep darkness of Christ’s Passion after living in the long shadow of Lent for the past 40 days. But the darkness of the cross and the grave is mercifully brief — thanks be to God! — and the light of hope is already spilling out of the empty tomb. Even though we still have to pass through some difficult days, we can see the brightness of the resurrection from here!
In fact, that seems to be what Palm Sunday is all about: a glimpse of the glory to come just before all hell breaks loose. Even as Jesus enters Jerusalem to the adoration of the crowds, we know they’ll turn on him before the week is over. We know the religious leaders will slander and abuse him. We know he’ll be tortured and killed by a treacherous, unjust government. But for a moment, we see what it should have been like for King Jesus to be received by his people.
In this week’s Wonder Report, I want to offer such a Palm Sunday glimpse, to gird you with hope for the dark days ahead.
1. Your King Is Coming
Spend some time reading the texts and looking at the paintings below. What does each painting highlight about Jesus’ Triumphal Entry? What does each text tell us about Jesus and his ultimate return? What does God want you to take from this year’s Palm Sunday celebration?
Shout and cheer, Daughter Zion!
Raise your voice, Daughter Jerusalem!
Your king is coming!
a good king who makes all things right,
a humble king riding a donkey,
a mere colt of a donkey.
I’ve had it with war—no more chariots in Ephraim,
no more war horses in Jerusalem,
no more swords and spears, bows and arrows.
He will offer peace to the nations,
a peaceful rule worldwide,
from the four winds to the seven seas.
(Zechariah 9:11-13, The Message)
Take a good look at my servant.
I’m backing him to the hilt.
He’s the one I chose,
and I couldn’t be more pleased with him.
I’ve bathed him with my Spirit, my life.
He’ll set everything right among the nations.
He won’t call attention to what he does
with loud speeches or gaudy parades.
He won’t brush aside the bruised and the hurt
and he won’t disregard the small and insignificant,
but he’ll steadily and firmly set things right.
He won’t tire out and quit. He won’t be stopped
until he’s finished his work—to set things right on earth.
Far-flung ocean islands
wait expectantly for his teaching.
(Isaiah 42:1-4, The Message)
The next day the huge crowd that had arrived for the Feast heard that Jesus was entering Jerusalem. They broke off palm branches and went out to meet him. And they cheered:
Blessed is he who comes in God’s name!
Yes! The King of Israel!
Jesus got a young donkey and rode it, just as the Scripture has it:
No fear, Daughter Zion:
See how your king comes,
riding a donkey’s colt.
The disciples didn’t notice the fulfillment of many Scriptures at the time, but after Jesus was glorified, they remembered that what was written about him matched what was done to him.
The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb, raising him from the dead, was there giving eyewitness accounts. It was because they had spread the word of this latest God-sign that the crowd swelled to a welcoming parade. The Pharisees took one look and threw up their hands: ‘It’s out of control. The world’s in a stampede after him.’
(John 12:12-19, The Message)
I saw Heaven and earth new-created. Gone the first Heaven, gone the first earth, gone the sea.
I saw Holy Jerusalem, new-created, descending resplendent out of Heaven, as ready for God as a bride for her husband.
I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: ‘Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone.’ The Enthroned continued, ‘Look! I’m making everything new. Write it all down—each word dependable and accurate.’
(Revelation 21:1-5, The Message)
2. Behold (feat. Sarah McMillan) - Mission House
3. Rich in Mercy
Like many years in the past, I’ve spent this Lent painfully aware of my continued infatuation with sin. I’m not as disciplined as I’d like. I’m not as holy as I’d hoped to be in late middle age. I’m not yet like Jesus … which is no surprise to anyone, but somehow I’m still disappointed.
But this Lent I’ve also become painfully aware of the world’s continued contamination by sin. We’ve had three nails in our tires in three months. Even in our brand new house, some things are broken already. The weather won’t cooperate with our plans. Not to mention the wars, the scandals, the pandemic, and more.
In a beautiful essay for Christianity Today, Kate Lucky, senior editor of audience engagement, writes about a trip to Joshua Tree and how its harsh desert conditions gave her a starker view of these realities of sin.
“The desert, of course, is the place for reckoning. Forty days of temptation for Jesus. Forty years of exile for the Israelites. They wandered in circles, seeing the same things again and again, trying not to be broken by them. They were uncertain of water, uncertain of food, trusting (and doubting) provision,” she writes. “Nature is where we go for glory and peace…. But nature is also terrifying and dangerous. It can uncover us. It can even disturb.”
That’s how I’ve felt this Lent, like my sin, the world’s sin, has been completely uncovered, exposed, and I’m not sure what to do about it.
But Jesus is.
In his book Gently and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers, Dane Ortlund says this:
“Whether we have been sinned against or have sinned ourselves into misery, the Bible says God is not tightfisted with mercy but openhanded, not frugal but lavish, not poor but rich. That God is rich in mercy means that your regions of deepest shame and regret are not hotels through which divine mercy passes but homes in which divine mercy abides.”
Whatever God has revealed to you about yourself and your sin this Lent, remember this enduring truth: He is rich in mercy. Christ’s crucifixion, which we will soon remember, and His resurrection, which we will soon celebrate: they are for you.
Behold, he is making all things new, including you!
We’ve come to the end of another Wonder Report. Before I sign off, I wanted to give you a quick heads up about what’s to come at The Wonder Report.
Next week, I’ll be sending some very brief reflections for Easter weekend, and in the 3-4 weeks after that, I’ll be wrapping up our series on what it means to be human. Then, this summer I’m going to switch things up a little, with our Kate DiCamillo book club and some other fun features. I’ll have more info on the Kate DiCamillo book club in late April.
Thanks for joining me here each week. It’s a privilege to share this space with you and to enter into these conversations together. It’s my favorite part of the writing life.
As always, if you’d like to send me a note or ask a question, you can hit reply and end up in my inbox. Or you can also leave a comment on this newsletter, which will live in the archive over on Substack. It’s one of my favorite features of this platform.
I also wanted to mention one last time that Substack now has an app for iPhones that allows you to read all the Substack newsletters you subscribe to in one place. There’s no extra charge to download it, and you will also still receive The Wonder Report and other Substacks you’ve subscribed to in your inbox. You can check it out here:
Until next time,
Such a beautiful preparation and reflection as we step into Holy Week, Charity. “Even though we still have to pass through some difficult days, we can see the brightness of the resurrection from here!” Thank you. ❤️🙏🏻
Thank you for including art and the passages. I especially felt the first one by He Qi. The way one person in the crowd had his whole body pointing up to the sky, it felt like hope.
Also, the passage underneath the painting spoke to me, as it said, "I've had it with war- no more chariots in Ephraim, no more war horses in Jerusalem, no more swords and spears, bows and arrows. He will offer peace to the nations, a peaceful rule worldwide, from the four winds to the seven seas". (Zechariah 9:11-13, The Message)
It is exactly what I needed to hear at this moment in our world right now. Thank you.