It’s Holy Week for those of us in the Christian faith. Yesterday was my favorite Sunday of the year, Palm Sunday. I grew up in a charismatic church waving palm branches and shouting, “Hosanna!” down the aisle as we remembered how Jesus entered through the Gate of Mercy (glory goodness, y’all!). But, Palm Sunday has taken on a new meaning as I’ve gotten older. It’s no longer simply cheery and “fun”, but has taken on a deeper meaning. I now understand how counter-cultural it was for Jesus to enter Jerusalem as a conquering king on a donkey instead of a horse. I understand how the crowd waving palm branches would be the ones yelling “crucify him” and how they likely had no idea Jesus was about to flip their perceptions and expectations (and temple tables!) upside down. I think for many of us, that was 2020 – what we expected was not what happened. And we saw tables in the temple that shouldn’t be there (and that we hadn’t seen before) that need to be flipped over. Keep this in mind – we’ll come back here to the Gate of Mercy at the end…
Do you do a word-of-the-year? I typically don’t do too many new year resolutions anymore (because they last until January 9th for most of us, can I get an amen?). Instead, I choose a word, phrase, and/or verse to guide the year. Usually, I spend a good deal of time in December in prayer and reflection asking God for this. Want to know what I wrote on January 1, 2020?
#facepalm. It’s kindof like my word was ‘patience’ when I had two kids under 5 at home. Ha!! Looking back at the ‘Courage’ word, I wish I would have said, “Nope, just kidding. How about peace? Or joy? Or, you know what, God? I’m good. I’ll see you in 2021.” But, a good Father always gives good gifts and know what he’s doing. So, I prayed about courage with zeal that matched my son’s enthusiasm for donuts. I was excited and said, “Yes, Lord your face I will seek” on my daily runs, always praying through the word courage.
Then February happened. You all know what happens next. The pandemic hit and I started my site. We’re still good at this point though. Then March, April, May, June came and things got, well, loud. You know what I’m talking about in the midst of the pandemic, thoughts on masking and faith, racism, the election, and everything in between. Voices, circumstances, losses, people, threats, backlash, the US got loud. I remember telling a friend, “I just don’t feel like I can hear Him anymore. I don’t feel courageous at all!”. So I made a decision in the summer (out of desperation, not a holier-than-thou-look-at-me attitude). The louder the world got, the quieter I needed to be to hear the Voice that mattered. So, I started reading the Bible beginning in Genesis with no goal of finishing at a certain time and didn’t tell anyone about it. I just wanted to hear His voice (and gain courage, although I didn’t know that’s what was happening at the time while I was reading).
- I read about a spirit hovering over chaos and transforming that into order.
- I read about the quietness of promises made to the father of nations at night with the stars. About bold obedience in the midst of those promises.
- I read about the great exodus into a promised land with daily provision through manna and miracles. About shoes that never wore out and the tent of meeting (side note – wouldn’t you want to be like Joshua and be there hanging outside the door. Just me?). About a rock to hide in while proclamations of mercy, grace, abounding and steadfast love passed by.
- I was reminded how he makes water in the desert in Numbers, led with clouds and fire in Deuteronomy, and the beautiful, ancient, and holy disciplines in Leviticus. I heard the directions of the Sabbath, the provisions for the poor and sojourners, and the commandments of loving our neighbors.
- I read about courageous Joshua reminding the people that there’s good land when they saw giants, Rahab shattering the glass ceiling among the people, about Deborah and Ruth who governed and walked with compassion and strength, about the kings moving three steps forward and five steps back. About mommas speaking blessings over their kids and fathers saying, “as for me as my house.”
- I read about rebuilding broken walls in Ezra and Nehemiah, about Esther leading with wisdom and prayer, about Job asking questions lots of us don’t want to ask but feel in our hearts – and getting answered.
- I could write pages and pages on the rawness and beauty of the Psalms, the wisdom of Proverbs, the hope of Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs.
- Then I got to the prophets, the forerunners of telling the people about the suffering servant, the righteous king through weeping and pleads, the images and promise of the here-and-not-yet.
In December, I had finally made it to Ezekiel, which was not my favorite – this was probably influenced by how loud things were with the pandemic during that time too. =) I got to the middle of the book and told my husband, “I feel like 2020 is like Ezekiel. It’s a whole lot of ‘wait, what is happening?’. And, what in the world do the weird animals and confusing wheels mean? I’m ready to be in the Gospels or Ephesians (my favorite book)”. But, I kept going. I had already been praying about what the 2021 word would be (well, I was tip-toeing up to that one!). I was kind-of asking that the 2021 word would be more of a free-pass this year instead of 2020-courage.
I was still slogging through Ezekiel one early December morning and then got to the final chapter – about fun stuff like cubits, territories, more cubits. Out of seemingly nowhere, the final passage slammed the story shut:
“The Lord is there: Jehovah Shammah”.
It hit me like a ton of bricks and took my breath away. I just closed my bible. In the middle of slogging through 2020 (and Ezekiel) this passage was like an unexpected closure of what was and an Ebenezer of what was to come.
Wherever, I am – Jehovah Shammah.
My word in 2021 – Jehovah Shammah.
It took me a few weeks to pick up my bible again and keep going. Similar to the Ebenezer in 1 Samuel 7 I had read about (where they needed to stop and say ‘thus far’) I think I needed to ponder this and store it up in my heart like Mary. And, frankly, it was hard to know that the Lord was there when life happens unexpectantly – when 2020 happened in all the ways it did for us. I’m wondering if some of you feel the same way? What we expected was shattered. What was exposed was loud. Maybe that’s how the bystanders with the palm branches in Jerusalem felt a few days later when the king on a donkey that came through the Mercy Gate did not do what they thought.
I will now finish reading through the Bible this week (and the beautiful gift/significance of that is not lost on me) and plan to start back over when I’m done. Because I learned when the world gets loud, the quieter we need to get to hear the Voice that matters. I have no doubt that’s what gave me courage in 2020 in ways I didn’t see it happening at the time. But, I do now. And, I’m stuck with it. It’s life-giving, friends.
Now, let’s go back to where we started – Palm Sunday. Remember the Gate of Mercy Jesus came in as Holy Week began? That gate is mentioned all throughout Ezekiel and I missed it while I was complaining about it. =)
What I didn’t miss, though, is what I needed all along but didn’t expect – the nearness of the Lord, Jehovah Shammah. Perhaps that’s Mercy. Perhaps that was what ushered in through that Mercy Gate in a new upside-down way that only a king on a donkey can do. Perhaps Mercy is receiving something I didn’t ask for, that I didn’t know I needed – His Presence and His Voice that was proclaimed and alluded to throughout the scriptures I was reading, from Genesis to Revelation.
So, as we wave our palm branches and shout ‘Hosanna’, let’s remember he shakes things up sometimes with the rest of the Holy Week story. But, always ends it with what matters.
Jehovah Shammah, my friends. The Lord is There.