“Life is stale and colourless.” “I can’t stop crying.” “Tears streaming, swollen eyes, dripping nose, heavy eye bags, broken heart.”
Yes, these are real tweets from mourners of Zayn’s exit from One Direction – a departure so catastrophic that hundreds of workers sought legal advice over whether they could take compassionate leave – cue weeping from me for very different reasons.
If you hadn’t already realised, it appears even our most beloved celebrities can end up deeply disappointing us. Jesus Christ is another to add to that list. And I think this smooth sashay into the Easter story deserves a moment of appreciation.
2,000 years ago, Jerusalem was crammed full with two million revellers all celebrating the Passover festival – the memorial of God liberating the Israelites from a ruthless foreign power. Adrenaline was high; dreams of overthrowing the Romans would be bubbling under the surface of their festivities.
Suddenly, news arrives of a man called Jesus approaching the city from Bethany, fresh from raising Lazarus from the dead – John 11 – quite a useful skill if military action is undertaken against your enemies. People start cheering. Palms are waved.
That wasn’t an arbitrary choice of plant. Just under two centuries earlier those same leaves were paraded when Judas Maccabeus led an army to conquer the Greeks. Here comes a new emancipator! Jesus receives the adulation of thousands primarily because the scent of rebellion is in the air – he’s the one that will rid them of those annoying taxes, the disgusting customs, the smug superiority of Rome.
Only he doesn’t.
If you’ve ever wondered why so many people would cheer for Jesus one moment, then campaign for his crucifixion a few days later, it’s because he became a huge disappointment – the liberator that wasn’t; the unfulfilled dream. Jesus saw it all coming, of course. Amidst the millions of cheering hoards on Palm Sunday, one man is crying. Just one – Luke 19:41.
I think the most sobering thing I find about that contrast is it means it’s possible for me to stand in church on Sunday and sing Blessed is the King and Glory in the highest – Luke 19:38 – and yet Jesus could be weeping over me. Why? Because I’m singing not to him, but for me. My Christian faith can easily be reduced to a God who I hope will sort my career ambitions, protect those around me, secure that parking space, make me great, if not at least comfortable. Disappointingly, that’s not what Jesus came to do.
Easter speaks powerfully about the kingdom Jesus came to inaugurate – one not based on power, advance or success, but on humility, generosity and sacrifice. It’s a value system that changed human history forever – where I give up my petty little empire of self, and receive something far better in exchange.
So here’s a final challenge: when Good Friday ticks round this week, meditate on how much Jesus gave up, and try spending the day not thinking of yourself at all. Who knows? If you’re a One Direction fan, you might even be able to tweet Zayn and wish him well.
You can listen to a whole sermon on Palm Sunday here.