. . . the whole crowd of disciples began to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen (Luke 19:37).
Few places are harder to live than in the gap between what we expect and what we get, that barren stretch that separates what we think we deserve and what our lives have actually delivered to us. We can barely tolerate being there and we’ll do anything to find a way out.
Sometimes that means we adjust our expectations. The pain of disappointment is alleviated by lowering our sights. But with every downward adjustment hope is diminished, and eventually we find we’ve stopped dreaming altogether.
Another strategy moves in the opposite direction. Sometimes the tension between what we expect and what we get pushes us to do whatever we need to do to secure our own happiness. We lash out at whoever or whatever gets in the way of what should have been.
Of course, we often ricochet back and forth between both of those responses: resignation or anger, passive acceptance or violent force. What we find most difficult is what the Psalmist urged. “Wait on the Lord” (Psalm 27:14).
Holy Week is bracketed by shouting crowds. On the front end of Holy Week we remember the day Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem. Luke tells us that the crowd that welcomed him that day “praised God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen” (19:37). Their shouts were grounded in past events, but those past events had shaped their expectations of what would soon be.
The miracle-working Jesus was their King. The very manner of his approach to Jerusalem, mounted on a colt, spoke to his identity as the one of whom Zechariah had prophesied (Zech. 9:9). These shouts carried the weight of expectations shaped by the hope of what a warrior king would do.
By the time we get to the end of the week those expectations are thoroughly shattered. This celebrated King has failed to deliver and now the crowds are shouting something different. “Hosanna” has morphed to “Crucify.” Holy Week is the story of what it means to walk with Jesus in the midst of unmet expectations.
We find ourselves in good company. This kind of disappointment isn’t unique to the godless or the wicked. Even Jesus’ closest followers struggled during those final days of his life. And they failed. Some of them failed big: Judas’ disappointment with Jesus, and then with himself, was so deep that he took his own life. Peter caved to his fear and denied Jesus. Eventually, by Friday afternoon, all of the disciples have scattered.
And as for us – plenty of us live every day with unmet expectations. Some of them are minor: a driver in front of you failed to use his turn signal; you assumed your spouse had made the bank deposit when you wrote the check, or the kitchen completely messed up your order when you happened to be on a tight schedule.
Of course, some of our expectations go to the core of who we are. A single adult approaches another birthday marking yet another decade without the dreamed of mate and the dreamed of children. The long-awaited retirement brings a deadening boredom and feelings of uselessness. The new purchase becomes a draining burden rather than the status symbol it was supposed to be. The promotion proves to be a wrong fit for your best skills. In short, things are not working out like you had hoped they would.
That gap between what we expected and what we actually experience is the place where faith wanes. During this week – or for that matter during any week – when the tension between what you hoped for and what you’ve received feel unbearable, hear the invitation of Jesus. Stay with him. Listen to his words. Watch what he’s doing. Don’t get swept up the noisy demands and expectations of the culture. God is at work. Such hardly seems to be the case, and you may not see it now. But God is at work.
To all who feel the ache of something that hasn’t worked out according to plan, welcome to Jerusalem.
Lord Jesus, keep us close to you in the final days of this Lenten journey. Our expectations so easily become demands. We stop praying and start giving direction. Keep us attentive to what you are doing, especially when life unfolds in ways we didn’t expect or ask for. Teach us trust, even in the shadow of the cross. Amen.