Crossing a path on Palm Sunday

MA062S01 World Bank
It’s only a donkey! There was no horsepower to Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem.
Photo from the World Bank Photo Collection

In his excellent book Barefoot DiscipleStephen Cherry reminds us that we have misunderstood Jesus’ “triumphal” entry into Jerusalem and suggests that we should not be celebrating a triumphal entry on Palm Sunday but a “humble entry”. That is what Matthew makes of it. Matthew cuts the “triumphant and victorious” reference of Zechariah’s prophecy and simply says, “Look your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey.” (21:5). The crowd wanted a triumphal entry of a Saviour to please them. Jesus’ humble entry led to a humble end. He refused to play to the crowd (his last temptation?) who expected him to turn the tables on their occupiers, and then they turned the tables on him.

Like many Christians I joined the Palm Sunday procession yesterday. I was at Chester Cathedral. We went into the city. I have seen many processions, including many I dare not and could not cross. They were triumphal processions. They were pompous processions. Yesterday several people crossed our path.  This was an unpretentious procession. This was a procession you could touch (and the children loved petting the donkey!) I appreciated the soft edge of our procession and the hospitality of the ground that was given to all who passed by. If that’s the way of the cross, that’s the way to go.

How Jesus entered Jerusalem challenges our rather grand entrances. Don’t we like to wade in? Don’t we like to look big? Don’t we try to impress? I followed the humble procession yesterday. I’m not so sure how much I fit with my other interventions, my entries into conversations, rooms and situations. There’s a way to go: a way that is far more compassionate.

Stephen Cherry blogs at Another Angle

Changing the order of things

It is a privilege to be supporting newly ordained ministers: a group of people in short-term posts on their way to taking on posts of greater responsibility. They are a people in transition who manage remarkably well to avoid being anxious about what might or might not happen to them. They are going through the appointment process, which is also, of course, often a disappointment process. The process of appointment and disappointment is a confusing one. There is not always an apparent justice.

I have always been intrigued by the element of surprise in (dis)appointments and the more exciting appointments I have been involved with have had an element of surprise. Ruth was overwhelmingly surprised when she was appointed churchwarden. Jack was surprised when he wasn’t, though to his credit, he came to terms with his disappointment with great grace.

Ordinarily, there should be justice in appointments, and succession planning should follow well understood procedures. But there needs to be processes of disruption. I have been reading the story of Jacob’s blessing of Joseph’s two sons Manasseh and Ephraim (Genesis 48). They were born in that order and should, by rights, have been blessed in that order. Jacob himself “stole” his father’s blessing from his older twin Esau. Of Jacob’s twelve sons, Joseph was the last in line, inspiring murderous resentment amongst his brothers. (The stained glass pictured above shows Joseph’s blessing). Disappointments abound in the Bible. The choice of David by the prophet Samuel was a surprise to David’s father. David was not the first-born, but the last-born – and still so young. Each of his older brothers was presented to Samuel. Each was dis-appointed as Samuel turned the line of succession on its head (1 Samuel 16:1-13).

The New Testament takes up the theme. Everything is in the wrong order. Even the birth of Jesus is in the wrong place. The wise ones went for Jerusalem and finished up nine miles wide of the mark. (Matthew 2). Jesus, himself set the cat among the pigeons by describing the disappointment process. He said “The last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matthew 20:16) before being challenged by the Mum who claimed her two sons had the right to the best seats in the house (Matthew 20:20-24).

All these stories are a reminder that there has to be room for manoeuvre and that there have to be processes of disruption. Prayer before appointments is an invitation for the Holy Spirit to confirm or disrupt the natural order of things. Sometimes the order of things has to change if things are going to change. The story of Manasseh and Ephraim, (or is it Ephraim and Manasseh?) is a reminder of that. It represents the hope of a new order, in which those whose appointment comes as a surprise live for the sake of others and not for themselves. That is why the order is changed.

A new order is one in which all those who come last in things come first – a great disappointing for some.

The stained glass is by Maria Stolz of Renaissance Glassworks Howard Lake, MN 55349

Here is another post on the theme of disappointment and leadership.

>pointless disappointments


Camp Disappointment Historic Marker
historic marker for Camp Disappointment
(photo by Jimmy Emerson)

That is not the sort of review you would like to see on TripAdvisor if you were the owner of a campsite. There are many places called “Disappointment” –  it must be hard for those who live in those places. “What’s it like where you live?” “You mean disappointing?” “I thought so”.

By a strange quirk of the Church of England, my most recent appointment meant that I was listed in the “resignations” rather than the “appointments” in our  mailing. I presumed that this was therefore a “dis-appointment” rather than an appointment! 
Fresnel, Cape Disappointment
old Fresnel lens from the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse by Grace Fell

I have been struck recently by the high expectations we have of one another, and that appointments can often lead to disappointments. Once we are a disappointment to someone we are always then seen through that lens of disappointment, and our own self-perception can be coloured by that as well. When it comes to disappointment, it is often the solo leaders who are disappointed, and those they appoint who are disappointing. Belbin points this out. According to him (Team Roles at Work (2003) p98),

  • A solo leader “plays unlimited role” (and interferes), whereas the team leader chooses to “limit role” (and delegates).
  • A solo leader “strives for conformity”, whereas a team leader “builds on diversity”.
  • A solo leader “collects acolytes”, whereas a team leader “seeks talent”.
  • A solo leader “directs subordinates”, whereas a team leader “develops colleagues”.
  • A solo leader “projects objectives”, whereas a team leader “creates mission”.
Life is hard in the land of Disappointment. The only escape is into a a different world of team leadership.
Talking of disappointments, I just love Nilsson’s “The Point” – a story about a round headed boy called Oblio, who lives in the Land of Point with his dog Arrow. Its moral – everything has a point, and nothing is pointless.