HOLY WEEK BEGINS AT 35,000 FEET
Like never before, I am noticing the cultural precariousness of observing the suffering and death of Jesus--and of celebrating his resurrection. I felt it yesterday on the airplane from Denver to Indianapolis as I used my laptop to work the points of my Sunday sermon into the PowerPoint that would be projected onto the screen on Palm Sunday. Wedged between two passengers, I felt their eyes wandering over to my work. I typed the simple words "Palm Sunday brings together confidence that Jesus is the Messiah and hope that he begins his kingdom now." I heard the passenger on my left mildly "harrumph" and turn away, as if to say "O brother, this weirdo really believes that stuff!" The guy on my right, who was watching "Napoleon Dynamite" on a personal-size DVD player and tending intermittently to his two children and wife seated across the aisle, had no reaction at all. The words and meaning did not even register.
FEELING CONSPICUOUS AND IRRELEVANT. Somehow, my simple theological statement rang at once both powerfully profound and terribly hollow. To people flying on a jetliner at 35,000 feet in 21st century-America, what does Jesus as Messiah and kingdom-bearer mean? To an older man whose body language said "don't even try to talk to me, I am in no mood to be bothered with mere conversation," who is Jesus? To a dad and mom with their hands full of children and electronic gadgets and worries about life, how does God's kingdom compute? For a few moments I felt conspicuous and irrelevant and overwhelmed. How does the Gospel compute to these folks?
GO AHEAD AND SIN. After I powered down my laptop on the approach to Indianapolis International, I opened the airline magazine. I was taken aback by a two-page ad for Hyatt resorts. On one page was a picture of a very tempting pastry--a huge cinnamon roll with blueberries on it. At the bottom of the page was one word: "sin." On the opposite page was a shapely woman running blissfully on a treadmill. At the bottom of this page was one word: "salvation." We know what that means, right? But when I think of the assumptions of such theology, I tremble. Sin is a much bigger issue than indulging in a high-carb, high-cal dessert. And salvation is not about letting yourself indulge in sin because you know you can work it off later. But do the passengers sitting all around me know or care about these distinctions?
I REALLY BELIEVE THIS STUFF. These incidents leave me perplexed and prayerful. I don't know what else to do but pray. In the face of such sophisticated messaging and cultural cynicism, I find myself driven back to "the foolishness of preaching." Sometimes, I feel like such an out-of-touch vessel and one who purveys an antiquated or apparently irrelevant message in apparently unimaginative ways. But, in spite of this, I really believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the hope for all humankind--one and all--both to deal radically with our utter sinfulness, brokenness, and estrangement, and to open up and make possible here and now the kind of life and relationships which God's future will bring to fullness. That's why I am observing Holy Week. I pray that along the way, grace may be conveyed to me and through me to people like my fellow passengers at 35,000 feet.