Palm Sunday – Our Expectations of God

topicAn important aspect of the Easter story is that the Lord did not meet the expectations of the people of Jerusalem. He even, to a certain extent, did not meet the expectations of his closest followers. Simply look at your own expectations, were you to be lining the street today and waiting to see a king pass by. Assuming that that king was expected to be riding on the back on an animal, you would expect the king to be riding on a horse, a very strong and majestic animal. You would not expect a king to be riding on an ass the foal of a donkey.

The people of Jerusalem at that time, however, did expect the Lord to be coming on an ass. They did so because this was the custom of the day for rulers and judges to ride on a donkey. This was done because it represented the idea that while our minds are generally stubborn like a mule that a judge or a king could think and act rationally without the emotional to and fro of the human mind and will.

While the people of Jerusalem had this expectation correct, there were many other expectations they had of a coming king that just were not met by the Lord’s coming. It is this falling short of expectations that we will focus on today.

Several years ago I found a video of a man who wrote a little song about a near death, or out of body, experience that he had. It is a bit of a quirky song and probably is too distracting for a worship service. But his story is of a near death experience were he actually enters the spiritual world and encounters beings ‘who looked wise.’ We would think of those beings as angels. But then he is sent back. One of the things that he was told while in the spiritual world was that thoughts become your reality. A very simple message; ‘thoughts become your reality.’ This also happens to be an idea that is very strongly supported by New Church teachings.

The question for us today is this; what happens when our thoughts, which become our reality, do not align with actually reality? Or, in other words, what happens when our expectations are nowhere near what is presented by reality?

There is a term in psychological circles called the ‘false consensus effect.’ Consensus simply means agreement. What it means is that each of us are likely to believe that everyone else thinks in the same way we do. Even for those people who hold a known minority belief on a given subject, those people tend to significantly over estimate the number of people who hold the same belief.

A very interesting aspect of both false consensus and expectations is that we are generally unaware of both. In other words our experience of the false consensus effect and our experience of expectations or missed expectations effects us in ways that we are entirely unaware. An example of this is that of the wars and conflicts that rage across the world. Who doesn’t, including current combatants in any of these conflicts, claim or even believe that they are fighting to free themselves and others from oppression. They all say that they are fighting to free themselves from the oppressive regime of ‘blank.’ History offer several legitimate examples of people who have risen up against an oppressive regime and afterwards were successful in establish a ‘government by the people, for the people.’ But these cases are actually rather rare. In most cases the people who are rising up are simply wanting to replace the oppression by others with there own oppression of others.

This is the case because for many people, particularly those whose lives have been torn apart by conflict and hardship, the way to survive in this world is to do unto other before they can do unto you. And such people believe that that view is good. They believe that protecting or defending themselves at a loss to others is the way to live.

This is due largely to the fallacy of the mind that tricks us into believing that what we want, although usually selfish and self-centred is actually good. Listen to these words consolidated from two longer passages in the works Apocalypse Explained (458) and Arcana Coelestia (1017): ‘What a man wills, he calls good, and what he thinks, he calls truth. For the interior will of man, which is the will of his spirit, is the receptacle of his love. For what a man loves from his spirit, he wills, and what he thence wills, this he does; wherefore the truth which is of his will is also of his love, and whatever pertains to his love, he calls good… A person acts from the delight [what they get] accompanying the affection [what they love], and this delight causes things of a confirmatory nature to multiply, for as stated, the character of the affection determines that of the multiplication. In general, if a basic assumption is false, nothing but falsities can possibly result from it. In fact everything conforms to the basic assumption.’

Whatever a person does from love, they call good. This they do whether what they love is actually good or actually evil. Can you name a single person you know, who does things that you may not agree with, but who does not believe that they are good, or at least that they are trying to be good?

I’m certain that there are plenty of us that do things that are not good or were not good, but at the time we took the action we believed that what we were doing was good, or at least justified. It all comes back to this question of expectation. How is our life moulded by or formed by our expectations? How do we check those expectations?

So what do we expect from the Lord? What do we expect from the Queen? We expected that she would be riding on a horse. What if we didn’t see her on a horse but we saw her riding a donkey? What do we expect when we pray? What do you pray for? What do we do when we believe that we are acting from God’s will? Do we expect that we will be rewarded for the good things that we have done? In our private moments do we expect/hope that we will be rewarded for the good things that we have done, either in this life or in the next? In our private moments do we expect/hope that the Lord will punish those who have done wrong to us? In our private moments do we expect/hope that we get to see that punishment? Aren’t we really just trading one person’s oppression for another’s?

What do we do when we don’t get what we prayed for? What do we do when we don’t get what we expected? Do we hold the Lord responsible for the bad things that have happened to us? Do we, like the children of Israel or the people of Jerusalem who when the Lord came into Jerusalem as a king but He didn’t act like a king and didn’t displace the rulers of Jerusalem, do we then turn our backs on Him because He didn’t meet our expectations?

The story today has 4 elements that lead us to understand how we check our expectations. Remember, we create our own reality. We will have a very unpleasant life in the next world if our reality doesn’t match spiritual reality. Do you know what the opposite of a heavenly reality is? The opposite of a heavenly reality is hell. If our expectations aren’t lined up with the heavenly reality our life is going to be very ‘interesting’ in the next life.

The first element of the story is Jerusalem. Jerusalem is our mind, it is our soul. Jerusalem is where the Lord wants to bring us and we are asked to prepare our minds and prepare our soul for the Lord.

The second element of the story is the ‘colt tied by the door outside, [where two ways met], that no man has sat on.’ It is not often spoken of in this story but there is that little phrase, ‘where two ways met.’ We are each stubborn in our own ways and we get that way by our own thinking, by being led by our own selfishness and our own intelligence. ‘Where two ways met’ means that there are two ways we can proceed in life; our way and the Lord’s way. Think of the many times have you heard someone referred to as ‘stuck in his ways.’

Why are we told that the Donkey will be found at a door? Because the door represents an entrance to our soul. ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me’ (Rev. 3:20). Why would the Lord want a donkey that no man has ever sat on? Because the time to take control of the donkey’s stubbornness is before we have applied our own stubbornness on top of it. Think of it like a bad habit. Someone who started smoking last week will have a far easier time quoting smoking than a person who has been smoking for 6 years.

The third and forth elements of the story are the garments and the palms. The garments and the palms have a similar meaning. The garments are truths that cloth us, or truths that we wear as we go through life. They announce our arrival. We lay them on the ‘ass’ and on the ground before the Lord in order to make certain that our ‘garments.’ our truths, are submitted before the Lord as the one true judge and true king. This is how we ‘check’ our expectations. We reflect on what our garments are, what our clothes are, the beliefs that we have. We place them on the ground because the Lord uses what we know, the truths we cloth ourselves in to lead us.

The palm branches are similar but they are like knowledges of truths, in other words, they are what we know about how to apply truths in our life.

Lastly, this same story, of the Lord coming into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday is told, nearly word for word in all four of the Gospel accounts. But in Mark there are a few differences. In the other three Gospels we read of the Lord entering the temple as soon as he arrives in Jerusalem and driving out the money changers and those who sold doves. But in Mark we are told that the Lord entered the temple and simply ‘looked around.’ After this he went out to the Mount of Olives. We learn from the teachings that the Mount of Olives is representing Divine Love. Note that the Lord did not stay in Jerusalem. He went into Jerusalem during the day but he went up to the Mount of Olives at night.

The Lord did this to demonstrate the necessity of looking to Divine Love. In other words, we may live down and dirty in the streets of Jerusalem during the day but we have to pull back from that. We must look at what we are doing and what we believe from the perspective of what would Divine Love do now. What would love do now.

That is how we create that check on our expectations. We don’t jump to take action, an action that done hastily probably is driven by fear, by selfishness or by self-righteousness. But we stop and reflect on the lessons from Palm Sunday. We go out to the Mount of Olives and ask ourselves what would Divine Love do now, what would love do now?


Lessons: Zechariah 9:9-10, Mark 11:1-11, AC 9212.6

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