One of the most consistent things about our interactions with Jesus is our failure to recognize who he is. We too often are caught unaware and when it’s too late we sing a sad refrain with Mahalia Jackson, “Sweet little Jesus boy, we didn’t know who you was!” From his birth in a barn to his hanging out with sinners, to his refusal to defend himself in the garden or before Pilate, Jesus refuses to show up how and where we expect him to. His entry into Jerusalem is not in a stretch limo befitting a king but in a beat up old Volkswagen beetle. The crowds who shout “Hosanna!” on Sunday change their tune to “Crucify him!” only five days later because he isn’t the conquering hero they were expecting.
Those expectations are understandable for people who were oppressed and dying for liberation. We might guess those strangers who lined the streets of Jerusalem had not spent time with Jesus. Their failure to recognize who he really is may be understandable. But what about those disciples who are closest to him who had spent three years listening to his teaching and watching the way he healed the sick and comforted those who were excluded by society? They too deny and betray and hide when their expectations are not met. Have they never heard the words of Isaiah who tells us that the Messiah will not be a worldly ruler but a suffering servant? (Isaiah 52:13-53:12). Or like us have they chosen only to hear and believe what they want? We are expecting Rambo and we get Gandhi instead!
Even Mary Magdalene who stood by Jesus at the foot of the cross and was one of the first to go to the tomb doesn’t recognize Jesus on Easter morning! This woman who was one of the most devoted and loyal disciples mistakes Jesus for a gardener! (John 20:11-18). How could someone who owed so much to Jesus fail to recognize him at this most triumphant moment? Is it not because of her expectations? She went to the tomb to minister to a corpse and instead is the very first to encounter the resurrected Christ!
How often do we fail to recognize Christ in our midst, in the least of God’s children around us? Whom do we expect to encounter when we go to the tomb this Sunday? Will we recognize the risen Christ? What we know from past experience is that he probably won’t appear the way we expect him to. So let’s go with eyes and hearts wide open to see what our amazing God is up to this Easter!