Psalm 118:1-2; 19-29 and Mark 11:1-11
The English writer G. K. Chesterton once praised the most soaring kind of imagination, the imagination that makes it possible to see what is really there. He said that it is this quality of imagination that makes faith in God possible.
His observation about seeing what is really there has special meaning for me because, as some of you are aware, I am color blind. When most people look out at the world they can see things I simply can’t see. Or, at least, that I couldn’t see until a few years ago when I was given the gift of seeing colors.
I didn’t acquire this gift of sight by accident. It was quite literally a gift given to me by my wife, Debbie. After doing considerable research into the subject she contacted a company that had been for several years experimenting with the development of a kind of lens that can correct for the misshapen innards of my eyes which have caused me to be red/green spectrum color blind my entire life.
To clarify, I can see a lot of colors, and there have always even been a few specific reds and a very few specific greens that I have been able to see. But they were exceptional. Most reds, most greens, I just can’t see. I had to learn to adapt to this fact and have done so fairly successfully.
For example, when driving at night through small towns especially out in the country where lighting is spare, I’ve always had a problem knowing if a blinking light was red or amber or green. Usually I have to slow down, until I can figure out the relative position of the light on the traffic signal. Color blindness isn’t fatal, unless of course you turn out to have been wrong about whether a traffic light was red or green. But color blindness does represent a real loss when it comes to discerning beauty. Now, thanks to medical science and research in special technical areas and Debbie I can see things I never saw before.
The first time I wore these glasses was on a bright, sunny, spring day. Although Debbie gave them to me at Christmas, it took awhile to get the specifications and prescription right for my eyes, so it was spring before I got to use them. As it happened that spring day, I was driving from our home at the Presbyterian Seminary in Louisville to my local coffee shop. As I approached the intersection of Alta Vista Road and Lexington Avenue, I came up to the first green light I had ever seen. I mean that literally.
When I was a little boy I thought “green light” was just a metaphor; “green lights” looked sort of dirty white to me. But on that spring day, the light was green. Really. Green. And I recognized it as such immediately. I suppose that’s where imagination comes in.
And “wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles” when I turned the corner onto Lexington Avenue, something gloriously strange appeared.
I saw a Redbud tree in full bloom, and the darned thing was red, purple-red, and pink; it glowed it was so red. I can still recall telling someone as a kid that I couldn’t for the life of me understand why people called Redbud trees Redbuds when they were clearly blue!
Now I could see. The tree isn’t blue at all. Really I was seeing a Redbud tree for the very first time.
Our scripture reading today is a familiar one. We’ve always called it the Triumphal Entry. Jesus rides a donkey into the city of Jerusalem surrounded by crowds waving palms. It is a moment rich in symbolism, but it has always left me mystified. His arrival in Jerusalem is only triumphal if we can see it in light of the cross and resurrection, if we can see it as the penultimate step on the road to the cross, knowing that God will place God’s stamp of approval on this whole life Jesus lived by allowing him to drink this cup empty and be raised from the dead.
Maundy Thursday and Good Friday through Easter (what the church has traditionally called the Triduum) is the lens through which Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem is triumphant instead of merely tragic.
Probably many if not most of the folks cheering that day alongside the road simply didn’t get it. They had no real clue what Jesus was up to. They still expected some sort of temporal liberation from Roman oppression. Even the disciples closest to Jesus struggled with this right up until the moment they met him after his death. Then, it was as though new spectacles were placed upon their eyes and gradually they became able to see that Jesus had liberated them from the fear of death and oppression and liberated them for a life free to love as he loved. And it took Easter morning to expand their imaginations so that finally they could see what God was up to. Even their hopes were too small.