False Springs! We’ve had our share of them. How we long for spring and the renewal of life each year!
Stiff from a long winter of snow, ice and rain; worn out from struggling into overshoes and heavy coats; bored with cabin fever, shut up like chickens in a coop; aching to get out to the garden, to grab a handful of good black dirt!
To say we welcome spring is to understate the case. We yearn for it! We long to see the crocus!
On a day in February we get the groundhog report. Since his shadow has escaped detection we believe spring will come early. And there are some warm days. “Unseasonably warm,” we observe. Geese are spotted flying north. Buds on trees begin to swell. Time to clean the golf clubs and check the fishing tackle.
On a Saturday morning reserved for the first outing, we see robins — in the snow. Tulips stand in the garden, with snow about their skirts, looking like awkward guests who have arrived at a party — early. And old-timers say: “We told you so. We’ve lived in Kansas too long to be surprised by an early spring.” With a grudge, we pull the overshoes and coats from their premature storage. The pall of winter settles down again. The false spring has done its work.
On a promising day of spring, Jesus made His way to Jerusalem. A recent event had encouraged His followers to believe the springtime of the Kingdom was budding. One who marched among them — at a respectable distance — was Lazarus, recently from among the dead. Along the path, crowds shouted praise because of his deliverance from the tomb. He was evidence of Jesus’ power!
“Hosannah!” they sang, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” The people’s song stunned Jerusalem’s officials who sought to put Jesus and his grave-cloaked friend to death.
Because of what happened we have named that day “Palm Sunday.” We call it a “Triumphal Entry.” As parades go, it was probably no match for our splendid Rose Parade. It wouldn’t compare to a modern extravaganza. But for those who marched into the city then, it was a breath of spring.
For Israel, winter’s long wait seemed over. The lonely night-time vigil of the Kingdom was past. Messiah had come! Deliverance from Rome seemed in sight. Visions of David danced in their heads, for he had founded Israel as a nation; he had established a capitol, a court, a government, a kingdom. Israel had been powerful and respected. The poor and oppressed were treated with justice. Such glory had long departed, and its renewal was long overdue.
Now these simple folk saw, as the religious and political leaders did not, the Kingdom in the pangs of rebirth. God would rule again! The supremacy of Israel would again be felt among the nations. Yahweh again would dwell in the temple.
But it was a False Spring! Soon their songs choked in their throats. Hosannahs became dust in their lungs. The joyful crowd which swelled the chorus became the angry mob. Their song of triumph turned into a coarse chant: “Crucify Him. We have no king but Caesar.” The hopes of many lay lifeless on the ground.
And so the scene is repeated, played over in each generation. It may be the story of our own pilgrimage.
We, like those pilgrims of old, often begin with noble motives, high hopes, clear visions, strong resolve. We are, as they were, eager to shout “Hosannah!” The enthusiasm of those around us is contagious. Then comes a day when we realize we have not counted the cost.
Our house is too much. We have overbuilt. The enemy has out-manned and out-flanked us. It is prudent now to look the other way and to take up another song. The prevailing powers have made it quite clear about who butters our bread and where realism dwells. Our ideals are put aside for more “practical” approaches to life. And we allow ourselves to admit what we thought was a triumph was only a False Spring.
Yet even a False Spring can be a taste; a harbinger of things to come. Though winter has not had its last hurrah, spring will come again!
So take heart! “Palm Sunday” is a symbol of great things to come, of resurrection. The False Spring reminds us we cannot move from Palm Sunday to Easter without passing over Golgotha and through the tomb. For it is true that as soon as we are born we begin to die. It is also true that before we can begin to live we must learn to die. Only when we have mastered that lesson are we free for abundant living.
How can we master that lesson? Recall the Lord’s word: “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.”
We have passed from death to life. There is no need to live in the shadow of death, nervous as starlings that can be frightened by a mere clap of the hands. Once we have come to grips with that truth we can get on with what is significant. Realizing winter returns after a False Spring but knowing that true spring will come, we can abandon pretense and get on to living with purpose. Death has been conquered and we can sing the doxology:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is thy victory?
O death, where is thy sting?
Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory
through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:54-57)
We do not despair then. Today is only a kind of False Spring. Christ did not go riding into a mere piece of real estate, no matter how much or how often we call it a “Holy City.” He rode to His destiny to seal His fate and the future of all who believe in Him.
This story is a symbol of things to come, of things as they can be, for that False Spring assures us the Kingdom will come to those who have eyes of faith.
Even as the shadow of a cross hangs over this parade, making our celebration short lived, let this festive day — these songs of joy and triumph — encourage us to walk in faith toward a garden of agony and a hill of suffering, confident that night will pass and a third day will be ushered in.
That False Spring says “Not yet. Wait a little longer. We must first pass the cross and the tomb.”
“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you. To him be the dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 5:10).