Whether we realize it or not we all have expectations. When a football player enters the end-zone after a game-changing interception we expect a big team celebration. Presidential candidates are expected to kiss babies. When an application gets updated on your phone you expect new features and a new look. These and so many of the expectations of our daily lives are unspoken. No one really notices they even exist until they are not met. If a team casually walked away from the end-zone after a touchdown or a presidential candidate refused a baby, it would make the news. Take a moment sometime and read the reviews on the App Store. There are lots of unmet expectations being communicated – at varying degrees of eloquence and rationality – there.
Humankind is an odd bunch. Often times it seems we get more touchy about unspoken expectations than real differences. When I lived in the Netherlands I saw more expatriates get homesick over something that wasn’t done, rather than what was done differently. Having to pay for extra ketchup and not getting a free refill of soda at McDonalds has been enough to drive many expats in Amsterdam to patriotic speeches about their homeland. Tiny forks for fries and a strange language are taken in stride.
Prior to Jesus' crucifixion in Jerusalem the disciples had a lot of unspoken expectations for him. For generations Jews had waited on a new Elijah, a great and powerful superhero prophet who would project God’s power visibly in the world. If not Elijah, they expected a political prophet who would lead the armies of Israel to defeat Rome and bring in the “Day of the Lord” reestablishing God’s kingdom on David’s throne. As the disciples came to know Jesus they knew him as a Rabbi, a prophet, and someone who wasn’t afraid to speak the truth. As they entered Jerusalem in the week before the crucifixion each and every disciple had an unspoken script they internally were expecting Jesus to follow. They expected something historically important to happen through Jesus in Jerusalem.
In Jerusalem the disciples' expectations were not met. Jesus was arrested by the state as a terrorist, tortured, and publically executed. There was no revolution. There was no Elijah. No fire from heaven. David’s throne was still empty and Rome stilled ruled. As they watched their friend and mentor die on the cross, the disciples had to adjust their expectations. All that had been built up over the last three years had to be reset. Maybe they shouldn’t expect better than being a vassal state of Rome. Maybe a Messiah wouldn’t come. Maybe Jesus wasn’t really the great prophet they had pegged him as. At the cross the disciples saw their hopes and dreams for the future crumble before them. Instead of expecting hope, they should now expect Roman oppression and death without rescue.
Have you ever been in a place like this? Have you spent the weekend after that big audition for the school play planning for all that you’re going to do with your friends during the months of rehearsals only to find out you didn’t make the cast on Monday? Have you worked and planned for that big promotion for years only to learn in your meeting with the big boss that you’re getting a 1% cost of living increase? Did you finally get that toy they’d been advertising before cartoons for months only to find out it didn’t work as expected?
Mary Magdalene was a disciple of Jesus. In the time she came to know and love Jesus she wrote her own expectant story for what would happen in Jerusalem. Like all the disciples her expectations for a new order crumbled as Jesus breathed his last breath on the cross. On the Friday of Jesus' death, Mary and the other women disciples followed the dead body of their beloved Rabbi from the foot of the cross to the tomb. On the Sabbath they mourned his loss and the loss of their great hope for Israel’s future. Many tears were shed in prayers to God that he would finally answer his people’s prayers and free them. Early on Sunday morning as Mary arose she expected to go to the already decaying body of her great teacher, put on her bravest face, and prepare her friend for burial. Her expectation was a cold dead body and a new life as a disciple of a convicted and executed terrorist.
Even though Mary had seen Jesus perform many miracles, even though she counted herself as a disciple, even though she called Jesus Lord, Mary did not fully understand who Jesus was. The male disciples, too, approached the tomb expecting a dead body, not because the news of an empty tomb had been shared by women, but because they – like all the disciples – had rewritten their script. They had new expectations. Jesus was dead. Their future was not hopeful. They had returned to the expectations of a subjugated people simply trying to stay alive in the Roman Empire.
“Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” In the garden where the tomb Joseph of Arimathea had provided lay, Mary’s expectations of Jesus collided with the reality of who he truly was and her entire world changed. Jesus had indeed missed the mark on the disciples' expectations at the cross. But, what initially looked like an extreme failure and completely fell short of the disciples' expectations was actually God being God. In his death on the cross Jesus openly proclaimed his eternally begotten sonship of the Father and defeated death and the devil. In the death and resurrection of Jesus, God was living out his very nature.
Being God isn’t fire and revolution and not something Jesus would use to his advantage, but means “taking the nature of a servant.” The kingdom isn’t established in a great show of power, but in an innocent death on a cross. The disciples' expectations of a great historic event happening through Jesus in Jerusalem were not entirely wrong, but lacked an understanding of the magnitude of what was happening.
Jesus doesn’t leave us alone when everything seems to be falling apart. He meets us in the garden. He meets us on the road. He hears our concerns and then reveals that there is so much more to expect than the unspoken things we have lost.
Jesus isn’t a one-time Messiah who frees his people from Rome only to ascend to heaven on a chariot of fire a few decades later. Jesus is an all the time Messiah who constantly frees his people from oppression and continually builds his kingdom on earth now.
Our God isn’t a God of small miracles, but a God of wonders. The same empire that executed Jesus would worship him as Lord in only a few generations.
God doesn’t leave you with disappointment or despair, but provides a way to hope and new life.
God doesn’t hold your anger at missed expectations against you, but engages you in your sorrow and leads you to the light that is the knowledge of his eternal love, grace, and mercy.
Hear the Good News! Jesus doesn’t meet our expectations; he exceeds them in ways we can’t begin to imagine. Look for Jesus in the garden outside of your tomb of despair and sadness. Let him in to your world of sorrow. Tell him what hasn’t happened that’s bringing you down. Then, open your heart and your eyes to see and experience the unimaginable joy of Jesus triumphing over the forces of evil, darkness, and oppression in your world.
Jesus lives! Jesus reigns! Rome could not defeat him. Death could not defeat him. Sadness could not defeat him. Satan could not defeat him. Reevaluate your expectations. They will assuredly not be met and they are already too low. God grace, mercy, and love are immeasurable. Accept God. Allow him to pull you into his embrace. I cannot tell you what to expect for words cannot describe it. I can only say to expect the unexpected and expect a God who always loves and is always triumphant in the end. Amen.