Go the distance

“By your endurance you will gain your souls” (Luke 21:19).

The end of Lent is not Easter; it’s this Holy Week, and it begins with Palm Sunday. Easter is in God’s hands; Palm Sunday is in ours. On Easter Day, we celebrate what God has done; on Palm Sunday we have to choose what we will do. We have to choose whether we will go the distance in our faith and take the final decisive steps to embrace the fullness of life God offers.

Our example, of course, is Jesus, who followed the way of life he had chosen – or that had chosen him – all the way to its necessary conclusion. He could have turned aside from the way to the cross and chosen a softer, safer way, quietly blending in with the crowd. He could have settled for a respectable life, one that didn’t disturb the status quo and provoke the religious and political authorities. He could have chosen to marry, raise a family, earn a modest living, and grow to a ripe and comfortable old age.

He might have become a respected leader in his community, serving on a nonprofit board or joining a service club. Maybe he would have served his congregation as a committee member or usher or Sabbath school teacher. He could have chosen to simply be a good neighbor and follow his way of faith half-heartedly, going through the motions without committing himself fully to what authentic faith requires. But doing so, he would never have known the full abundance of life that would be his.

Instead, Jesus chose to follow his faith all the way to where it would lead in the end. In the company of beasts and angels, he was tested in a wilderness of hard choices (Mark 1:12-13) and came to know that his choices would define who he would be, far more than his charisma or abilities or teachings. He learned his choices throughout life would clarify his deepest values and reveal who he was. He learned it would not be enough simply to accept God’s love; he would have to make it the defining reality that would govern all the choices life would call on him to make.

The gospels are not merely stories of Jesus’ life and teachings. They are stories of the journey of faith every one of us must make. They are stories of how we start with the Holy Spirit and God’s affirmation; how we are tested in a wilderness of hard choices to see what we’re made of; how our deepest values are clarified and revealed in the choices we make; how we must choose to be shaped by God’s will; how we choose to go the distance, take up our cross daily, and follow the way of life Jesus pioneered.

Palm Sunday is not really about Jesus and his final entry into Jerusalem. It’s about you and me and how – or whether – we choose to follow our journey of faith to its necessary completion. Will we go all the way with it, or will we choose a softer, more comfortable way? What will it look like for each of us to surrender our own wills into the will of God in every daily choice we make?

Our choices will have much in common; they will also be unique to each one of us. No one can make them for us or suggest how we ought to make them. All of us must work out the shape of our own wholeness in harmony with God working in us (Phil. 2:12-13). Every time we face anything in life, there’s an instant in which we can choose how to respond. And by our choices, we create the life we live. By our choices we embrace or reject the abundant life God offers in Christ.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish” (Heb. 12:1-2 NLT). “By your endurance you will gain your souls.”

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