Passion of our Lord B
March 29, 2015
Holy Week begins as our worship began today: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.” But it ends with the cross and the women, looking on from a distance. This is not what the disciples expected when Jesus entered Jerusalem on Sunday. They somehow expected to see their friend, Jesus, call upon God to make everything right; they expected that somehow he would turn their world around and ascend a royal and divine throne—and that it would all happen very soon. But they did not understand—they did not understand the kind of kingdom Jesus had been talking about. And as the women look out at the terrible scene on the hill called Golgatha, they do not know what to think. This was not what they thought would happen to Jesus.
And it is not the picture of Jesus that we like to imagine either. But look—look at this Jesus—look at this carpenter from Nazareth. Look at him. Look at his crown—a wreath of thorns—see where the thorns pierce through his flesh. See where the drops of blood run down his face. Look at his throne—a cross on which his body hangs—see where the splintered wood gouges his flesh. See how the nails impale his hands and his feet to the executioner’s crossbeams. And look at this body—see how it hangs there helpless. See how his body writhes in agony. Look at his face. See how it turns pale in the face of death. See how he gasps in pain to take another breath of air. And hear the haunting cry he makes from the cross: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” The disciples have all deserted him – only the women remain, and they watch from a distance.
On that Friday, Mary Magdalene, Salome, and the other Mary, and all the rest who had followed Jesus from Galilee went away confused and numb. Was Jesus not the one they thought he was? Could he not have come down from the cross? And why did he stay there and die? The names they had thought belonged to him—Son of God, Messiah, Christ, Savior, Lord—were none of them true? Was he just a man—a prophet, a teacher—another hero who got himself killed for speaking the truth the way he saw it?
Perhaps today we are sometimes as confused about this as the women were on that Friday. Sometimes for us, it doesn’t make sense either. Sometimes Easter just doesn’t seem to happen—at least for us. We are too familiar with death, and what we need is resurrection. Sometimes the whole thing is just plain too unbelievable. We want a God who has power and glory and gets things done. But what we get, is a God who becomes a human being and dies. And finally, if we want to understand this God at all, we have to understand why the cross is so important – why Jesus had to die.
The answer, I believe, lies in the contrast between the glory we might expect Jesus to command and the stark barrenness of the cross. Jesus chooses for himself the path of weakness, humility, and vulnerability, rather then power, honor and glory. By dying, and not saving himself, Jesus demonstrates that power and glory, whether divine or human, are not things to be grasped, but they are things for us to let go of. Jesus was in the form of God, but he did not count his equality with God a thing to be grasped. Instead, he emptied himself. He became human and became obediently human, even to the point of dying. And he did all of this trusting himself wholly and completely to God. That finally is the meaning of the cross—and Jesus becomes the Christ, our Lord and King through his death of the cross—in trusting God all the way to death. Jesus leads us on our way —he leads us into life; but the life he gives comes only through death. So often we want Easter without Good Friday—we want the resurrection without the crucifixion —we want life without death. But it cannot be, because finally the only way to true life is through the gates of death.
On Sunday, the women went to the place where Jesus had been buried—to the place of death. He was not there. He had gone before them, first into death, but then into life. And we have their witness, and faith gives us the power to follow where Jesus leads. And that turns us away from the glory and riches of our world—from all the glitter that attracts us—it turns us from these so that we can follow Jesus as his disciples— living as he calls us to live, and trusting that on the way, such living fills us with life that is abundant—now and forever. AMEN.