April 09, 2016
St. Paul’s Within the Walls
Palms and hosannas, angry mobs and anguished cries. The intensity is high.
Today marks the beginning of Holy Week, the pivotal week for us as Christians as we walk with Jesus toward his passion, death on the cross and ultimately his resurrection.
We began our service by reenacting Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. But now we have put aside our palms and are following Jesus towards Calvary.
Over the next 7 days we will encounter many different people. I invite you to reflect on what it might have been like for them. There were men and women, people who knew Jesus well and people who looked on from a distance. Our Christian faith invites us to journey alongside them this week.
The central figure in this story is, of course, Jesus. How must it have felt to be taunted by a crowd that only days before had laid down their coats and cheered him on?
When have we felt abandoned and betrayed by those we considered friends or allies?
Jesus is arrested, interrogated and mocked. Perhaps this calls to mind people in our world who are treated with injustice and cruelty.
Maybe you know people who have been falsely accused, bullied or harassed, just for being who they are, or for taking a stand for what is right.
What could it possibly have been like for Jesus as his body was nailed to the cross? The excruciating pain, the humiliation, the fear? Jesus cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Are there times when we have felt such anguish or abandonment?
Jesus is quoting Psalm 22 which begins in utter lament. But this psalm continues on to affirm God’s presence in the midst of the agony. The psalm proclaims that God “did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him” (24). Perhaps Jesus is drawing strength from scripture, and reminding us that even when it feels like we have been abandoned and forgotten, God is still with us.
Perhaps as we journey through Holy Week, we identify with someone like Peter, Jesus’ disciple. In the verses just before what we heard this morning, Peter assures Jesus that he will stand by him to the very end. “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.”
And yet, when the moment of truth comes, Peter is overcome with fear and swears: “I do not know the man!”
When have we gone back on our word? When have we been too afraid to keep our promises?
Many of the people we meet this week are men, but there are also women in the story who were brave and determined, who challenged the disciples, and continue to challenge us.
One of those is the often overlooked, unnamed servant girl who exposes Peter as a follower of Jesus. She recognizes who he is and won’t let him slink away anonymously into the darkness.
Do we have the boldness to challenge others to be authentic? Are we able to hold each other accountable to the promises we’ve made?
Although Judas is not mentioned in the section we just heard, his betrayal of Jesus resonates all through it.
What motivated him to betray his teacher (and his friends)? Greed, jealousy, fear? Perhaps a complex combination of reasons. Can these same things lead us to betray those closest to us?
Pontius Pilate plays such a crucial role that we reference him every time we affirm the Creed of our faith. Pilate was the Roman governor, an important and powerful man who had the authority to sentence people even to death.
But with Jesus, Pilate turns the decision over to the crowd. He doesn’t want to exercise his power or take on the responsibility. And he certainly doesn’t want to stir up the crowd.
So he chooses the easy way out. Even though he finds no fault with Jesus, he follows the cries of the mob and releases Barabbas instead.
Are there times when we have gone against our better judgment in order to please others? When have we simply gone along with the crowd?
Two bandits were crucified with Jesus, one on the left and one on the right. They, along with the chief priests, scribes and elders, mocked Jesus and lashed out at his seeming inability – or unwillingness – to save himself and fulfill his promises to make the world right.
Are there times when we lash out and blame God for what’s happening to us? Do we feel frustrated when God doesn’t seem to answer us in our times of great need?
And finally, we meet a centurion, a Roman guard. He sees it all happen and, perhaps unexpectedly, is the first to proclaim, “Truly this man was God’s Son.”
When have we had moments of revelation? Do our moments of clarity sometimes come from unexpected places or unexpected people?
These men and women give voice to the Passion narrative. But there is also the crowd – the angry mob that cries out: “Let him be crucified!”
How terrible. And yet, how easy. When we are part of a crowd, we’re anonymous. It’s easy to shout loudly when we don’t have to account for our actions.
When have we been part of that crowd? When are we influenced by the masses instead of having the courage to stand alone in our convictions?
As we hear and reenact the familiar story this Holy Week, help us to imagine ourselves in the shoes of these individuals.
May we see with their eyes, hear with their ears and feel with their hearts so we can enter more fully into the story that lies at the very heart of our faith. Amen.