St. John's, Centreville
April 9, 2017
In the Name of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
"Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last." Betrayed by friends, arrested, tried, tortured, crucified. Those were the events of the final days of Jesus' earthly life. Why had things turned out this way? What had happened in the week between Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem, with people waving palm branches and spreading their cloaks in the path of his donkey? Why did people turn against him? Jesus preached love and forgiveness, the very opposite of the violence he was treated with in his final days.
The people were looking for a savior, a Messiah, someone to lead them to overthrow the Romans. Some people were saying that Jesus was the Messiah. Maybe he would lead them. Maybe he would overthrow the Romans and free the Jews from under their control. So they greeted Jesus like royalty when he came into Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. That's the way the people always greeted a leader - with the waving of palm branches and spreading cloaks in their path.
But the people were looking for a military leader, not someone who preached love and forgiveness. They were expecting someone to lead them in battle. Jesus did not meet their expectations. So when it came time to choose between Jesus and Barabbas, the crowds shouted for Barabbas. He had already led insurrections against the Romans. Maybe he could be successful in leading a revolt and overthrowing the Romans. Not Jesus.
So Barabbas is freed and Jesus is condemned to die. Jesus was killed, in part, because he upset the religious establishment and he did not fill the expectations of the people.
How many times have we turned against God when God does not fulfill our expectations, when God does not do what we want God to do? When we want God to fix a broken relationship, or get us the job we want, or stop the pain and suffering the way we want it stopped, to heal us the way we want to be healed - when God does not do it the way we want it done, we, too, turn on God. We reject God because God does not live up to our expectations. We want to control God and when we can't, we reject God.
Jesus did not come to sit on a throne and preside over Israel, or to be served by those who had joined him in a successful rebellion. Instead, Jesus came to kneel on the floor and wash the feet of his disciples, like a common servant. Jesus did not come to rally people to his side to fight other people. He came to lead his followers into battle against poverty, hunger, hatred and injustice. Jesus did not come to coerce people into following him. He came to invite us to follow the way of love and peace and reconciliation.
It is hard for us to hear about Jesus' death. We want to skip ahead to the joy of the resurrection. But we can't. We need to walk with Jesus through the betrayal by his friends, his arrest, his trial, his agony, and his crucifixion. As author Barbara Brown Taylor puts it, "Let us keep Jesus company this week, and stay awake with him, and forsaking our own comfort, walk with him as far as we can. Today's gospel story ends bitterly; it leaves Christ dead upon the cross, and while everything in us wants to rush to the Easter affirmation that he is also risen and he will come again, for this week at least, we are asked to stay with him where he is, to share his story and his pain like someone who is experiencing it for the first time, and to be hurt by it, and healed by it, and amazed."*
It is necessary for us to be with Jesus as he is betrayed by one of his own disciples, to be with Jesus as he agonizes in the Garden of Gethsemane, to be with Jesus as he stands alone before Pilate and is condemned by the crowd. It is necessary for us to walk with Jesus on the way to Golgotha as he stumbles under the heavy load of the cross. It is necessary for us to sit at the foot of the cross and watch as Jesus dies in a humiliating and cruel way. For us....for us.
If we love Jesus, we will follow him. If we love him, we will be with him in the agony of his betrayal and death. We need to understand that his agony is for us, his death is for us because of his love for us. Only when we have walked with Jesus through the events of this Holy Week can we understand and have reason to celebrate his resurrection on Easter Day. Amen.
*"Mixed Blessings" by Barbara Brown Taylor, page 67-68