Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on April 9, 2017
[sermon begins after two Bible readings, really it does. Philippians reading is at end of sermon]
Matthew 21:1-11 When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2saying to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. 3If anyone says anything to you, just say this, “The Lord needs them.” And he will send them immediately.*’ 4This took place to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,
5 ‘Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’
6The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8A very large crowd* spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
‘Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
10When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’ 11The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’
Matthew 27:11-56 Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You say so.” 12 But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer. 13 Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you?” 14 But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed. 15 Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted. 16 At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus Barabbas. 17 So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” 18 For he realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over. 19 While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.” 20 Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed. 21 The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” 22 Pilate said to them, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” All of them said, “Let him be crucified!” 23 Then he asked, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!” 24 So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” 25 Then the people as a whole answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” 26 So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified. 27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. 28 They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. 31 After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him. 32 As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross. 33 And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), 34 they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. 35 And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; 36 then they sat down there and kept watch over him. 37 Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” 38 Then two bandits were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. 39 Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” 41 In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, 42 “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, “I am God’s Son.’ ” 44 The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him in the same way. 45 From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 46 And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 47 When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.” 48 At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. 49 But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” 50 Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. 51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. 53 After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. 54 Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”
Moving from Palm parade to Jesus’ trial and crucifixion during worship is nearly as acrobatic as Jesus sitting on the colt and the donkey. Somehow it gets managed but it’s a stretch. Since no one is Jesus but Jesus, we’re going to start out on one thing while we’re together this morning. And that is the notion of innocence. Innocence jumps out of the Passion of Christ, the church’s way of describing Jesus’ suffering from arrest to crucifixion. At last Thursday’s Lenten soup supper, we talked about the Palm Sunday reading. Someone mentioned how the children parading in with palms for the Bible reading is affecting because of their innocence. And once again I was struck by this notion of innocence – what it means and who it describes.
Governor Pilate begins questioning Jesus. Accusations fly from the religious leaders. Jesus says very little and doesn’t respond to them. Governor Pilate senses something is amiss. Trying to find a way out, he follows his custom of releasing a prisoner, putting the choice before the crowd between Jesus the Messiah and the notorious Jesus Barabbas. In the middle of the political jockeying, the governor’s wife and First Lady of Judaea sends word. “Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.”
She called Jesus, “…that innocent man…” What strikes me is that no one else can really wear that title. Even the guy we might call the innocent bystander, Simon of Cyrene, is compelled to help carry the cross. So is he innocent? What about the women watching from a distance, the friends and disciples who followed and provided for him? Are they innocent? Who qualifies as innocent? It’s a fair question. Governor Pilate washes his hands and says to the crowd, “I’m innocent of this man’s blood;” yet when we confess the creed we still say, “…suffered under Pontius Pilate.” His wife tries to intervene but to no avail. Is she innocent?
At the end of the day Jesus is still crucified, still dead. No one stopped it…including him. The presence or absence of innocence seems irrelevant. Jesus’ near-silence in the story is such a contrast to the noise of everyone and everything else right down to the earth shaking and the rocks splitting. There’s a lot of noise from most everyone and everything but Jesus. He gives only one set of what’s known as his seven last words in Matthew’s telling of the crucifixion, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” During Good Friday evening worship, this one from Matthew and six more in other gospels will be sung by the choir. For today, just one. Prior to Jesus’ passion, he uses plenty of words in teachings, conversations, parables, healings, and prayers. Now? Not so much. Just quiet. As the people around him turn up their volume, he grows quieter.
When we hear the crucifixion read to us we can think we already know what it’s telling us. Some of us hear about Jesus’ death and reject it as having no importance to faith because caricatures seem too easily drawn about Jews or Romans or atonement theories in general. Some of us reject Jesus’ death as inhumane torture and on that basis then has nothing to tell us. Some of us get lost in shame at the foot of the cross realizing there are no innocents and seem to make the cross all about ourselves, the other side of the coin of pride. These are just a few of the ways we can get lost in the shadow of the cross. So let’s try something else.
Paul writes to the Philippians:
“…Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.”
We hear Paul’s confession of faith that Jesus in the form of God emptied himself by being born human, humbling himself, and ending up dead on a cross. When we see Christ crucified, we see God. We see God who suffers on behalf of the world.
A few weeks ago I met with a Rabbi in my office here at the church. We are doing some leg-work for the interfaith group we belong to and we were talking about sacred symbols and was there any one symbol that would work to represent the whole. This was important because the larger group had previously discussed blowing a shofar, a ram’s horn, of sacred importance in the Jewish tradition of atonement. To make a point of comparison as to how symbols have multiple interpretations, the rabbi pointed out the San Damiano cross icon on my wall and said it was a symbol of torture and death. I said, “Yes. And to me it is also a symbol of self-sacrifice.” The rabbi nodded and said, “See?” My take-away from that moment is how our confessions of faith, beyond the Apostle’s Creed, find ways to be said out loud.
Holy Week worship continuing on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday gives us a chance to figure out our own words, our confession of faith. There was a time when Holy Week made no sense to me in all its dark mystery. I just begged for Easter already. Now, I can hardly wait. Jesus said and did radical things that led to his death. His triumphal entry on the colt and donkey reveals a kingship. It’s an odd sort of kingship. One that empties and suffers and dies rather than raise a hand of violence. One that cries out of pain, silence, and loneliness to meet us in our own pain, silence, and loneliness. God’s suffering through Christ crucified is how God is made known to us. Thanks be to God.
 The Passion of Christ is from Late Latin: passionem meaning “suffering, enduring.”
 Matthew 27:19
 Karoline Lewis, Associate Professor of Preaching and the Marbury E. Anderson Chair in Biblical Preaching, Luther Seminary. Working Preacher podcast on Matthew 27:11-54 for April 9, 2017. http://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx?podcast_id=866
 Matthew 27:46
 Ibid., Working Preacher podcast. Matthew Skinner, Professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary.
 Philippians 2:6-8
 Ibid., Working Preacher podcast. Rolf Jacobsen, Assistant Professor of Old Testament, Luther Seminary.
 San Damiano Cross meaning: https://www.monasteryicons.com/product/Story-of-the-San-Damiano-Crucifix/did-you-know
 There are Holy Week worship services everywhere. Augustana worship times are Thursday 11a/7p; and Friday 12p/7p.
Philippians 2:5-11 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.