Tag Archives: Palm Sunday

A Complicated Praise Simplified on Palm Sunday [OR First Responders and Hospital Workers Are Human Too] Matthew 21:1-11

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on April 5, 2020

[sermon begins after this Bible reading]

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 fulfill 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.”

[sermon begins]

Ordinarily on Palm Sunday, we tackle the whole Passion story from Jesus’ palm parade into Jerusalem right onto the cross and into his burial in the tomb.  I can’t speak for you all right now, but my mind’s at a saturation point and I find smaller doses more helpful. So, a smaller dose it is. The rest of the story will unfold this week on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.

In the story today, the people who came to Jerusalem with Jesus are the crowds who scatter palm branches and cloaks on the ground in front of him as he parades into Jerusalem on a colt and a donkey.[1] Earlier in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus knows what’s ahead of him in Jerusalem.[2] He’s been telling his followers what’s going to happen when he gets there. In other Bible stories, Jesus is often vague and mysterious. Not this time. His followers, the “crowds” who went ahead of him into Jerusalem throwing palm branches and cloaks, knew Jesus would be killed. It was the city folk in the turmoil of Jerusalem who didn’t know. These city folk ask, “Who is this?” It’s a fair question given the turmoil created by crowds of Jesus followers along with Jesus himself, the donkey, colt, palm branches, and cloaks.

“Who is this?” In Matthew’s gospel, God’s holiness is given through Jesus to people who didn’t fit the definition of holy or even worthy of holy consideration. Earlier in Matthew, Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit…blessed are those who mourn…blessed are the meek… blessed are the merciful…blessed are those who are persecuted….blessed are you when people revile you…”[3]  Jesus’ words were NOT describing a typical in-crowd back in the Bible’s day. Jesus widened the circle – pulling in people who previously had no business showing up there. Jesus made holy the very people who were not considered holy. Making the unworthy people holy made the powers that be unhappy – murderously unhappy – with Jesus.

The people following Jesus, waving branches and throwing cloaks, were drawn into the expanded circle of previously unimaginable holiness. Perhaps that was part of their enthusiasm on entering Jerusalem. The enthusiastic gratitude of people who didn’t get it but were on their way to understanding what Jesus was doing for them.

When reading the gospel to write today’s sermon, the first thing that came to mind was the crowd lauding Jesus; but instead of palm fronds and cloaks, I saw masks and white coats being waved in the air and thrown down on the road. In the last couple of weeks, there’s been praise heaped on first responders and hospital workers of all kinds. It’s a complicated praise. Most of us don’t totally get what these paragons of healthcare virtue do but most of us are on the way to understanding it. These people, by their chosen work, are at greater risk to themselves and are also the very people we hope will be around to take care of us if we get sick.

The symbols of their self-sacrifice have become masks and personal protective equipment. As PPE supplies catch up to demand, a variety of manufacturers have converted their production lines into ventilator and N95 mask components, distilleries are making hand sanitizer, and seamstresses both amateur and professional have begun making homemade masks to help regular people and to help healthcare workers prolong the life of their N95s. Many of the rest of us are simply trying to stay out of the way to flatten the curve and lessen the demands on hospitals at any given point in time. These efforts acknowledge the daily risk of healthcare workers. They’re also the tangible, complicated praise of a society depending on their care when it’s most desperately needed. We are at the mercy of healthcare workers who are gifted to heal. Our praise is a complicated praise, indeed!

Please hear me say that these folks deserve our utmost respect and thoughtful actions. The videos of gratitude for them are overwhelming to watch. The stories from my family, friends, and colleagues in hospitals are awe-inspiring. I also want to encourage us to acknowledge their humanity, make space for their fear, and do what’s possible to mitigate the danger they face daily. Our adoration of folks, complicated by our potential need for them, is as tricky for the receivers of that praise as it is for those of us giving it.  What I’m trying to say is that a self-sacrificial act is, by definition, one in which the person doing the giving understands there is no capacity to make up for what is lost in the gift.

On Palm Sunday, we can barely understand what the humbled, servant king Jesus was headed towards. He knew and understood that God’s love was big enough for the whole world and personal enough to be experienced by each person. He knew that his ministry of sharing God’s love would not go unnoticed. For crying out loud, there were enough people cheering him on his way into Jerusalem to create turmoil in the city. These people had been touched by Jesus’ ministry of holy inclusion during a time when they had been, at best, ostracized, and, at worst, tortured and killed. They knew that his ministry to them put him in the murderous path of people who felt that they knew better how to apply God’s love to only the appropriate, worthy people.

Regardless of whether or not we understand the lengths to which God goes to get our attention; regardless of whether or not we can see that Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem had only one possible outcome given those who would do anything to maintain their power; and regardless of whether or not we can hold the complexity of a non-violent God who brings redemptive grace to shame-addled people; we can still offer our complicated praise to Jesus. Or, let’s try something else…we could simplify our praise because maybe it’s not complicated at all.

Our praise of Jesus is not transactional. It’s we who make it complicated because we often think of giving in terms of what we’ll receive in return. Give-and-take or quid pro quo are null and void. Our praise does not inspire greater love on God’s part. Either the love of God through Jesus is unconditional or it’s not. Either God so loves the world, the whole world, or God doesn’t. We’re the ones who complicate it by shaming ourselves or other people into unworthy categories. Thankfully, Jesus’ grace is not distributed based on a graded curve that rates only some of us as worthy of God’s love. Jesus flattens the curve all the way flat. It’s appalling to stop and think about who’s included next to us on the flat line. Appalling enough that what happens next to Jesus in Jerusalem is no surprise. It’s simply worthy of our praise.

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!

Now receive this blessing…

God almighty send you light and truth to keep you all the days of your life.

The hand of God protect you, the holy angels accompany you,

and the blessing of almighty God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit +,

be with you now and forever. Amen.

________________________________________________________

[1] John Petty, retired pastor from All Saints Lutheran Church, Aurora, CO. Commentary on Matthew 21:1-11. March 30, 2020. https://www.progressiveinvolvement.com/progressive_involvement/2020/03/palm-sunday-matthew-21-1-11.html?fbclid=IwAR3kZnjv3wuDSvn6x4iftOIMR08mPNT-6PDlJTiJxYVsnaepBa8fywsDJHI

[2] Matthew 16:21-23; 17:22-23; and 20:17-19

[3] Matthew 5:3-11

Crosses Here, Crosses There, Crosses, Crosses Everywhere. Why? Mark 15 and Philippians 2:5-11

* Photo montage by Rick Vanderpool, CrossInAmericaTrail.com “A Photojournalist’s History of Christianity in America”

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on March 25, 2018

[sermon begins after note and short Bible reading]

** Palm and Passion Sunday note ** Today includes the celebration of Palm Sunday as Jesus enters Jerusalem for the last time.  Palm fronds are waved and the Bible story is read. Then worship shifts to the Passion of Christ – the church’s words for describing Jesus’ suffering from arrest to crucifixion (from Late Latin: passionem “suffering, enduring”). The Passion is read from the Gospel of Mark.  Worship today links with Good Friday worship later this week when we will hear the Passion from the Gospel of John.  The distinct voices of these two gospel writers allow us to claim by faith that the cross is simultaneously an instrument of suffering and a tree of life drawing us to faith.

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.

The Passion story from Mark is posted at the end of the sermon.

[sermon begins]

Crosses here, crosses there, crosses, crosses everywhere.

Crosses on top, crosses below,

Crosses needled in ink, crosses gilded to glow,

Crosses here, crosses there, crosses, crosses everywhere.[1]

Why? Why is there a cross outside, sitting on a bell tower 100 feet in the air? Why is there a 40 foot cross inside the Sanctuary; a fragmented multi-colored glass cross in Christ Chapel? Why do we make the sign of the cross?[2] Why do I wear one day in and day out?

In front of the cross, the palm parade waves a momentary filter. The highest honor in ancient Rome was a triumph parade – entering town in victory.[3] In Jesus’ case, triumph flipped quickly to a parade of a different sort. In this parade, Simon of Cyrene carried a cross for the one who would soon hang on it. Simon showed up to watch the action and became a part of it.[4] It’s hard to imagine that he stuck around after dropping off the cross. His ongoing presence is unlikely when even Jesus’ disciples had run away or watched from a distance. Even we listen across a distance gap of about 2,000 years. Even as the cross stands over and against the conventional wisdom of respectability, ideology, and economics. Even as we say we care about this death on the cross. To the point that we care isn’t the point. Rather, the point is that God cares.

God cares SO much that God’s self-sacrifice in Jesus becomes the event on which the whole scheme hangs. And it doesn’t seem to be about dishing up Easter with a side of tragedy just for dramatic effect. There’s something deeper. Something about this death that we cannot look away from. Public. Loud. Crying. Gasping. Jesus dies the ultimate scapegoat. The powers that be assured that he’s over and done so that their power remains unchecked. Holy Week presses slow motion over the scene for us. And it could stay just that – a slow motion story that takes a few extra verses to read while we do our best to seem patient. But for some of us, this is the main event because the longing, denial, betrayal, ridicule, pain, abandonment, and death are all too close to home.  The cross is the main event because we end up in tombs of our own making or someone else’s and the cross becomes the only thing that illuminates the shadows of our experience with anything close to resembling sense. The cross is the part of God’s promise that God’s hand is not inflicting suffering but instead is the very thing sustaining us through it.

I’ve said this recently but it bears repeating. Through the Passion and death on the cross, there is not a hand raised in violence against the people who are around Jesus, even the ones who took an active role. Not one hair on their heads or cell in their skin is injured as each one takes part in his execution. It’s not simply the religious leaders who played a part. Everyone around the story took their turn. The disciples were passive but still did nothing to prevent the outcome. They denied, ran away, or watched from a distance. Not one person in the story is innocent in Jesus’ death on the cross. One thing this means is that the cross is an invitation to put the truth of ourselves into the hands of the one who opens his arms to all as he is crucified.

The truth is that we are capable of dehumanizing violence, of denial, of running away when times get hard, of watching bad things happen from a distance, of not getting involved. Paradoxically, we are also the ones who are baptized into Christ’s death. We are enlivened by the Spirit through the waters of our baptism which means we are filled with the capacity of the one who died on the cross. Paul writes along this line to the Philippians, “Let the same mind be in you that was in 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.”

One way to think about Paul’s emphasis of mind, humility, and obedience to the death is to consider the life of Christ Jesus that led to his inevitable, public execution on the cross. He repeatedly challenged religious and political authorities by eating with social outcasts, feeding hungry people, and healing sick ones of disease and demons. He never let anyone off the hook for ignoring the needs of the poor. It’s fairly clear that the singular focus of Christ’s compassion became more than pesky to the powers that be.  So incessant was the compassion of Christ Jesus that was he crucified, died, and was buried. His broken body was taken down from the cross, packed in spices, wrapped in linen, and laid in a tomb by his friend Joseph. Mary Magdalene and Mary the Mother of Joses watched the stone as it was rolled against the door of the tomb.

Christ’s crucifixion, death, and burial are signified by the crosses on our buildings and bodies. Symbols of the promise that we are baptized into Christ’s death. Baptized into the same mind, humility, and obedience to compassion that led to his death for us. For you. In this most holiest of weeks, the slow motion draws us deeper into the promise of this good news. Thanks be to God and amen.

___________________________________________________________

[1] It took me awhile to remember where this familiar poetic rhythm and sound came from in my brain but finally remembered just before posting that it comes from the children’s book, Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown (1947). The end of the book: “Goodnight stars, goodnight air, goodnight noises everywhere.” I read it to my children when they were small so many times that it’s woven itself into my brain. It seems a fitting comfort when talking about how I feel about the cross.

[2] Matthew Skinner. Sunday of the Passion (Palm Sunday) on Sermon Brainwave podcast for March 25, 2018. http://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx?lect_date=02/23/2014&lectionary=rcl

[3] Ibid., Rolf Jacobson.

[4] Ibid., Karoline Lewis.

______________________________________________________________

Mark 15 (add the 14th chapter for even more of the Passion)

As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. 2Pilate asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ He answered him, ‘You say so.’ 3Then the chief priests accused him of many things. 4Pilate asked him again, ‘Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.’ 5But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.

6 Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked. 7Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. 8So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom.9Then he answered them, ‘Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?’ 10For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. 11But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. 12Pilate spoke to them again, ‘Then what do you wish me to do* with the man you call* the King of the Jews?’ 13They shouted back, ‘Crucify him!’ 14Pilate asked them, ‘Why, what evil has he done?’ But they shouted all the more, ‘Crucify him!’ 15So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.

16 Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters*); and they called together the whole cohort.17And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. 18And they began saluting him, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ 19They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. 20After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

21 They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. 22Then they brought Jesus* to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). 23And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. 24And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take.

25 It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. 26The inscription of the charge against him read, ‘The King of the Jews.’ 27And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left.*29Those who passed by derided* him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30save yourself, and come down from the cross!’ 31In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32Let the Messiah,*the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.’ Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.

33 When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land* until three in the afternoon. 34At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’* 35When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, ‘Listen, he is calling for Elijah.’ 36And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.’ 37Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. 38And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he* breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’*

40 There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.

42 When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, 43Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.44Then Pilate wondered if he were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he had been dead for some time.45When he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph. 46Then Joseph* bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body,* wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. 47Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body* was laid.

The Acrobatics of Palms and Passion (Wait, A Colt AND A Donkey?!) Matthew 21:1-11, Matthew 27:11-56, and Philippians 2:5-11

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!”

[sermon begins]

 

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.[1]  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.”[2]

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.[3]  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.”[4]  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.[5]  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.”[6]

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.[7]

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.[8]  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.[9]  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.

____________________________________________________________

[1] The Passion of Christ is from Late Latin: passionem meaning “suffering, enduring.”

[2] Matthew 27:19

[3] 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

[4] Matthew 27:46

[5] Ibid., Working Preacher podcast. Matthew Skinner, Professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary.

[6] Philippians 2:6-8

[7] Ibid., Working Preacher podcast. Rolf Jacobsen, Assistant Professor of Old Testament, Luther Seminary.

[8] San Damiano Cross meaning: https://www.monasteryicons.com/product/Story-of-the-San-Damiano-Crucifix/did-you-know

[9] 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.