Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Palm & Passion Sunday

Sunday we’ll hear the great height and depth of Jesus’ human story. Jesus rode into Jerusalem a long awaited deliverer; the crowds waved palms and the people cheered, “Hosanna, hosanna, blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.

The story didn’t end there. Jesus the King had come but he wasn’t going to have an easy coronation. He was coming for a crown of thorns. He was coming to be lifted up not on a throne of gold but on a cross of wood.
As a kid growing up in a Catholic Church in Minneapolis we read one of the passion stories in church from Matthew, Mark, or Luke every year on Palm Sunday. We read the passion from John’s Gospel in worship every year on Good Friday night. After all those years of reading the Passion in community with everyone else in church my imagination about Jesus has been shaped above all by the words that I heard.
Listen as we read the story of the passion today. Let it just sink in. Let the words swirl around you and move within you. Listen as you and I are the ones who say, “Crucify, crucify him” Every year as a kid I wanted to find a way not to say these awful words. It'd be nice to find somebody else to blame for the cross.
Through the centuries Christians have looked for scapegoats; perhaps if we could all blame someone else and drive them away we wouldn’t need to worry about the cross.
Search all you want; you won’t find anyone else to blame. The hard truth, that all of us humans are to blame for the cross comes through 2000 years later as we read this story of Jesus death.
480 years ago Martin Luther wrestled with his own realization that he had something to do with Christ's death. Luther wrote hauntingly,
The real and true work of Christ’s passion is to make man conformable to Christ, so that man’s conscience is tormented by his sins in like measure as Christ was pitiably tormented in body and soul by our sins. This does not call for many words but for profound reflection and a great awe of sins. Luther's Works, Vol. 42 : Devotional Writings I. Page 10 Edited by Pelikan, Oswald and Lehmann. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999, c1969.
The shame of Christians through the centuries is our misguided search for another individual or group to blame for Christ's death. Look no further than yourself. You can see the very one who Christ died to save. Look at your own sins and see how your life has called out, “crucify, crucify him.”

Our age is ripe with images of the Passion. It’s there in Mel Gibson's film, in Christian art for the last 2000 years, and our own reading of scripture. These are the bloody unpleasant details of God’s saving love for us. Martin Luther wrote,
You must get this thought through your head and not doubt that you are the one who is torturing Christ thus, for your sins have surely wrought this. (Ibid p. 9)
Today we sit in our listening and realize the depth of God's love and the reality of Jesus' suffering for us. But we must not leave ourselves forever at the foot of the cross because Jesus did not remain on the cross. The cross was not Jesus' finale. Christians who were dead because of sin now rise to new life just as Jesus rose.
Today we hear what the devil thought was the end of the story. We hear as our Lord breaths his last on the cross; but in watching both the horror of the cross and the wonder of his rising we see the true heart of God. Luther said that this is God's “friendly heart” which reaches out for sinners. As you read the passion listen to the words that spill from your lips and know that you are the one he died to save. Know that his resurrection happened and that you will rise with him. AMEN.

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