~~Out of the Ashes – Palm Sunday
“Assist us Good Lord, that we may enter upon the contemplation of those mighty acts whereby you have given us life and immortality.” Amen (BCP 270)
SO LET ME GET THIS STRAIGHT, THE ORDER OF THE SHAMEFUL EVENTS OF WHAT WE CALL Jesus’ Passion, the events of the crucifixion of the faithful, loving man of God.
First they all cheered Him as He entered Jerusalem. The Messiah, their Liberator, their Spiritual Hope, their Future.
Then, when, intimidated by His popularity and message, the Roman Empire and the religious system of the day went after Jesus, they hunted Him down, and suddenly everybody stopped cheering and even the disciples ran and hid away.
Then they denied ever even knowing Him, even after he had healed their kids, heard their pain, opened their eyes, taught them love and offered them hope.
Then they just stood by silently and watched, becoming indistinguishable from the rest of the crowd that ridiculed and tortured poor Jesus until he died on the hard wood of the cross.
That’s what they did all right. I think I have that straight and it disgusts me. How many times can a man turn his head pretending he just doesn’t see? It’s still going on in our time, but the answer is not blowing in the wind, the answer hung on the cross on the first day of what we now call Holy Week - the answer is hanging on the cross.
But that’s not the whole story.
But that’s just what THEY did , AS IN THE MASSES, DID THAT FATEFUL DAY. And easy as it is to point fingers and blame for what happened to Jesus, and for the many ways that we are crucifying the earth with our wars and pollution, our racism, addictions and our politics, I’m much more interested in the answer – We need to be more focused on Jesus on the cross today, than in joining the maddening crowd in the dysfunctional blame game.
So now that we have straight what everybody else did those fateful days between Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and his crucifixion, let’s get straight on what Jesus, the answer, did. THEN DECIDE WHICH WAY YOU WILL GO FROM NOW ON, THE WAY OF THE CROWD OR THE WAY OF THE CRUCIFIED LORD.
What did Jesus do while everyone else either said nothing, ran or committed His murder in the name of God and country at that time?
Let’s see, let’s get that straight.
According to the four Gospels, while even they nailed Him to the cross Jesus’s very first words were to ask God to forgive our human ignorance and our violence and cruelty. What did Jesus do? Jesus forgave.
Then He asked His disciple John to care for His mother. What did Jesus do in His hour of challenge? Jesus cared.
Then He offered the Kingdom of Heaven to a thief also being crucified whose last dying words were, ‘Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom’. What did Jesus do? Jesus saved.
Then even in His agony, Jesus cried out the first line of psalm 22, ‘My God why have you forsaken me.’ Now most people think these were Jesus original words uttered because He was alone and stricken and feeling abandoned on that cross. But they were not Jesus own words. He was quoting the 22nd psalm which began with a cry of pained isolation but ended with a strong and bold assertion of the greatness, the power and majesty of God who is our hope and our salvation. The psalm on Jesus’s mind, the message He was trying to get across with his last dying words concluded with this note of triumph , “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord… (psalm 22 goes on to assert) for God does not hide His face from the poor but when they cry to him He hears them… May your heart live forever! … And proclaim God’s deliverance to a people yet unborn.”
That’s what was in Jesus’ heart just before He breathed His last high upon the cross - God’s power and ongoing promise – God’s commitment to the deliverance of all who call out in their suffering -while the rest of the crowd was shrouded in its shame and drunk on its violence below.
Jesus forgave. Jesus cared. Jesus saved, Jesus declared the victory of God – all from the hard wood of the cross – with His last dying breath.
Do I have that all straight?
Yes, that pretty much tells the story of how, despite the world’s rejection, the Savior kept His faith and integrity. He loved us to the end in spite of ourselves.
But oh, there is one last thing that one other person did just after Jesus took His last breath that I feel is noteworthy – and the most unlikely person at that. The Roman soldier on the scene, the Centurion at the foot of the cross, after having viewed all the horror, and probably helped it along, the Centurion said outloud what no one else had dared declare, not even the disciples, ‘Truly this was the Son of God’. He got it right. Of all people, the Roman soldier got it right in the end.
Yes, as is so often the case, the unlikely one was right about God at work among us. And though the powers of this world thought the matter of Jesus was over and done with and that no one else would ever dare to demonstrate faith like that again, fear not, for the matter of Jesus Christ was soon to rise to new and uncharted levels; Certainly not through any merit on our part, but by the sheer power and commitment of God. “For God does not hide His face from the poor and when we cry out God hears.” Remember Jesus’s last words.
And may your heart live forever! And may we, as people of Christ proclaim God’s deliverance far into the future, starting this Holy Week and extending forward in time, even to those yet unborn. Amen
The Rev. Wm. E. Exner+
~~Out of the Ashes – Palm Sunday