Sermon for Passion/Palm Sunday, Year B
Based on Mk. 14:1 - 15:47
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
For millions of Christians around the world, today marks the beginning of Holy Week. It's a time that we focus in on Jesus Christ's last days of life in the world ~ reaching their culmination in Christ's suffering and dying an agonizing, cruel death on the cross. No faithful Christian on the face of this earth is able to remain indifferent or unmoved by the events of Christ's Passion.
The tragic, yet victorious drama of Christ's Passion effects and involves US ALL. There is an overwhelming amount of material in the Passion that one might focus on. Today, we'll explore a few brief snapshot reflections upon the Passion story, which point to some important questions and issues FOR US ALL. Some of us may wish to ponder those questions and issues further in our devotion time at home this Holy Week.
Today, we like that ancient crowd who cried hosannas, would much rather celebrate Palm Sunday and forget about Passion Sunday. We like that ancient crowd who welcomed Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, find it much easier to celebrate victory and triumph than we do to remember the suffering and death of Jesus. Our cries of victory and triumph, like the ancient crowds', can all-too-easily be transformed into cries of condemnation and rejection due to "peer pressure" or "group think." We can compromise our personal integrity fairly easy within the anonymity of a crowd. It still happens all the time in most institutions of our society, including the church.
As the action-packed days of that first Holy Week zoomed by, a woman, who, to this very day remains unnamed, entered Simon the leper's house. Once inside, she seems to have shocked and offended everyone ~ except Jesus, by proceeding to anoint him with very expensive ointment of pure nard. An "ordinary person" offers Jesus her act of love, generosity and service. Her ministry here is important to and appreciated by Jesus. We too are "ordinary persons," sometimes even unnamed like this woman. We also are reminded by this woman and her ministry to Jesus that: there is room for all of us to grow in our acts of love, generosity and service to Jesus.
Then, there's Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus' very own disciples. Had Jesus not chosen, loved and trusted his disciples, even Judas? Had not this chosenness, this love, this trust deepened the quality of relationship between Jesus and Judas, more so than many others who were not disciples? All this, only to be betrayed by Judas' kiss! In this encounter, do not both Jesus the betrayed and Judas the betrayer suffer and die in more ways than one? What happens when we've been betrayed by someone close to us? What happens when we, like Judas, betray someone else ~ is that not the same as betraying Jesus himself?
After Jesus has his Last Supper with the disciples, do we not notice a haunting sadness in his voice, as he tells the disciples that they "will all fall away" from him? Yet, impetuous, proud, boastful Peter says He Will Not Fall Away Or Deny Jesus. Not Him, After All He's The Rock Isn't He? Maybe It Would Be Better To Describe Him As Rocky.
As the scene quickly moves on to the high priest's courtyard, Peter finds himself doing exactly what he said he would not do. Do we, sometimes like Peter, make rash, hasty decisions, without thinking through the consequences for others and ourselves? Do we, like Peter, become too proud and boastful, making promises too large for us to keep or live up to?
Then, there's the defenders of the "status quo," SOME, NOT ALL! of the Jewish leaders. Were they not protecting themselves and their people from this rabble-rouser Jesus? They were only defending their temple, their God and their system of law and order. Do we also defend the "status quo" of a tidy, predictable, secure, safe lifestyle? Do we, like SOME of the Jewish leaders of Christ's day, ignore the prophets and reformers who remind us of our responsibility toward the poor and downtrodden in our society?
Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator, at first seems rather puzzled about Jesus. However, as some of the religious leaders and crowds pressure him to crucify Jesus, he gives in ~ he travels the path of least resistance and does the politically expedient thing. There are times when we also travel the path of least resistance, giving in to political expediency. We do it to keep the peace and avoid conflict in our homes, at work, at school, at church; we do it because we're afraid others will reject us if we think for ourselves and do what is right; we do it because we want to be popular and successful; we likely do it for dozens of other reasons too, which we may not even be fully conscious of until later, when we reflect more deeply upon it.
Moving on further into the Passion story, the so-called trial of Jesus is now over, the sentence is given and the soldiers, in an act of cold, cruel torture, mock, whip and crucify Jesus. Jesus continues to be crucified in our day too by the use of more "sophisticated" torture chambers; where innocent people are maimed, mangled, and killed by the barbaric acts of soldiers, death squads, terrorist groups, and secret police. Nations held hostage to unspeakable human rights violations, with ordinary, peace-loving citizens "disappearing" without a trace daily ~ never to be seen alive again by their loved ones.
As Jesus hung on the cross in excruciating pain and agony, several of his women disciples remained tenacious and indomitable, watching Jesus die, loyal to the bitter and tragic end. Two of them, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joses, also watched Joseph of Arimathea place Jesus' body inside a burial tomb. Do we, like the women disciples, not also need to remain stubbornly loyal to Jesus? Is this not especially true in our context of many competing gods all around us, tempting us constantly to be loyal to them, rather than to our One, True God?
As we continue our journey into this Holy Week, may we be deeply moved and strengthened by Christ's Passion. May this, in turn, inspire us to live our lives as faithful disciples of Jesus, bearing the cross he has given each one of us. In so doing, may we be drawn ever more closely to Jesus and the meaning of his suffering and death for us.
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