Posted on Mar 25, 2018 by Pastor Dave Whetter
Today we begin our final week of our Lenten journey. In the church we call this Holy Week and it begins today with Palm/Passion Sunday, which I always find to be a very odd day. Today we began our time of worship with a celebration. Like those faithful followers back in the first century, we shouted Hosanna and we celebrated Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Our Messiah arrived and everyone was singing his praises. Well, not everyone was singing his praises. In fact, there were powerful people who wanted him dead, and so quickly we change from celebration to remembering betrayal, pain, grief, and sorrow as we read the story of Jesus' final days before his crucifixion. It is a sad story and one in which those of us who know the whole story wonder how it could have ever happened.
We can’t find words to explain it and for most of us we just don’t understand why it had to happen. Why did Jesus have to suffer? Why did he have to die such an excruciating death? Why did the religious and secular leaders despise him so much? The questions are endless and this is the week we are called to ponder them and to wrestle with this sad story.
But, to be honest, now that I’ve said this is the week we are to try and make sense of all this, personally I have came to the conclusion that this passion story is less an argument to be understood, and more a story to ponder. As we listen and ponder on this incredible story, we are reminded again that those who claim to follow Jesus are capable of betrayal and denial. And, we are reminded that when one stands up against the status quo and the powers of the day, even when you have a great following, there will most likely be consequences. It is an incredible story for us to ponder on, but it is not a story we need to dissect so we can come to understand it, but instead it is a story to experience and explore.
But, with that in mind, I do think we also learn something very important about why Jesus died and how that might apply to our lives. Yes, it is true that Jesus died because he was betrayed, deserted, and denied by his followers. But there is much more to that story. Jesus also died because of the actions of his enemies, both religious and secular. He challenged the powers of his day in both the religious and secular worlds and they pushed back hard. In fact, they didn’t want to be challenged and so they killed him.
But they made it look good. They first had him arrested and then they offered him a trial, but it was a sham of a trial in the high priest’s courtyard (Mark 14:59) and then to make it all legal they took him to the Roman governor, Pilate, who was more interested in in keeping the Pax Romana, Roman Peace, than pursuing justice (Mark 15:15). So, he, too, agreed to have Jesus killed.
Yes, it is true that Jesus died because his message and his way of being provoked powerful enemies. But, from my perspective what is most important for us to remember is that Jesus died because of his own self-giving love. As we read this story many of us might think that Jesus was a passive victim here. We often use language like, well, Jesus was killed by the Jews, or Pilate had Jesus killed. But one of the things I love about Mark’s story is that Mark is very clear that Jesus was no passive victim. In fact, Mark makes it clear that Jesus was in control all along. Mark is clear that Jesus’ life was not taken from him, but given by him.
Think about how Mark lays out this story. Early on, as Jesus tried to teach his disciples about what it would mean to be leaders in his movement, he said to his disciples, “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). No one understood these words at the time, but Jesus said, I will give my life for others.
Before his arrest, Jesus gathered his followers for the Passover meal and as they celebrated this meal of liberation, he changed this celebration from one of remembering their freedom from slavery in Egypt, to a celebration of remembering that they were now freed from sin. At this meal, Jesus offered his body and blood in the form of bread and wine (14:22-25) as sign of his love for them. Or what about at his so-called “trial”? As he was being examined by the religious leaders, when asked by Caiaphas if he was the Messiah, Jesus respond, “I am” (14:61-62) even though he knew those words could get him killed. And when taken to Pilate and given the chance to defend himself and save his life, he remained silent (15:1-5), which assured his death. The real reason Jesus died was because it was time and so he chose to give his life for others.
For real change to happen in this world and for God’s people to come to understand what it means to love each other, as we will hear Jesus command his followers to do on Maundy Thursday, today we are challenged to remember that, like Jesus, we are called not to fully understand this story but to experience it and to live it. Like Jesus we are called to give fully of ourselves to bring about God’s kingdom. For Jesus that meant he literally had to die and through his Resurrection, new life, that is life eternal, is given. And for you and I, the real challenge this week is to determine what must die in us for us to experience new life. Make no mistake, change will happen in our lives; the questions is will we be passive bystanders, or victims, or will we be willing participants in bringing about this change?
May this Holy Week be one of exploration and discovery for you and may we meet again this Thursday and Friday as we continue to experience Christ’s life and death so that we might fully celebrate on Easter morning that new life that has been promised. Amen.