Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Cross

I had the most unusual experience today at church.  Of course, today is Palm Sunday, a celebration of Jesus triumphant entry into Jerusalem.  It marks the beginning of Jesus journey to the cross.  Churches across the world wave palm fronds and remember the crowds shouting "hosanna, hosanna" to welcome the King.  The rest of the week takes a turn for the worse as Jesus partakes in the Last Supper with his disciples before his arrest.  Afterward he is turned over to the authorities and in no time, that same crowd is shouting "crucify him."

Our pastor chose to mark the alternate designation of this day as "Passion Sunday," rather than jumping from the celebration of Palm Sunday to the celebration of Easter.  Without crucifixion there would be no resurrection.  For this Sunday, our scripture was a lengthy passage from Matthew.  I've read it many times, Jesus before Pilate leading to his crucifixion.  I guess that sometimes familiarity is a bad thing.  I had to read the scripture for the congregation and right in the middle around verse 26, I came to a realization as if I were reading this for the first time.  Reading this passage about Jesus, being led as a lamb to the slaughter-- at least sacrificial animals were treated with some level of dignity and respect-- reading this passage I teared up and had to stop.  In that moment I clearly realized that I wasn't reading just a story on the page, but the story of a world gone mad, a world ready to snuff the very Son of God.  And even worse, I am a part of that world.  Not only do I live in it daily, I contribute to making it what it is.   This is the lesson of Holy Week, and the reason that Easter means so much.

 11 Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
   “You have said so,” Jesus replied.
 12 When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. 13 Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?” 14 But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor.
 15 Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. 16 At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas. 17 So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” 18 For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him.
 19 While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.”
 20 But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.
 21 “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor.
   “Barabbas,” they answered.
 22 “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked.
   They all answered, “Crucify him!”
 23 “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.
   But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”
 24 When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”
 25 All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!”
 26 Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.  27 Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. 28 They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. 30 They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. 31 After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.  32 As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross. 33 They came to a place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). 34 There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it. 35 When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. 36 And sitting down, they kept watch over him there. 37 Above his head they placed the written charge against him: THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS.
 38 Two rebels were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. 39 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:11-54, New International Version, ©2011)

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