20 March 2016
Take my lips, Oh Lord, and speak with them; take our minds and think with them. Take our hearts and set them on fire, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
One day last week, while Fiona and I were working to get everything ready for Holy Week,
one line of today’s Gospel reading just jumped off the page at me. Let me share it. The reading opens with Jesus being brought before Pilate but, remember, when Pilate learned Jesus was a Galilean he sent him off to Herod. This is what stood out for me. The Gospel tells us that: “When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been wanting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some sign.” Herod was very glad to see Jesus. He had heard about Jesus. He wanted to see some sign. It left me wondering, what about us? Can you place yourself in Herod’s shoes? What would that have been like, to sit in judgement, to ask questions and receive no answer? To listen to the scribes and chief priests accusing Jesus? At my very best it’s hard to get my mind around that moment in time. It’s not a place I want to stand. It’s nothing I want to experience. Still, today is Palm/Passion Sunday and we stand poised, caught up in our encounter with Christ’s passion. Now, “passion” is not generally a word we associate with the church, is it? We more often associate passion with strong physical desire between two people, or with the violence of tabloid headlines. But remember, passion simply means strong emotion. Here’s the thing. While the focus of Palm/Passion Sunday is about what happened to Jesus long ago, safely retold year by year. It is much more than an invitation to watch from a safe distance. This Sunday of the passion is solidly about today. It is about someone needing help, or looking for hope. It is about someone who needs a meal and a safe place to sleep, or a friend to sit through a hard time with. It’s about being confronted with all those questions brought up when we see the needs of the world around us knowing all the while that there are no easy answers. This Passion Sunday is an invitation to hear and to respond to God’s voice calling us. It is an invitation to stand with Jesus and to care as Jesus cared for those who stand on the margins. It is about embracing those strong emotions and walking with Jesus into new life I want to ask you to use your holy imagination again for just a minute. Close your eyes. Imagine you are standing there near the cross where Jesus hangs. You are close enough to see what’s going on, close enough to hear the words spoken, even over the noise of the crowd. What kind of day is it? What does the air feel and smell like? What can you hear? What emotion are you most aware of? If you could stand in the place of any one person there at the cross, who would it be?
Would it be one of the women who followed Jesus? Would it be just some nameless person in the crowd? Would it be one of those leaders scoffing at the crucified Jesus? Would it be one of the soldiers, casting his lot, hoping to win an extra piece of clothing? Listen! Did you hear Jesus as he forgave those who nailed him to the cross? I think that last is what stood out most clearly for me as I entered imaginatively into the drama of that distant time. “Father forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” “Father, forgive them” Jesus has just been crucified between two criminals. He has just been stripped and nailed to his cross. The soldiers are casting lots for his clothing. And he prays, “Father forgive them”, , “they do not know what they are doing.” How do those words, that prayer, strike you? Stand there for just a moment, as best you can experience for yourself the time, the place. Having faithfully chosen the path of obedience to God, even to the point of crucifixion, Jesus speaks. “Father forgive” Are you startled at his words. Are you unsettled somehow by them? Is this the sign that Herod was hoping for, that we all hope for? After all, who prays that way, hounded and humiliated, stripped and beaten, crucified and facing death? It makes more sense, in our human minds, to pray: “Oh Lord, these people have not understood me, they have hurt me, break them, Lord, break them now. They don’t deserve what I have given”. Or, at the very least, it makes more sense to us to pray: “help me Lord, I hurt, take away the pain, I am scared, have mercy, save me.” But those prayers are not Jesus’ prayers. Jesus prays “forgive”. Jesus understands just exactly what it is to be human and he prays, “they don’t know what they are doing”. Who, just exactly is the “they” he prays for? He prays for his friends and family, soon to be left behind. He prays for the soldiers who were, after all, just following orders. He prays even for those who took an active role in rejecting him. Whoever you are, standing there near the cross, Jesus is praying for you. He prays for all of us. Jesus takes all our hatred, all our violence, all our unconscious acceptance of just the way things are and our lack of concern and says: “they don’t know what they are doing, forgive them.” Jesus takes all our forgetfulness, our self-satisfied self-centeredness, and he say “forgive them Father, they don’t know what they are doing”. And in that prayer everything changes. Jesus offers us a new way of being, a way into resurrection life. Jesus opens the door for us into God’s kingdom, that place of loving-kindness and of reconciliation, of peace with justice. How will you respond to Jesus’ prayer? Will that offer of forgiveness lead you to walk with Jesus into resurrection life? Amen.