All the Trinity wrought in the Passion of Christ, ministering abundance of virtues and plenty of grace to us by him: but only the Maiden's Son suffered: whereof all the blessed Trinity endlessly enjoyeth.
Juliana of Norwich (1342 - 1416): Revelations of Divine Love.
March 16, 2008 Palm Sunday (RCL Year A) Isaiah 50: 4-9; Philippians 2: 5-11; Matthew 26:14 – 27:66
It’s a wide universe of thought, emotion, experience to wash over us and in so many ways to overwhelm us this morning. What a story . . . . All these weeks of journey, from Galilee to Judea, from the tomb of Lazarus at Bethany to the very gates of the Holy City. The cheering crowds. Then confrontation. Controversy. Conflict. Threats. Violence. Tables pushed over in the Temple--and then it seems the whole world turned upside down. Day swings into night, the air turns cold, hope disappears, and there is nothing left but a sick feeling in the pit of the stomach and raw and empty fear. In the midst of it: what stands out. The one thing, as we watch the whole awful story unfold to its brutal ending. What you see when the hard wind blows away every costume and prop and disguise and line of defense.
From Isaiah, who seems to see this moment coming, played out in the crucifixion of Judea 500 years before, a God inspired premonition: “I did not turn backward. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. The Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame . . . . Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries, let them confront me.” And from the Psalm this morning, 31:14, “But as for me, I have trusted in you O Lord. I have said, ‘You are my God.’”
The ugly scene plays out, a catastrophe, an avalanche of terror and darkness, the rushing in of the flood tide of despair, the grand, final Procession of the Cross to the Place of the Skull. But in his eyes this morning we would see in the suffering , in the pain of this hour of torture, in all the grief of loss, the one Man of all the world left standing, of all the universe of time and space, his body broken but not his spirit. Even as he is lifted up and as the nails tear at his flesh, and in the midst of the jeering crowd, he is faithful, undefeated. Undefeated. Undefeated.
“. . . then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (I Cor. 15: 54-55)
There is one Man left standing. The whole crushing mountain of sin and death pressing down upon him, the brokenness of the universe and every evil roaring over him with every ounce of its might, but he remains unbroken. This is finally the story of his courage. And that word, about the strength and the greatness of his heart. Courage. At the center of life, at the center of the universe of time and space. And he triumphs unbroken even over death.
“For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8: 38-39)
“There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea; there’s a kindness in his justice, which is more than liberty. There is welcome for the sinner, and more graces for the good; there is mercy with the Savior; there is healing in his blood.”
We could perhaps sing our Lenten hymn all the way along the Via Dolorosa, the Journey of Sorrows, the Way of his Cross. And we would stand by him this morning, as near as we can be. “And I when I am lifted up will draw all men to myself.” John 12: 32: the words inscribed on the great rood beam above our chancel steps. As near to him as we can be, this Holy Week, in his strength, in his healing. The story again, every year the same, every year new for us, every year asking something new from us, every year calling us for the first time. As Paul this morning asks, as we watch that one Man alone, from this distance, the last hour. “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” A daunting thought. but that we would be drawn into his courage, be filled with his courage, be renewed by his great heart, inspired by him, lifted up—in this love that sustained him every last step of this journey to the Cross. Watch him this morning, this Holy Week. Watch him carefully. Stand as near as we can. Because it was all for us. It is all for us.