God Moves to the Cross

Luke 19:28-40; Luke 23:13-26

In the series “God on the Move”

We have come to the beginning of Holy Week, which for Christians is the most important week in the Christian year.  Early in Church history, baptism became part of the celebration of the Resurrection of Christ.  Lent became a time for candidates for baptism to prepare through studying the scriptures, learning Christian teachings, and practicing spiritual disciplines.  The candidates would complete their training with an all-night vigil on the Saturday before Easter, as they rehearsed the gospel story and prayed, and then were baptized at dawn on Easter morning.

Holy Week includes the commemoration of Jesus’ last supper with his disciples and his giving a new commandment to love one another on Holy or Maundy Thursday. It includes reflecting on the suffering, death and burial of Christ on Good Friday.  St. Andrew’s will host special services on Holy Thursday at 12:10 p.m. and at 6:30 p.m. during which Communion will be shared.  Then at 6:30 p.m. on Good Friday, we will gather to remember our Lord’s Passion through scripture and music.  I grew up attending Holy Week services, and for me, these services make the celebration of Jesus’ Resurrection on Easter Sunday so much more powerful and meaningful.  So, I invite you to attend Holy Week services this week and encourage you to invite a friend or family member for them and for Easter next Sunday at 9 and 11:15 a.m.

Let us pray. (Prayer)

This Lent we’ve joined God on the move and followed along with Jesus as he moved into the wilderness and into the wilderness of our struggles and temptations giving us hope.  Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem and as he made his way, he encountered an obstacle in the form of a threat from Herod. But Jesus would not be deterred, calling us to turn toward God on this journey. He told the story of a fig tree that tells us of the grace of the second chance offered to us by God.  He told the story of two sons, one wasteful and disobedient, the other dedicated but bitter, and their father who moved toward each, offering grace to both.  Jesus calls us to empty ourselves as Mary emptied herself to show her gratitude for what he had done for her.

As Jesus made his way to Jerusalem, he knew what was coming.  He had already tried to explain it to his disciples on at least three occasions.  The feast of Passover was near. Jewish pilgrims from across the Mediterranean also traveled to Jerusalem to commemorate God freeing their ancestors from slavery in Egypt.  It was a joyful and expectant time, filled with excitement and hope.

It was this moment when Jesus entered Jerusalem.  He had prepared to ride into the city on the foal of a donkey.  Word about Jesus spread and soon, the people had lined the street.  They had heard about the miracles he had done, how he healed the sick, cleansed lepers, cast out demons and even raised the dead.  They knew of his authoritative teachings about the kingdom of God.  They threw their cloaks on the road as a sign of honor and submission.   The other gospels mention leafy branches and palms, from which the name Palm Sunday comes.  Jesus rode into the city from the east, coming down the path from the Mount of Olives.  As he approached, the people began to praise God loudly, shouting, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!  Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven!”  The other gospels include shouts of “Hosanna,” which means, “Save us now.”  It was a parade of welcome, as the people recognized Jesus as the coming king.  They saw him as a conquering hero, as the Messiah that they had had waited for coming to set them free.

But the religious leaders were nervous about what they heard. They did not want such a display. It threatened their influence and it might cause trouble with the Romans.  They told Jesus to order his followers to stop, but Jesus answered, “If they are silent, the stones will cry out.”

Historians tell us that there was another parade happening in Jerusalem, possibly at the same time as Jesus entered Jerusalem.  For the Romans, the annual Passover was a nervous time.  As the city swelled with worshipers, so did tensions as many among the Jews looked forward to a coming king who would free them oppression and reestablish their nation.

The Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, coming down from his palace in Caesarea, entered Jerusalem from the west.  He rode a powerful war horse at the head of a military parade of Roman soldiers and cavalry.  It was a show of force designed to deter anyone from stirring up trouble.

The week began with two parades.  Pilate led one with a show of imperial power, while Jesus led a parade of humility.  One was designed to instill fear, the other to demonstrate submission to God and inspire hope.

Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was more than a parade.  He rode in from the Mount of Olives, a sacred place for Jews then and now. In fulfillment of a prophecy from the prophet Zechariah, he rode in on a donkey.  Zechariah had said that the coming king, the Messiah, would come riding a donkey to rule in peace and justice, rather than in military might.  His parade was also a sign that God is the only God.  The people responded with joy, thanksgiving and praise to God as they believed that Messiah had come to set them free.

The crowds hailed him as the coming king, but he entered in humility with a different understanding about the kind of kingdom he would bring.  Though he clashed with the religious leaders, he didn’t meet the people’s expectations.  This crowd that greeted him with shouts of “Hosanna” would change its mind and cry out “Crucify him.”

Later in the week, the two parade leaders would meet face to face.  Jesus, betrayed, abandoned and denied by his followers and arrested by the religious leaders, stood before the Roman governor Pilate.  Pilate examined Jesus and determined that he was innocent of the charges brought against him.  He offered to have him beaten and then released, but the religious leaders stirred up the crowd.  As they grew louder and more hostile, Pilate feared that rioting and violence would begin. The people demanded that Barabbas, a murderer and revolutionary, be released.  Then they cried out more and more against Jesus, “Crucify him!”, continuing until Pilate acquiesced.

Jesus was led away by the soldiers through streets lined with people.  Behind him Simon of Cyrene followed, forced to carry Jesus’ cross.  Two thieves sentenced to death also followed.  It was another parade of sorts.  Some people sneered and jeered, hurling insults at him. Others wept and wailed in disbelief at what was happening.  This parade traveled outside the city to a hill called “The Skull,” where Jesus was nailed to a cross with one thief on each side.  The position on a hill overlooking a road made the crucifixion a visible warning about what happens when you threaten Roman peace.

Jesus was hailed as conquering king by the people on when he entered Jerusalem, but this king did not sit on a throne to rule.  Instead, out of love, he sacrificed himself on a cross.

When we stop to examine the various players in this story, we realize that this story demonstrates how people fail.  Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus’ disciples, betrayed him into the hands of the religious leaders for a mere 30 pieces of silver – the price of a small plot of land or of a slave.  Peter, one of his closest friends, denied him to save his own skin. The rest of the disciples abandoned Jesus, scattered and went into hiding.  Pilate, whose duty was to execute justice, didn’t protect an innocent man. The religious leaders of Jesus’ own people plotted, manipulated and lied.

It leads us to ask ourselves the question:  Where have I failed?  We would be in the same crowd, changing our “Hosanna” to “Crucify him.”

It’s not a comfortable thought to ponder.  Some wish we had just focused on Palm Sunday and left the Passion of Christ alone on this Sunday on the Church calendar known as Palm and Passion Sunday.  Let’s just leave it at waving our palms and enjoying the happiness of a parade and then come back next Sunday to celebrate the Resurrection.

Others would like Lent with all its repentance, self-denial and giving up things would just go away.  Can’t we just hear more about the grace?

It’s like the Little League coach who gave the batter the sign to bunt a sacrifice so the runner on first could advance to second. The batter nodded and then swung away on three straight pitches.  When he returned to the dugout, the coach asked if he had understood the sign.  The batter said, “Yeah, but I didn’t want to do that.”

This week we move with Jesus to the cross; we go from Palms to Passion.  Isn’t that the way life can be?  We’ve all had times in our lives when we think we are just about through the wilderness or out of the valley, when we are ready to see and experience new life.  But just as we begin waving our palms and singing praises, things unexpectedly take a downhill turn.  Those we trust most betray us and deny us. Our friends abandon us; the crowds mock us; and our leaders fail us.  What seemed like it would be our escape leads us down another dirty, bumpy road toward Jerusalem.

It’s in these times we need the cross most of all.  It is in times like these that we realize we need a God who was not only resurrected, but who also walked a similar path.  We need a God who knows what broken relationships are like, how betrayal and ridicule feel, who has suffered through injustice.  And when life gets dark, we need a God who knows how it feels to be completely alone and abandoned, who has cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

We also need the cross to understand the nature of grace.  While hanging on the cross and dying, Jesus prayed for his enemies.  He prayed, “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.”  Even as the soldiers mocked him and the crowds ridiculed him, even as he was being tortured and killed, Jesus found the courage and strength to forgive and to pray for God to forgive. That means that he can forgive even you, even me and bring us into new relationship with God.

The cross helps us understand God’s mercy.  When one of the thieves crucified next to him defended Jesus and asked that Jesus remember him in his kingdom, Jesus responded, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”  He discovered there is more than enough mercy for anyone who turns to Christ at any time, and there is more than enough mercy for you and me and the whole world.

On the cross we see what radical trust in God looks like.  As Jesus died, he cried out, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Even with his final breath, he knew that God is faithful. Though suffering, in pain and dying, Jesus still trusted himself in God’s hands.  In our times of suffering and sadness, as well as when our life is going well, we can trust God with our whole lives.

We move with Jesus from Palm Sunday to experience the cross to next Sunday when we will hear the rest of the story.

Let us pray.  Come alive with us, Lord.  Remind us that you have already moved through all of life’s highs and lows to identify with us, and you have set the pattern for us.  Help us walk with you this week and in all of life.  Amen.

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