A sermon, based on Mark 15.1-39, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on Palm Sunday: The Sunday of the Passion, March 25, 2018
Jesus came to proclaim the nearness of the kingdom of God. In his words, teaching and preaching with a divine authority, ages-old and ever-new; reviving ancient commandments with present vibrancy and urgency. In his deeds, healing the sick, raising the dead, revealing the presence and power of God who gives life, God who is life.
Jesus enters Jerusalem in triumph. The crowds shout, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord…the coming of our ancestor David!” Their cry giving voice to their desire, need, expectation that Jesus will liberate them from the oppressive Roman regime.
But soon, shockingly Jesus is arrested and tried, falsely accused, wrongly convicted, and condemned to death. Bound and blindfolded, mocked and scorned, spit upon and struck with fists and whips, he is led away to be crucified.
What paradox! On its face, making no sense, being nonsense, yet, at its heart, embracing, embodying truth. Jesus, God’s Messiah, God’s presence and power, God’s being and life in flesh is able to free himself, save himself. Yet he remains true to this essential teaching that he spake over and over again, thus, not a word he declared, as some would, for others to do and for him not, but rather for him to fulfill: “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life will save it.”(1) Those who seek first their benefit, their glory, their interests, their preservation, having made life self-contained and small, lose. Those who give their lives for a cause greater than themselves, for the benefit of others, produce much good fruit.
May we, this day, standing at the foot of the cross of the crucifixion of Jesus, pledge anew to live our lives, give our lives, lose our lives for his sake and the sake of his gospel.
Another paradox. The centurion, receiving the order, no matter how wrong and cruel, to crucify Jesus was obedient. And, as a company commander in charge of a cohort of one hundred soldiers, he gave the orders to bind and blindfold Jesus, to strike, spit upon, and strip Jesus, to lay the cross-beam on his shoulders, to lead him to Golgotha, to drive the nails into his hands and feet, and to lift him up on the cross. And he stayed on site to oversee the execution. Yet when Jesus breathes his last and dies, that centurion, in bearing stunning witness to Jesus’ identity, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”, recognizes and confesses his own wrongdoing.
The innocent Jesus dies a godforsaken criminal’s death, thus demonstrating with his final mortal breath to that centurion and to us the presence and power of God. Never found in conformity to brutality. Never found in obedience to the forces of injustice. Never found in force of any kind! Always found in the seemingly weak, from the world’s perspective, but truly mighty, from the standpoint of the eternal cosmos, submission of love.
May we, this day, standing at the foot of the cross of the crucifixion of Jesus, pledge anew to live our lives, give our lives, lose our lives for his sake and for the sake of his gospel, which is another way of saying, for the sake of love.
(1) Mark 8.35. See also Matthew 10.39, Luke 9.24, 17.33, and John 12.25
Jesus enters Jerusalem and the crowds welcome him (1320), Pietro Lorenzetti (1280-1348)
The Crucifixion (1520-1521), Giovanni Antonio de’ Sacchis (Il Pordenone) (1484-1539), Cremona Cathedral, Lombardy. Note: De Sacchis depicts the Roman centurion (center forefront) looking directly at us, a downturned sword in his right hand (symbolic of a denunciation of violence) and, with his left hand, pointing to the crucified Jesus, saying, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”