“Today the palms - tomorrow the passion”. The grim truth is that the same people who shouted "Hosanna" on Sunday shouted "Crucify him," just five days later. It is sobering to recall that the same people shouting Hosanna on Palm Sunday were crying "Crucify him" on Good Friday! Quite a reversal, pretty inconsistent. But isn't that a contemporary experience too, the inconsistency of what we do here on Sunday and how we are tempted to live the rest of the week in other aspects of our lives.
What we commemorate and relive during this week called "holy" is not just Jesus’ dying and rising, but our own dying and rising in Him.
Are we ready to die with Him in our lives? One of the two men crucified with Jesus was an "honest thief." He was brave enough to confess who he was. If we were honest, we would also admit we had taken things that do not belong to us. You know, it is not just the one who steals money or shoplifts who is a thief. The person who has sex apart from marriage is taking something that does not belong to him. Even if you call it "living together" it is still stealing. The same with the husband who spends all his time with buddies; he is robbing his wife and children. The person whose motto is "shop till I drop" and who never thinks about the needy is stealing from the poor. The one who is speaking to you now, recognizes he is a big thief.
Max Lucado reminds us that each of us has got a donkey that the Lord needs. “Sometimes I get the impression that God wants me to give him something and sometimes I don't give it because I don't know for sure, and then I feel bad because I've missed my chance. Other times I know he wants something but I don't give it because I'm too selfish. And other times, too few times, I hear him and I obey him and feel honored that a gift of mine would be used to carry Jesus to another place. …Maybe you have those questions, too. All of us have a donkey. You and I each have something in our lives, which, if given back to God, could, like the donkey, move Jesus and his story further down the road. Whichever, your donkey belongs to him. It really does belong to him. Your gifts are his and the donkey was his. The original wording of the instructions Jesus gave to his disciples is proof: "If anyone asks you why you are taking the donkeys, you are to say, 'Its Lord is in need.'" [Max Lucado, And the Angels were Silent, p. 54]
What the passion narrative teaches us today?
First, our God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God who raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead, the God who created heaven and earth, the God who created your life and mine, that God, the true God, our God, is a God who suffers and cries and dies. Our true God suffers and cries and dies. The suffering of our God is not imaginary or fictitious or make believe. God’s suffering; pain and tears are as real as yours and mine. He knows what the real pain is. He can feel your pain, because he had suffered it before you.
The cross cries out its message of pain. We hear the words at Lazarus’ death: “He wept.” Our God, the true God, suffers and cries and dies, like we do.
We are the only religion in the world whose God gets hurt, whose God gets stabbed, who writhes in pain on the cross, who gets whipped, who has five wounds in his body, and who shouts his pain in the midst of his suffering on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me and let me suffer like that?” What other religion is there where a cross becomes a throne? His suffering was not imaginary, it was not make believe, and it is not a fake. The cross tells us that. Passion Sunday tells us that. Our God suffers and cries and dies.
But there is a second part. Our God is a God who loves his children so much that God is willing to die in their behalf. Our passionate God suffers cries and dies for us, in our behalf.
That is what the cross tells us: God loved us so much that God was willing to die for us. That is the message of the cross. It is only in the cross that we see the face of God’s love. The cross is that glorious window through which we see God’s great love, a love so great that God was willing to die for you, that God’s son was willing to lay down his life for you and me.
It is from the cross that we hear the voice of God who constantly and persistently says, “I love you. I forgive you. I am with you always.”
There is something about the cross that compels us to make a choice, either for him or against him. You can’t find a middle ground when it comes to Christ, even though at times we try to.
This is clearly expressed in a poem:
I stood alone at the cross of Christ,In the hush of twilight dim,And faced the questionThat pierced my heart,What shall I do with him?
Crown or crucify, what shall it be?No other choice is offered me.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.