Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion
March 28th, 2009
“Every Little Word”
Every little word in the Passion account of our Lord is so rich, so important, so worthy of our meditation. Every verse, every phrase meant to point us to Christ's great work for us – his salvation.
There's the false accusations they bring against Jesus. Half truths. We're well familiar with them. Just as they sought to convict him with lies, we seek to justify ourselves with lies and half-truths. But only Jesus justifies.
Pilate said, “I find no guilt in this man”. But he ended up condemning him anyway. Surely our Lord finds guilt and sin in us, but ends up not condemning us. We are freed from judgment because of Christ.
Then Jesus goes before Herod, who seeks a sign or wonder. We are often the same, seeking from Jesus what he does not promise, but only what entertains or interests us. Is God's grace in Christ boring? To many modern Herods, it is. But it's what they need. It's what we need. Not fancy miracles and wonders, but the simple promise of salvation in Christ.
They mock Jesus so many ways – even by the clothing they put on him. Royal robes, in sarcastic tribute. But Christ truly clothes us with his righteousness, and takes our shabby rags. He makes us a royal priesthood – and wins for us the crown of life. For his part, it's a crown of thorns.
Herod and Pilate – enemies – become friends through their dealings over Jesus. The forces of the world are united in opposing Christ and his church. It's the same today. But it's also true that another set of enemies is united through Christ: God and man. We who, in our rebellion, hated God – we are made friends and even family by the saving work of Jesus.
Then there's Barabbas. Another teaching moment. “A murderer they save the Prince of Life they slay”. You and I are Barabbas. We are just as guilty of death. But innocent Jesus takes his place, our place, and the guilty go free.
The Jew persistently cry for Jesus' death, and Pilate finally relents. What a photo negative image – Christ persistently calls for our pardon, and God the righteous judge relents. Christ is finally condemned. We are finally justified.
Simon of Cyrene. He carried the burden of the cross for Jesus, when Jesus couldn't. But the deeper reality – Jesus carried the burden of the cross, the real burden, for Simon and all sinners.
Jesus tells the mourners not to weep. He knew the destruction that would come for unbelieving Jerusalem. Their city would be lain waste in just 40 years. The Romans would decimate the people. But even worse is the eternal destruction of a all who reject the Christ. Don't weep for Jesus. He will rise. Weep for those who have only the dark future of God's eternal punishment.
Speaking of punishment, there are the two thieves. Criminals on his right and left. He is numbered with them, so that we are numbered with the righteous.
The place of the Skull, Golgotha. A place of death, but also, ultimately, of life. For the moment he is crucified he cries out in forgiveness.
They cast lots for his clothing. Dividing up his few belongings. A few scraps of material. But he who dies here distributes his belongings – his blessings – to countless multitudes.
They jeered “he saved others, let him save himself.” All the while he was saving others. And he would be rescued from death – but only after three days.
They offer him sour wine, but he offers us the sweetest wine – his own blood, along with his body – in a sacramental promise of forgiveness.
The inscription identified him as “king of the Jews”. The same moniker first mentioned by the wise men from the East, “Where is he that is born king of the Jews”. He is the king, not of this world. He is the king, not only of the Jews, but of all the people under his protection and blessing. He is our king.
“Today you will be with me in paradise” he promises the repentant thief. His promise is sure and speedy to all repentant sinners.
The sun's light fails. Creation itself mourns the death of the creator. The light of our planet bows to the Light of Light now extinguishing.
The Temple curtain tears as the true temple of Christ's body is torn down in death. The threshold to the Holy of Holies is obsolete, for Christ is now our passage to God's presence.
He commits his spirit into God's hands, showing us the way to die faithfully. And even the centurion confesses and praises God.
He is buried. No tomb of his own, but the tomb of a rich man. Now that the suffering is done, his body is treated with some honor and respect again. Again one of our hymns keys in, “Heav'n was his home, but mine the tomb wherein he lay”
And as the Sabbath came with nightfall on Friday, they rested according to custom. And Christ's body rested in the tomb. And soon, very soon, the Easter dawn would come.
As you meditate on Christ's passion this week, cherish every little word. Think on, pray on, and give thanks for every detail of our Lord's suffering and death for you. For he takes your place, and gives you all good things out of his great love and mercy.