PALM SUNDAY OF THE LORD’S PASSION
Mark 11:1-10 | Philippians 2:6-11 | Mark 14:1—15:47
Almighty, everliving God who, as an example of humility for the human race to follow, caused our Savior to take flesh and submit to the cross, graciously grant that we may heed his lessons of patient suffering and so merit a share of his resurrection who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever, amen.
NOTHING is more important than our understanding of this moment in the life of the God/man Jesus, the moment of his crucifixion. It is, in a sense, everything he was building toward in terms of revealing a secret, a hidden message to all of us, and one of the concepts I believe is so true about salvation history, that it reveals two very important truths. One is who is this God that we have as our creator, the one who has made us and given us a time here and a time for eternity and for work to be accomplished here? Who is he? What does he want? What is his deepest longing? What is his heart’s desire for us? And two, we need to look very carefully into who we are. What is our longing, our deepest longing? What are the obstacles that keep us from achieving it? So we can say that, when we study salvation history, we’re looking at who God is and who we are. I think those are the two most essential tasks of our time here on this earth.
So there’s something in the crucifixion that we’re told changed everything. It’s almost as if you looked at the human race as it struggled to change, grow and evolve into who we really are. You look at God’s assistance to help us do that. You look at those two things, and then you look at the crucifixion, and if you understand it correctly and clearly, you’ll see something that is absolutely crucial. How is that for playing on the word crucifix? Crucial. It’s a decision that is so far-reaching in its impact that it is absolutely essential that you make the right choice.
During this season of Lent, we’ve been looking at five gospels, and they carry these major themes I keep going back to. One is that we are called as human beings to most especially discover the truth, and when we know the truth, we become the truth. The truth resonates wherever we are. We don’t have to talk about it as much as we need to realize that a human being carries a certain presence. His presence is always connected to whomever he has deep inside so that we are authentic and we are living in the world with people, who we have an impact on them. We also know that the human race is a very interesting interconnection of all kinds of people so that, when one person evolves to a higher level, he brings thousands and thousands with him. If you look at evolution, you’ll realize that evolution didn’t happen simultaneously to all humans. It happened in small groups, and once those small groups understood it, there was some mystery that people who lived a thousand miles away from them get that insight. I don't know how that works, but it’s fascinating. So there’s something about living in the truth, living the truth and witnessing the truth that is not only essential for the life of the person who does it, but it also has a deep impact on the entire race of humankind.
So let’s look at this event on the cross and see why it had to be what it was. I don’t want to go into how often we've thought that the cross was not authentic, but I will mention two of them. I think they’re classic. It’s like looking at the crucifix and feeling bad about what Jesus went through. I remember one time we wanted to put a crucifix in a church, a painted one, and one of the parishioners came to me and said, “Isn’t there enough pain in the world? Do we have to look at pain when we walk in? Can’t we have a resurrected Christ instead of a dying Christ?” And I said, “Yes, that’s permissible, but there’s something about this event, Christ’s crucifixion, that’s really important to look at and see it for what it is.” Before Vatican II, there was a very common custom of covering all the images in the church that were not the crucifix in purple cloth so that, when you came in, the only image you could look at was Christ crucified, and that was done this last week and throughout Holy Week. It’s as if, “All right, this is the time you need to look at it and try to take in. Try to understand what I am looking at. Am I looking at evil and all the horrible effects it can have on a good person? Yes, in a way, but the real issue is Christ’s example for you and me. What part of us has to go through the experience he went through?” Obviously it’s not literal. We don’t need to be crucified, but if you look at the basic drive within the heart of every man, you’re going to see some challenges that Jesus was dealing with at that moment. And he was being tested almost beyond anybody’s human capacity to endure something, and not just to endure it in the sense of putting up with it, but to endure it to the point of absurdity when it comes to one, single thing. Do you trust the plan that God has for the human race? You participate in it. Are you willing to do what this crucifixion is saying we must do? It does have to do with suffering, but as I’ve said so often to you, not the suffering of the pain he went through, but a much deeper, more intense, personal suffering. That means, by suffering, we mean that he allowed something to happen. He gave in to something without losing trust in a promise that seemed to be ripped out from under him and out of him. Everything that Jesus longed for as a human being and as a divine creature, someone highly evolved … he longed for things. He wanted to know who he was. That was one of his greatest longings, to know himself, to know God. He also was a man filled with understanding of how the world works; whenever he saw a system that was not working, that was actually destroying people, he went crazy. He became a rebel, and that was a deep, deep longing in his heart, to stop abusing people with your systems. Then, like all fully-evolved people, he was a lover. He wanted connection. He wanted people to love him, and he wanted to love them, and that meant intimacy. That meant understanding. He wanted people to understand who he was and what he was doing for them, and then he had that same drive that’s inside all of us that, when we have a mission, when we have a calling, when we have something we long to do — a deep desire — we want to make it happen. We want to be the one who is successful in accomplishing the goal.
So look at these four things: I want to know who I am. I want to see the truth. I want to free people. I want to love people. I want to make their lives better, and everything he longed to do as a man was then being questioned by, of all things, the religious leaders of that time. And the religious leaders, the realm they work in most effectively, if they were doing their job is to awaken our soul and our heart to the longings it has and to do everything we can to help one another reach these goals, and they were doing just the opposite. They weren’t dealing with any of these core, or heart issues. They were dealing with ego issues and self issues, of power, control, having the good life, being comfortable. So here stands Jesus, the beacon, who’s saying, “No, no. No, there’s something you’re missing.” And they knew what was missing, and they knew somewhere deep inside of them that he was right, completely right, and it was terrifying to them, because it meant their whole life was based on an illusion and in a lie. The beautiful trait of human beings is that at core we cannot ever be extinguished. No matter how much it’s abused, no matter how far it drifts from the truth, it’s still there, so this crucifixion is awakening every single person who can sit there and look at it and see what it means. If we can see what he means and understand that it’s not only the event that we’re watching, which happened to a man who wanted so many good outcomes for us, but watching ourselves be empowered to do exactly what he’s doing — it’s called redemption. I don't know how to describe it, but it’s a powerful life force that’s in you and me that is enabling us to do what Jesus did on the cross, and that is to suffer through the opposite of what he longed for and hoped with a shred, let’s say, of faith that he would still trust. He still would believe that this plan of God that he took on as a human being, freely longing to do it, because it was so much a core of who he was, and when he, in anything we strive for, when it looks as if it’s all going south, it’s all falling apart, it’s not going to make it the most common, human experiences — doubt, fear, shame and anger — and, “this isn’t fair. Why isn’t this working? I’ve done everything I can. I’ve made every effort I can to put forward, and you promised me it would work. And it’s not working, and I don’t know how I can continue to believe in you. I feel you’ve forsaken me. Why?” Then, under that all is, “But I know you promised. So somehow, if I give in to this, if I go through it, I don't know how, but maybe this will still be something.” I don't know what he felt, but he had to get to the point of absolute despair. One little hairline deep in the struggle that he was dealing with, he would have succumbed, but he didn’t.
So what he learned or what he was teaching us, when you are in the process of discovering who you are, you want to be authentic. People are constantly telling you, the authentic, that you are perverted, that it is wrong, that it's a blasphemy, it's worthless, or when you really want to try to change the systems of the world, they come back and say, “No, you’re the one who’s wrong. All these systems of the world are right." So basically you’re powerless. As far as wanting to connect to people, he saw even his closest friends rejecting him, the most difficult situation for a lover to deal with. And then to be thought of as unsuccessful would be a shame he couldn’t handle when he didn’t bring it to fulfillment, he thought. So there it is. Those are the struggles we have, and those are the goals we’ve been empowered to accomplish. And that is the reason, instead of viewing the cross as a disaster, it is a new birth and a new life because we don’t have to go that close to failure to recognize what he’s done for us. Amen
Father, it’s hard to believe what you have done for us. It’s hard for us to believe that we have strength now that you showed us you had on the cross, that we have that now, that we can find ways of dealing with the disappointments and the setbacks and the pain of our life without losing hope and knowing everything we endure in your name is going to bring us greater peace, life and joy. And we ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.