Five Reflections on the Passion of Jesus Christ

Palm / Passion Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Church

1st Passion Reading  Luke 23:1-12                                 Pg. 918

Hymn                           “What Wondrous Love is "      No. 292, v.1

Pastoral Reflection    “Innocent of All Charges”

Unlike any other Gospel narrative

Luke goes to great efforts to witness to the fact

that Jesus Christ is innocent of all charges.

Prior to this passage

Jesus was brought under arrest before the Sanhedrin.

The elders of the people and the chief priests and scribes ordered him:

“If you are the Messiah tell us.”

Our Lord’s reply,

“If I tell you, you will not believe.”

A second question is asked,

“Are you, then, the Son of God?”

Our Lord’s reply,

“You say that I am.”

Jesus offers the religious authorities no evidence of any guilt.

None.

Not guilty.

Yet, they pronounce the verdict planned all along:

“What further testimony do we need?

We have heard it ourselves from his own lips!”

They heard only what they wanted to hear.

Being powerless to pass the sentence that would satisfy their blood thirst,

they take him to Pilate,

the Roman governor,

who, with his troops, knows how to get things done.

The elders of the people and the chief priests and scribes

trump up their charges before Pilate:

“We found this man perverting our nation,

forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor,

and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king.”

The spigot of lies is opened and flowing free.

Not being a Roman citizen,

Pilate is free to question, pass judgment, and carry out his sentence in one fell swoop.

“Are you the king of the Jews?” he asks.

Jesus provides no self-incriminating evidence:

“You say so,” he answers.

Pilate sees what the blood thirsty authorities can not see:

Jesus is innocent.

As if their three false charges weren’t enough,

they add a fourth with the hope to sway the state:

“He stirs up the people by teaching throughout all Judea,

from Galilee where he began even to this place.”

They play to the Roman’s fear of losing control and allowing insurrection.

But Pilate understands, all too well, the unstated attempt at manipulation.

Pilate wouldn’t lie,

neither would he be used.

He’s Galilean? He’s Herod’s case. Take him to Herod’s place.

Antipas Herod, governor of Galilee,

is only to happy to meet a hometown boy in the big city of Jerusalem.

He’d heard about Jesus

and he wanted to see for himself some of this magic the crowds had witnessed.

Tickle my fancy!

Herod questions Jesus at length,

but Jesus never says a mumbling word.

Off to the side,

“The chief priest and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him.”

Vehemently.

Attack after attack.

Slings and arrows.

Round after round, after relentless round.

Jesus remains silent.

He gives no testimony or evidence of any guilt.

Misinterpreting his silence as disrespect

and with the heat breathing down his neck,

Herod and his soldiers scorn and mock Jesus,

just as Jesus had foretold.

Had Jesus been guilty of any crime,

Herod would have ended it right there.

Jesus would have been dead.

But Jesus is sent back to Pilate

because he is innocent of all charges.

All charges.

Each of us know the pain of ridicule;

of being falsely accused of a crime or offense.

It is humiliating

and it covers the victim with a blanket of shame.

Others look at you differently;

as if there might have been something to the charges.

Once accused, forever changed,

regardless of guilt or innocence.

Yet, Jesus was innocent of all charges.

As Isaiah prophetically mused,

the innocent servant was to suffer.

Though he did nothing wrong,

he paid the ultimate price for your redemption.

The price was this ridicule,

these lies, and this humiliating scorn.


2nd Passion Reading  Luke 23:13-25                              Pg. 918

Hymn                           “What Wondrous Love is "      No. 292, v.2

Pastoral Reflection    “Their Voices Prevailed”

Crowds do interesting things.

Individuals behave differently if they are in a crowd.

Is it the anonymity?

Is it the disinhibition?

Perhaps it is the perception that one will not get caught

or that

because everyone else feels the same way

we must all be right.

A crowd can be a double edge sword;

a properly prepared and trained crowd

can be an effective demonstration in non-violent civil disobedience,

at the same time,

the perfect storm combination of hooligans, thugs, and bullies

can quickly become a homicidal frenzy.

The chief priests and leaders of the people were bullying Jesus.

They were becoming the gasoline for an impatient and frustrated population.

Jesus threatened stable society.

Jesus wasn’t the answer to their political oppression.

His refusal to be the leader of their delusional aspirations

turns him from yesterday’s triumphant, exalted prince Charming

into today’s belching, smoking tire fire.

The chief priest and leaders of the people were bullying Pilate,

though in a much subtler way.

Pilate had the power to do something;

to bring final resolution to their problem,

whereas,

their impotence only brought them frustration and embarrassment.

Their lies and trumped up charges

began to push Pilate over the edge to satisfy their blood thirst.

“I will therefore have him flogged and release him.”

But, that wasn’t enough.

More accelerant was needed.

Release Barabbas!

you know,

the one who you have in jail

who tried to lead a treasonous revolt

and who killed people!

Seriously?

they’d really prefer to live with Barabbas in their neighborhood than live next door to Jesus?

Pilate wanted to release Jesus

because he was innocent.

A second time Pilate offers to have Jesus flogged then released.

“But they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified;

and their voices prevailed.”

So be it resolved:

the only crowd we join

is one that is peaceful, well-trained, and non-violent.

So be it resolved:

when we lift our voice in a crowd

we speak only the truth, the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ

and we teach about the ultimate price he paid for our redemption.


3rd Passion Reading   Luke 23:26-31                       Pg. 918-919

Hymn                           “What Wondrous Love is "      No. 292, v.3

Pastoral Reflection    “Daughters of Jerusalem”

With a Divine eye, Jesus was able to see Jerusalem’s future.

With our eyes of hindsight, we know the fate that awaited the population:

In forty years the city of Jerusalem would be destroyed

and every last inhabitant would either be killed

or forever flee for their lives in a diasporic frenzy.

Jesus had prayed for Jerusalem

in quiet places by himself.

He had prayed for Jerusalem

while on the Mt. of Olives, in the garden, while overlooking the metropolis before him.

Yet, every city is comprised of individuals;

living, breathing people

who work hard, raise families, and overcome life’s challenges together.

Let there be no mistake,

Jesus was being led to his own death.

He had been condemned by the crowd

and washed by the only one who could have saved him.

He was a dead man walking.

Beaten nearly to a pulp

he was too weak to carry the cross

so Simon was conscripted to do it for him.

If it was you or me,

we’d be overwhelmed with the dread of our impending mortal doom.

Yet, Jesus turns to the women trailing behind him,

women beating their breasts and wailing in a funeral dirge,

and he sees people similarly condemned.

He sees his daughters.

He sees a daughter who he had raised from the dead,

a daughter who he had healed of her flow of blood,

a daughter he met at Jacob’s well.

Jesus turns and speaks to his condemned daughters,

his beloved,

who waited on him hand and foot,

who anointed his feet with costly perfume,

and who would soon mix the spices with oil in preparation for his burial.

Unconcerned for his own fate,

Jesus opens his compassion to his daughters.

Blessed are you who never had children,

for the anguish you will face will greatly exceed the grief over my death.

If the religious authorities and Romans do this to me,

green wood to them,

know that the day is coming

when they treat you like dried kindling wood.

Jesus looks out

when the rest of us would look within.

What wondrous love is this

O daughters of Jerusalem?


4th Passion Reading   Luke 23:32-43                              Pg. 919

Hymn                           “What Wondrous Love is "      No. 292, v.4

Pastoral Reflection    “Two Criminals”

Others called them thieves,

but Luke calls them criminals.

They add a nice symmetry to Jesus;

the three of them punctuating the peak of the hill known as The Skull.

This hill spoke of death,

from the characteristic relief that suggested two eye sockets, a nasal passage, and a jaw,

to the fact that every day,

day in and day out,

the Romans made it a point to have a hand full of it’s criminal population

crucified upon its crown for all the world to see

as they passed through the ancient walled city gate at its feet.

The buzzards circled above;

the message was crystal clear -

submit or die.

The criminals diametric opposition contributed to Luke’s symmetry;

one criminal was evil

the other good.

Life is balanced with death.

Good is balanced with evil.

Jesus, the innocent one,

prays for those who crucify him, who cast lots for his clothing, and the leaders of the Temple who stood by and mocked him.

Life of this world is balanced with Paradise in the next world.

The suffering and death of Jesus is all about balance.

The evil criminal piles on what the the soldiers and the crowd had already shoveled:

“Are you not the Messiah?” he derided him.

“Save yourself and us!”

Two thousand years later and a world apart,

one is able to still hear the desperation in the words of the condemned.

This world as it was known

was coming to an end.

Even the sign affixed above Jesus’ head

spoke to the soon to become past:

Jesus of Nazareth

King of the Jews.

Save yourself, spoken in sarcasm by the cynical criminal and others on the hill,

none-the-less

points us to the balancing factor of crucifixion:

Death today, but salvation tomorrow.

The remorseful criminal is quick to rebuke,

“Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?”

Indeed, indeed.

This man hits the nail right on the head.

All of us are guilty under the law.

Each of us deserve to hang upon the cross with Jesus.

The message of the cross is that

though each of us are guilty of violating God’s laws,

the cross is transformed into

the portal through which

all are invited to step

into the flood of God’s unlimited, abundant sanctifying grace.

Yesterday’s Law is balanced with tomorrow’s Grace

Death is replaced by life;

life everlasting.

With simplistic remorse,

let us step forward in grace and embrace Paradise.

Let us join our petition with the condemned,

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”


5th Passion Reading   Luke 23:44-56                              Pg. 919

Hymn                           “What Wondrous Love is "      No. 292, v.4

Pastoral Reflection    “Into Thy Hands”

What wondrous love is this

that our Heavenly Father

would send us his Son

to die for the sins we commit?

What wondrous love is this

that our Heavenly Father

not only has a direct and frequently used means of conversation between himself and his Son,

but also between himself and each of us?

Jesus speaks to his Father all the time:

giving thanks before breaking bread,

in prayer while in a quiet and lonely place,

seeking guidance in a garden prior to his most important decisions.

In the ultimate act of submission to the will of the Father,

Jesus commends his spirit into his Father’s hands.

He entrusts his Spirit to that of the Father’s;

completely,

wholly,

and without reservation.

With his dying breath,

Jesus makes himself wholly God.

The innocence of his life washes clean

any stain we might have brought to God.

The surrender of his soul to the Father on the cross

has now become the conduit through which we step

from Grace into Salvation.

Oh how difficult it is for us to surrender ourselves completely to Christ

even though the cross provides us with direct access to the Father.

Oh how difficult it is for us to fathom the grace necessary

for our heavenly Father to accept us

and receive us

with Jesus

into Paradise.

This Holy Week,

I encourage you dear sisters and brothers,

take a walk on the wild side of grace.

Come back to Jesus.

Reopen the lines of communication with God.

Speak a word of surrender to our heavenly Father.

And leave the resurrection up to God. Amen.