[Editor’s note: We thank Interim Pastor David Mueller and John Lasher, director of music and worship arts, for again recording this message and music for us during this season of Coronavirus pandemic when we are unable to meet together. You can follow the text below and listen to the audio by clicking on this link:]
Opening Hymn: Ride On, Ride On In Majesty (verses 1, 2 and 5)
Good morning, people of St. Mark’s.
It is Palm/Passion Sunday morning. Please imagine being in church at St. Mark’s this morning. We have read the Palm Sunday Gospel about Jesus humbly entering Jerusalem. One of the regal hymns appropriate to Palm Sunday is being sung. The crucifer is processing, followed by the choir. You have turned and faced the cross as it passes you and have placed your palms in the aisle.
This imagination and the memories from which it comes is what we have today. But worship on in a humble but hopefully faithful way we will.
Listen now to the passion, according to St. Matthew:
NARRATOR: Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked Him:
PILATE: “Are you the King of the Jews?”
NARRATOR: Jesus said,
JESUS: “You have said so!”
NARRATOR: But when He was accused by the chief priests and elders, He made no answer. Then Pilate said to Him:
PILATE: “Do you not hear the many things they testify against you?”
NARRATOR: But he gave no answer, not even to a single charge; so that the governor wondered greatly. Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. And they had a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas. So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them:
PILATE: “Whom do you want me to release for you, Barabbas or Jesus who is called Christ?”
NARRATOR: For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him:
PROCULA: “HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THAT RIGHTEOUS MAN, FOR I HAVE SUFFERED MUCH OVER HIM TODAY IN A DREAM!”
NARRATOR: Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the people to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. The governor again said to them:
PILATE: “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?”
NARRATOR: And they said:
NARRATOR: Pilate said to them:
PILATE: “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?”
NARRATOR: They all said:
CROWD: “LET HIM BE CRUCIFIED!”
NARRATOR: And he (Pilate) said:
PILATE: “Why, what evil has He done?”
NARRATOR: But they shouted all the more:
CROWD: “LET HIM BE CRUCIFIED!”
NARRATOR: So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washing his hands before the crowd, said:
PILATE: “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves!”
NARRATOR: And all the people answered:
CROWD: “HIS BLOOD BE ON US AND ON OUR CHILDREN.”
NARRATOR: Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered Him to be crucified. Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the praetorium, and they gathered the whole battalion before Him. And they stripped Him and put a scarlet robe upon Him, and plaiting a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and put a reed in His right hand. And kneeling before Him they mocked Him, saying:
SOLDIERS: “HAIL, KING OF THE JEWS!”
NARRATOR: And they spat upon Him, and took the reed and struck Him on the head. And when they had mocked Him, they stripped Him of the robe, and put His own clothes on Him and led Him away to crucify Him.
NARRATOR: As they went out, they came upon a man of Cyrene, Simon by name; this man they compelled to carry His cross. And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means the place of the skull), they offered Him wine to drink, mingled with gall; but when He tasted it, He would not drink it. And when they had crucified Him, they divided His garments among them by casting lots; then they sat down and kept watch over Him there. And over His head they put the charge against Him, which read,
ALL: “THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS!”
NARRATOR: Then two robbers were crucified with Him, one at the right and one at the left. And those who passed by derided Him, wagging their heads and saying:
RIGHT SIDE: “YOU WHO WOULD DESTROY THE TEMPLE AND BUILD IT IN THREE DAYS, SAVE YOURSELF! IF YOU ARE THE SON OF GOD, COME DOWN FROM THAT CROSS.”
NARRATOR: So also the chief priests, with the scribes and the elders, mocked Him, saying,
LEFT SIDE: “HE SAVED OTHERS; HE CANNOT SAVE HIMSELF. HE IS THE KING OF ISRAEL; LET HIM COME DOWN FROM THE CROSS AND WE WILL BELIEVE IN HIM!”
ALL: “HE TRUSTS IN GOD; LET GOD DELIVER HIM NOW, IF HE DESIRES HIM; FOR HE SAID, ‘I AM THE SON OF GOD.’”
NARRATOR: And the robbers who were crucified with Him also reviled Him in the same way. Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice:
JESUS: “Eli, Eli lama sabach-thani?” [That is…] “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”
NARRATOR: And some of the bystanders hearing it said,
RIGHT SIDE: “THIS MAN IS CALLING ELIJAH.”
NARRATOR: And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with vinegar and put it on a reed, and gave it to Him to drink. But others said:
LEFT SIDE: “WAIT, LET US SEE WHETHER ELIJAH WILL COME TO SAVE HIM.”
NARRATOR: And Jesus cried again with a loud voice and yielded up His spirit.
NARRATOR: And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from the top to bottom, and the earth shook and the rocks were split; the tombs also were opened and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of their tombs after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him keeping watch over Jesus saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe, and said,
ALL: “TRULY THIS WAS THE SON OF GOD!”
Hymn: “Ah, Holy Jesus” (verses 1, 2 and 5)
Grace to you and peace from God our father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. amen.
As the week we call “Holy” is about to begin, along with fellow Christians around the world, we are unable to worship together physically. We read in John 1:14: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”
Ours is an incarnational faith with Jesus having entered our history. It feels very non-incarnational to be away from each other in the flesh and for Christians to be “meeting” in some virtual manner. Better that, however, than to allow the Feast of the Resurrection and the events of the prior week to go utterly unacknowledged.
Please pray with me:
Oh God and Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, may the Holy Wind blow mightily among us and our Christian family the world over today and into the days ahead. Grant us wisdom for dealing with our reality, which unfortunately includes a deadly disease. May we remain trusting and caring in the midst of crisis, and in this precious season, may we be renewed in our hope. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.
I have believed for a long time that a most significant scene in this Passion Drama is Jesus standing before Pilate. Freeze frame this image for a minute or two. Just stare at it: A Representative dignitary of the then most powerful Empire on the planet, sent to Palestine precisely because he was so good at dealing with crises, and The Son of God sent to this world precisely because God so loved the world, facing each other. Stare some more at both men, one having at his hand the power of empire; the other whose power was made perfect in weakness.
“Stare some more at both men, one having at his hand the power of empire; the other whose power was made perfect in weakness.”
Earlier, Pilate had asked Jesus: “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus simply said: “You say so!” Now, seconds later, in response to Pilate’s asking of Jesus about the accusations against him, Jesus “gave him no answer, not even to a single charge.” In Mark’s Gospel account of the same scene, “Jesus made no further reply.” (Mark 15:3). Luke also has Jesus saying only “you say so.”
John reports Jesus as having said: “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews…. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” (John 18:33-38)
Without denying Divine inspiration, it seems to me that John simply couldn’t accept the quiet of the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark and Luke), and couldn’t resist adding at least some qualifier in this his much later Gospel.
Generally, we are stuck with this quiet even poignant scene, the seeming helplessness of Jesus against this worldly “Goliath,” known as Pilate and everything he represented.
“For God’s sake, Jesus, say something!” “For Jesus’ sake, God, do something!”
This plea has come from countless people throughout history since Jesus’ time on earth, when injustice was occurring, when diseases were spreading, when Jews were dying in the camps, when Armenians were being slaughtered by the Turks, when illness or accident had taken a loved-one, when marriages were breaking up, when financial ruin was rampant, when, when when…. In the face of human tragedy, God seems so silent, so powerless, perhaps even so indifferent. DO SOMETHING! ANYTHING! Lord God, where are You when most we need You?
One of His disciples would betray Jesus, another would deny Him, the others abandoned Him — and we? Clearly, we would surely have operated differently, better somehow, more faithfully! Yeah, right! The human condition is portrayed in living color here, with us like them — but what of the Divine position?
The very fact of Jesus having died FOR us reveals that God is still dying WITH us, at least for now. Ours is a faith of apparent defeat, of cross-centeredness, not yet one of triumph and victory. The victory can be hoped for and believed in but not experienced just yet. The Kingdom is not of this world! We may not rule here. We may not get our way here! We may not insist that others share our perspective on anything here! And we will need to die rather than kill, bear our crosses before we wear our crowns.
And that is what takes so much faith, gobs of grace, mounds of mercy, loads of love and pounds of patience. The Kingdom has not yet been fully realized and we must continue to pray: “Your Kingdom come” and in the meantime: “Thy will be done on earth as in heaven.”
In our rather quiet way this year, we will celebrate the Feast of the Resurrection, as the victory it was for Jesus and one day will be for us! In His holy and precious Name, Amen.