Palm Sunday, March 20, 2016
Isaiah 50:4-9, Psalm 31:9-16, Phil 2:5-11, Luke 22:14-23:56
The Luke passage is a long roller coaster ride. Like a roller coaster, it starts at a high point (actually in chapter 19, the triumphal entry) and then hurtles, unstoppable and twisting, toward an inevitable end.
Like many roller coasters, this read jerks us around a bit and there is a feeling of whiplash as it progresses, then it comes to a resolution that leaves us wondering what just happened.
The characters are incredibly complex. Chapter 22 begins with a betrayal plot. Judas, one of Jesus' beloved inner circle, agrees to betray him. Whiplash. There is a difficult discussion around the supper table where the disciples discuss who the betrayer might be, and Jesus gives Peter the hard news that he will be a denier. Peter, the one who declares Jesus as the Messiah (ch. 9), denies him. Whiplash. Then Jesus enters into agonizing time of prayer, but the disciples fall asleep. Whiplash.
The whiplash turns physical in verse 63 as Jesus is mocked by the soldiers who bring him to the chief priests. The scene is repeated in front of Pilate. Pilate, however, makes an announcement that he finds no basis for accusation against Jesus and sends him on to Herod who sends him back. But even though Jesus is not guilty in the eyes of the Roman authority, Pilate gives in to the demands of the crowd, releases a known criminal, and hands Jesus over for execution. Whiplash.
The passion story is a series of things gone horribly wrong. Betrayals broadside Jesus everywhere, coming from his closest friends and faith partners, from the crowds that had just welcomed him with palms, from the temple, from the government.
Then, however, there are some "whiplash" moments that are different, places in the story where we are broadsided with grace. I need different words than whiplash for these moments. Jesus, unfathomably, asks God to forgive his killers. Compassion. A criminal, hanging on a cross beside Jesus comes to faith. Jesus offers him paradise. Forgiveness. The soldiers, crowd, and the women came to know that Jesus was innocent. Truth. A righteous man named Joseph and the women who followed Jesus courageously cared for his body. Generosity and love.
What a complex story. I feel tired after reading it, the horror and injustice is awful. I feel some whiplash. I try to be a disciple too and don't want to identify with Judas, but realize that Peter is a betrayer too. I feel a bit of the sting here when I realize we are all somewhere on this continuum of turning away. (Even the crowds and soldiers feel convicted!) I also, however, feel a bit of a thrill at the end of this read. I am a little amazed. Even before we get to the resurrection, there are glimpses of glory, bits of unbelievable hope, gifts that deniers and betrayers and criminals don't deserve.
This is a hard week in the church year. A time when we ride the roller coaster and try to deal with the apprehension, the hard turns, and still try to see the grace that is there. If we let the complexity and difficulty of this story soak into our souls, we come out the other side of it having faced the fact that we are part of the accusing crowd, the failed friend, the corrupt systems. We also come through knowing that God's hand is reaching out, that grace is offered, that we are loved.
I love getting through the passion story and moving on to what happens next. But for this week, we are on the rollercoaster.