We are poised on the brink of Holy Week.
We are poised to witness Jesus’ ultimate journey, Jesus’ journey where he confronts the powers of this world that have fallen from their true purpose, the good purpose God created then for – powers that have been twisted to violent ends.
Jesus confronts these powers, Jesus suffers under these powers as so many have suffered and continue to suffer. Jesus dies to them and descends.
It is for us to bear witness.
Then on Easter, we bear witness to the truth that truth triumphs, the twisted powers do not win, but are humbled and made new – the God of creation rises again.
We begin this journey today on Palm Sunday poised outside the Holy City of Jerusalem. It is a moment of New Hope.
Jesus has arrived from the countryside to Jerusalem for the Holy days of Passover, when his people re-enact how God freed them long ago from slavery under a violent regime.
They need that freedom now. They suffer again under abusive power.
Jesus has come as the new Messiah – he has been traveling the countryside healing people, restoring them to wellness, freeing his people from the violent powers that possess them and oppress them. He has come as the agent of the Holy One.
And so the people sing and cheer and wave palm fronds as Jesus arrives in the Holy City.
They sing “Hosana!” “You have come to save us!” “We have New Hope!”
So let’s dare to feel that hope! Let’s sing out that hope.
As we journey with Jesus through his last week let’s remember the first person to witness him, and to witness what God was doing through him, the first person to cry out “Hosana”: Mary, his mother. Remember before Christmas, back before Jesus was born, Mary witnessed what God was doing through him by praying:
“My Soul magnifies the Supreme One, Beyond Name, and my spirit is overjoyed with God who saves me, for the Holy One is mighty and has done great things for me, God’s mercy is on those who respect what is holy, God shows strength and scatters the proud, God has thrown the mighty down from their thrones and has lifted up high those who are low down. God has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich are sent away empty.”
So let us see as Mary saw, how Jesus was anointed by such a God as this. And how such a God can speak to us now, in our time.
Luke 19:41-42, 45-48
As Jesus came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.
Then he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; and he said, ‘It is written,
“My house shall be a house of prayer”;
but you have made it a den of robbers.’
Every day he was teaching in the temple. The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him; but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were spellbound by what they heard.
Where does it come from, the strength and the clarity to witness just how painful is our need to be freed from the vicious ways humanity twists the powers that God has given us. Things can get so bad we can think that the fallen world is all there is. But the truth is that the Realm of Heaven is here and now, always present, always possible. Jesus is a living witness to this truth. And Jesus is urgent in his message: “Wake up!”
‘Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Child of Humanity.’
Every day he was teaching in the temple, and at night he would go out and spend the night on the Mount of Olives, as it was called. And all the people would get up early in the morning to listen to him in the temple.
There is a mystery here for us to witness, a mystery that Jesus strived to reveal. It’s hard to put into word… We have a gift, here and now: we can receive re-union with God. The love of God is so strong that even the ways we are broken because of our separation from God, the ways we caught up in fallen powers, these places of brokenness are themselves places where God’s love can pour out. Jesus was so charged with his union with God, down to his very bones, that his brokenness became God’s gift.
3 Mark 14:22-31
While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the Realm of God.’
When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. And Jesus said to them, ‘You will all become deserters; for it is written, “I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep will be scattered.” But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.’
Peter said to him, ‘Even though all become deserters, I will not.’
Jesus said to him, ‘Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.’
But he said vehemently, ‘Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.’ And all of them said the same.
Jesus urged his followers to bear witness to his suffering, to bear witness to the brokenness that we cause one another. Can we bear to bear this witness? To bear witness to the ways humanity violates God’s love?
Mark 14: 32-42
They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’
He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated.
And he said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.’
And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him.
He said, ‘Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.’
He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, ‘Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’
And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. He came a third time and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Child of Humanity is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.’
Jesus’ followers could not bear to bear witness to him and to his suffering. So they learned a hard truth about themselves, they had to witness their own brokenness, their own moral weakness. Yet we know that God’s love is so great that even this became a gift to them.
While he was still speaking, suddenly a crowd came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him; but Jesus said to him, ‘Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Child of Humanity?’
When those who were around him saw what was coming, they asked, ‘Lord, should we strike with the sword?’ Then one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, ‘No more of this!’ And he touched his ear and healed him.
Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple police, and the elders who had come for him, ‘Have you come out with swords and clubs as if I were a bandit? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness!’
Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house. But Peter was following at a distance. When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them.
Then a servant-girl, seeing him in the firelight, stared at him and said, ‘This man also was with him.’
But he denied it, saying, ‘Woman, I do not know him.’
A little later someone else, on seeing him, said, ‘You also are one of them.’ But Peter said, ‘Man, I am not!’
Then about an hour later yet another kept insisting, ‘Surely this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean.’ But Peter said, ‘Man, I do not know what you are talking about!’
At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, ‘Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly.
Who suffers crucifixion now? Who suffers at the hand of twisted human powers? Who is powerless in their pain while the powerful sit, proud, on their thrones, playing games with who lives and who dies? Who does Jesus join in his suffering? Who does Jesus urge us to witness? Are there wounds we carry that we can have witnessed by God, wounds we can give to God to bear for us?
Mark 15:1-20, 22, 25-39
As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. Pilate asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ He answered him, ‘You say so.’ Then the chief priests accused him of many things. Pilate asked him again, ‘Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.’ But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.
Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked. Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom. Then he answered them, ‘Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?’ For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. Pilate spoke to them again, ‘Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?’ They shouted back, ‘Crucify him!’ Pilate asked them, ‘Why, what evil has he done?’ But they shouted all the more, ‘Crucify him!’ So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.
Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort. And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. And they began saluting him, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.
Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull).
It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. The inscription of the charge against him read, ‘The King of the Jews.’ And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left.
Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!’
In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.’ Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.
When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’
When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, ‘Listen, he is calling for Elijah.’ And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.’
Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.
Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘This human being is God’s son? Really?!’
There were those who witnessed Jesus’ suffering, who witnessed with tender hearts, strong hearts. Just as today there are those who are near enough to the God of love to tend to those who are broken.
Mark 15:40-47, 16:1
There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Salome, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses. These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.
When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate wondered if he were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he had been dead for some time. When he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph. Then Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was laid.
When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.
(Delivered April 9th, 2017, at First Congregational Church of Walla Walla, by Rev. Nathaniel Mahlberg)