Yesterday we watched as the kids came into worship proudly waving their palm branches. Cheers of “Hosanna in the highest” quickly change to the words of conviction as the crowd yells “Crucify him.” This week begins with a parade and ends with one of the most horrific acts; the crucifixion of Jesus who came “not to condemn the world but to save it.” Our hands–dirty and blood stained–because we too are guilty of not saying a word and letting Jesus die for our own sins. The power of Jesus’ life, ministry and death reminds me continually of the amazing power God has and also of the scandalous love God has for all of us.
From the parade, we move to the table where Jesus washes his disciples feet. At the table, Jesus washes all of their feet including Judas’s feet who will betray him and Peter’s feet who will deny him three times before the cock crows. Jesus should have been the last person to wash their feet. But in this gracious act, Jesus embodies God’s love and also embodies “diakonia” (service) for all the world. We too are called to pick up our basins and towels to wash the feet of all God’s people. This act also links us back to the waters of our Baptism where we have been called and claimed as God’s beloved children. In the waters of Baptism, we are washed clean.
From Maundy Thursday, we journey to the cross where Jesus is nailed to the cross. Hanging on the cross, a crown of thorns upon his head, and nails driven into his hands and his feet, Jesus simply states, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” Then Jesus breathes his last. In the silence of that dark Good Friday, the silence pierced by the mourners gathered as Jesus dies. At Good Friday services, I often shed tears as I recall the incredible thing Christ did for me—did for all of us.
And then from that night, after he is placed in the tomb, three days later, the women come to the tomb, find the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. Jesus has been raised from the grave. Again I cling to the promises of these words from Clarence W. Hall “Easter says you can put death in the grave, but it won’t stay there.”
Easter proclaims that life not death and light not darkness do indeed have the final word. Yet there are days that it can be so hard to see light and life. Too many of those that I care about (friends and family alike) struggle with finding the light in the midst of their own darkness of depression. Too many I care about fear for their own lives as they go out into the world. Too many I care about are searching to find their own resurrection hope in the midst of life’s joys and sorrows. Too many….find themselves trying to see the light and that death does not have the final word. And in watching them suffer, I deeply want to rush to Easter, yet I cannot fully experience the promise of Easter without traveling through Maundy Friday and the darkness of Good Friday myself.
On the cross, Jesus “opens the eyes to the blind, brings the prisoners out of the dungeon; from those who sit in the darkness.” Yet in the midst of life’s hard, it can be so incredibly difficult to trust in the promise of the cross. But as Spring beckons forth, new life is all around us; new life that reminds us that God does indeed make all things new again. Or in the words of Martin Luther, “Our Lord has written the promise of the resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime.”
Yet even though I know the end of the story, I still find myself asking, “Does he have to die again?” The injustice of the cross though calls me to be one of Jesus’ disciples in the world. In the words of Micah 6:8, God calls us all “to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.” In other words, it is because of the cross that we know the power of God’s scandalous love for all the world. So are we willing to proclaim in that scandalous love and fight for peace, justice, and mercy in all the world?
For in doing so, the words of the prophet Isaiah are fulfilled and Jesus comes as this profound gift that overcomes death and the grave. We confess in resurrection hope and the promise of God’s love for all of us through these very words from the second petition of the Apostles Creed: “I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only son our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. On the third day, he rose again. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.”
Jesus is the very embodiment of atonement—as Jesus in his humanity–becomes at one with us. Jesus sits with us in our darkness. Jesus wipes away our tears. Jesus gets down and dirty with us and isn’t afraid to experience the depths to which we experience life. And Jesus is the first to proclaim in God’s love for us by dying on the cross. And because of God’s love for us, we know the end of the story and can proudly proclaim on Easter morning, “Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!” But not before first experiencing Jesus’ last supper on Maundy Thursday and the darkness of Good Friday.