We Go the Way of the Cross

This sermon was preached for St. John’s Episcopal Church in Lynchburg, VA on Palm Sunday, Year C 2022.
Photo by Yannick Pulver on Unsplash
Luke 22:14-23:56

I speak to you in the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

It may not seem so at first, but the passion narrative, the gospel story this morning that we just heard, is profoundly Good News.

This week, this Holy Week, we live the last days of our savior Jesus Christ.

Now we don’t just hear it. We live it. Already, we’ve participated in the telling of this great story. Already we’ve raised our voices in hosannas as Jesus entered triumphantly into Jerusalem, knowing exactly where he would be within the week. Already we’ve fallen asleep at his side as he kept vigil, waiting for the crowd to take him away. Already, we’ve shouted “crucify him.”

We’ll keep the Passover, the great celebration of God’s liberation of the people of Israel, on Maundy Thursday. He’ll transform bread and wine into his body and blood. Ordinary things turned extraordinary by the overflowing love of God. He’ll tell us to wash each others feet— showing us in an act how we are to move about in the world, and how we are to treat those less powerful than ourselves. He’ll bid us to watch with him— and we will keep vigil over his body and blood Thursday night, just as his disciples prayed with him in the garden of Gethsemane.

On Good Friday, Jesus is arrested. He is bound, tried, sentenced, and hung on a cross to die. He is humiliated. We will hear the passion story again, and we will venerate the cross— a most peculiar symbol; a symbol of death that for us as Christians, has been transformed into a symbol of life. This most gruesome death begs us to unite our own lives and deaths with Jesus Christ. Will we take up our own crosses, and follow him?

On Holy Saturday, Jesus rested in the tomb. We too will rest; and prepare. Altar and flower guilds will ready the church for a celebration of life, just as the women gathered to anoint Jesus’ body and prepare him for his funeral. We’re filled with anticipation of Easter Sunday, but the angels have not come; the triumph is not here yet. We’re meant to keep vigil; to grieve and mourn. It did not have to be this way; yet it is this way.

Saturday evening, when the sun is down, we will gather. We will start the new fire, and light the first candles. We will hear the story of salvation, from creation onward. We will hear the great promises that those disciples left behind must have reread in their own lament. We will wait by the tomb for that announcement, for those first alleluias, and for the joy-filled triumph that is to come.

Its all too easy to journey right past the cross. It’s why we read the whole story this Sunday, not just the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Our salvation is not a work-around to our mortality and human condition. It is nothing we expect, and often not what we desire. We pledge ourselves to be followers of Christ, but as Jesus says to Peter, ““Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat” (Luke 22:31)

We say that “the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18).” We say that, and I’m afraid that for most of us, most of the time, it remains foolish right up until the end.

We are perishing; we will face our ends, sooner rather than later. Our lives are often a long journey of self-deception, that avoidance of moral and spiritual truths in our own self-interest; fooling ourselves to rationalize choices that cost us our relationship to God, to others, to our planet, and to ourselves. God does not come down to conquer and destroy those who stand against him; God does not throw us away when we are caught up in our own lies. No. God comes to us through the cross.

God offers us salvation by walking with us from start to finish. God sends Jesus: Born a human, raised by working class human parents in an unremarkable town. Jesus teaches us how to live, he upends the status quo, he heals the sick and cares for the poor and outcast. He is welcomed into Jerusalem as a political hero and sentenced to death mere days later. He is killed for being good, for being sinless. He is an innocent victim— and he bears the brunt of our sins, then and now. Our savior suffers with us and dies with us on the cross, not so that our lives may be made pain-free, but that we may bear them in hope, even as Jesus bore the weight of the world for us. Jesus shows us that God is in the low things, the painful things, the broken things. Jesus does not avoid evil, but faces it through the cross. And so it is the cross, a vile means of execution, that turned the world upside down. It’s the cross that reveals evil and sin have no power over Jesus, and no power over us. They do their worst, yet Jesus rises again.

Living into the last days of Jesus Christ mean we must examine the cross. We must grapple with God’s example of facing pain and evil and death. We must accept the truth of our own mortality. We must shed our avoidance of pain, and self-deception, and go minister to those places in ourselves and in our world where pain is the greatest— God is already there. We must turn our lives upside-down; no longer living for ourselves, but living for Jesus Christ, who leads the way, through death, into resurrection life. Amen.

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