First is Judas, The Betrayer, who sells Jesus out to the Chief Priests for 30 pieces of silver. And then there are Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, who fail to stay awake while Jesus is praying; and then all the disciples desert him and flee. Caiaphas and the Council stage a trial, using false witnesses and evidence to condemn him to death. And, Peter betrays Jesus again – three more times, before the Cock crows; just as Jesus foretold.
And then, Pilate ignores the plea of his wife, betraying her. And, the Chief Priests betray Jesus again, inciting the crowd to ask for the release of Barabbas. – Which means all the people (and our pamphlet reading makes it clear we are among those people) betrayed Jesus, too, Matthew has us saying “let his Blood be upon us and on our children…!” They knew what they were doing. Even the bandits hanging on crosses on either side of Jesus taunted him.
And finally, Jesus calls out “Eli Eli Lema sabachthani!” meaning “My God My God, why have you betrayed me!?”
In the end, everyone betrays Jesus the Son of God, even God.
Lent teaches us that the Kingdom of God is not a magical solution to all of the bad things we’ve had to endure. It will not take away our pains or erase our scars. The Kingdom of God is about Love, not hate. It is about healing, not magic; it is about conquering fear, not eliminating what spawned that fear within us. The Kingdom of God comes about after the death of all of our hope, and all of our fear. The Kingdom of God is realized only through our openness, brokenness, and repentance.
On Palm Sunday, we remember Jesus’ dramatic entry into Jerusalem: The Crowds celebrate his arrival, believing it heralds a new era for the people of Israel. The Messiah has come, and will set everything right: the occupiers and their Empire will vanish; the evils and oppression they brought with them will be cleansed from the land. The incompetence and greed of Israel’s own leaders will be made as if it had never been, once David’s descendant, anointed by God himself, takes his rightful place on the throne.
Israel will regain its long lost greatness, and will indeed become greater than ever: a new Empire of God, with the Son of God himself as their King. The glory of the Temple and God’s renewed presence within it will shine forth to every nation and people in all the world, forevermore. It’s all so beautiful, so wonderful, so magical: what a great thing to witness. What a great time to be alive.
But then it all comes crashing down. Now, just a few days later, Jesus and his disciples are hunted by the authorities: they know it is only a matter of time before Jesus, and maybe all of them, are arrested and maybe even executed.
The crowds are turning against this latest in a long string of disappointing Messiahs. They now see that the magic they’d seen in him has no substance or reality at all. In the eyes of the people and their leaders, he is a fraud.
The magic is gone. The people feel that Jesus has betrayed them; and the disciples feel that God has betrayed them, and it seems like everyone has betrayed Jesus.
The Crowd, Pilate, Caiaphas, Judas, and Peter: They all try to do the right thing, and we can see ourselves in them; because they are us in this story.
One central lesson of Palm Sunday is that that no matter how powerful we may be, no matter how well intentioned we are, no matter how wise, or how foolish, or how rich, or how poor, we all constantly make choices that widen the chasm that lies between us and God. We can’t help it, we can’t change it: … it’s part of being human. That is what Sin is: Sin with a Capital “S”; the Sin that has been passed down to us as our share in the brokenness of all existence, the Sin that began with Adam.
How does it feel to be one of them, one of the mob, one of those calling for His death? To turn on him in his hour of need?
How does it feel?
Let us pray…
Lord God, we lift up this morning’s message. May it touch our hearts, may it speak clearly to our souls. We believe your word and your love will rescue us from the depths of our doubt, unbelief, and Sin. Speak to us now, Lord. Help us to know you in the way you have wanted us to know you since the beginning. Amen.
Peter really tried to do the right thing. In the Garden of Gethsemane, he really tried to stay awake while Jesus prayed, but failed. We’ve all been there: like many of you, I have a hard time staying awake for my son after a long day of work, let alone during a sermon. Peter was no different!
But then, when Jesus was arrested, Peter ran away, just like everyone else. He tried again, tried to be there for his friend, the man he knew to be God’s anointed: stumbling along in the dark behind that mob, following their torches to the house of Caiaphas. He then sat in the courtyard, wondering what to do, listening to the voices coming through the window above him, hoping to hear his master speak, hoping that – somehow – Jesus would escape the fate they’d all feared for him. But, Peter also feared for his own safety, fearing he would be recognized as he warmed himself beside that fire.
He did his best, but it was too much for him. When the test came, when that servant girl called him out, he did the only thing he could do: he lied.
And then, when he heard the cock crow the second time, he wept. His failure was complete, his weakness contributed to the death of the man he loved. But Jesus had known this all along, and out of an abundance of compassion and love, had warned Peter this would happen.
We all know how this feels. We’ve all been confronted by situations we could not overcome. How many of us are Peters?
Presented at West Boylston First Congregational Church, UCC, April 1, 2012 (Palm Sunday).
(NB: This message was preceded by a dramatic reading of the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus from Mark 14 & 15, which included the Congregation participating as the mob that shouted out [to Pilate] “Crucify Him!.” The reading is available as a Pamphlet from St. Gregory’s Church of Muskegon, MI.)
How does it feel?
How does it feel to be here this morning, to be one of those shouting “Crucify Him” during our dramatic reading from Mark?
How does it feel to be one of them, one of the mob, one of those calling for His death? To turn on him in his hour of need? How does it feel?