The Gospel: Matthew 27:11-54
Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You say so.” But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer. Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you?” But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.
Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted. At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus Barabbas. So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” For he realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over. While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.” Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed. The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” Pilate said to them, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” All of them said, “Let him be crucified!” Then he asked, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”
So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” Then the people as a whole answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.
Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.
As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross. And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; then they sat down there and kept watch over him. Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”
Then two bandits were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, ‘I am God’s Son.’” The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him in the same way.
From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.” At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that you have inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation, and that you will empower our application. Amen
The Message: "Whom are you looking for?"
As we engage in, and with, the scriptures for this Sunday when we celebrate The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ / Palm Sunday, I would like us to consider a question that Jesus is asked in a different account of the Biblical narrative of the events of Holy Week. Jesus is confronted in the Garden of Gesthanme and he asks this question of those who came looking for him on that night. "Whom are you looking for?"
Now, I have to say that this account of the incident in the garden I am referring to and the question itself comes from the Gospel of John.
The other three "synoptic" Gospels do not mention this question. But as I was preparing for my message this morning I was drawn to seek out this particular event, and the question. I believe we can overlay it over the other Gospel accounts and gain some new insights because of it.
This morning's Gospel reading is from Matthew. It is the account of all that happens to Jesus after his arrest in the garden until his death on the cross.
I believe that I said last year that the church has modified its liturgical practices to fit the realities of the world that we live in. We condense the celebration of Palm Sunday and jump ahead to the events of Good Friday because it is very difficult for many people to attend the Good Friday service. So find ourselves, today, moving from the brief Liturgy of the Palms - Triumphal entry celebration service - to the Sunday of the Passion narrative.
This year, in our cycle of readings, we find ourselves catapulted from the Triumphal entry into Govenor's Palace and his trial. But as I was reading through the Gospel this past week I was struck by that question from John's Gospel and his account of the arrest in the Garden of Gesthanme. It seems to me that it is there as a recurring echo through the Passion of Christ.
"Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, “Whom are you looking for?”" John 18:4 NRSV
It struck me that perhaps we find ourselves confronted by the same question even today. With the condensation of Palm Sunday and the Passion, we have all the events focused in, and concentrated. We see all of the people responding to Jesus in his triumphal entry, then without pausing we find ourselves following Jesus in his journey from one accuser to another. It is almost enough to make your head spin isn't it?
All the while people are asking him who are you? They quote other people who are supposed to have accused him of claiming certain things, roles, or powers. They ask him over and over who are you? It is as if they are truly interested in finding out for themselves. But it is obvious they are looking for him to trip up so they can accuse and charge him, then have reason to punish him.
Jesus never actually responds to the charges laid on him. He seems, in his lack of response, to continually turn the accusations back against his accusers. They became more and more inflamed and angered by his lack of response to their power and authority.
As I read the account this year I could hear in my mind that question from the garden, over and over again: Whom are you looking for?
It is as though Jesus, by his silence, gradually peels back the truth of who each one of his accusers is. Their true fears and desires are revealed by Jesus. The question becomes: "Who is that they are looking for him to be?"
I touched on one aspect of this process in my Musings in the Weekly Update this week. There are some theologians who suggest that Judas expected that when Jesus was confronted, in the Garden of Gethsemane, by the potential of his arrest, that Jesus would rally his followers and begin his campaign to assert his rule and reign as the rightful Prince of the people of Israel.
It is suggested that Judas expected that
his (Jesus') triumphal entry into Jerusalem was supposed to mark the beginning of the restoration of the Kingdom of Israel. When that doesn't happen Judas has to cooperate with the authorities to push Jesus into a position where he must react and respond.
From that point on everyone that Jesus comes in contact with is pushing him to fulfill their expectations. They have decided who he is and they are seeking to push him so hard that he will eventually react and respond. That he will lose patience with the situation and reveal his true nature, his true intentions.
Whom are you looking for?
Of course, Jesus does just that, doesn't he? Oh, he doesn't lose his patience, in fact, he is infinitely patient in response to all they do to him.
Now, we know, because we know the rest of the story, that he does reveal his true nature and his true intentions. It is just not what or who they expect him to be.
This Passion Sunday: Palm Sunday who are we looking for? As we ask questions, as we engage with the scriptures and the historical celebrations of the church. Who are we looking for? Are we looking for Jesus as he has revealed his true nature and his true intentions? Or are we looking for him to be something else, something that we need him to be?
Are we looking for an avenging Prince of Power? Are we longing for Jesus to come and avenge all those things that have been done against us? Are we desiring the follow this prince of power in conquering and vanquishing "the enemy?"
Or are we looking for the Prince of Peace who will restore all that is not right within us? Are we longing for the restoration of our true selves? The seeking for a renewal that will mean a refreshment of our hearts minds and souls to our becoming more completely who we were created to be?
If we ask ourselves the question: Whom are you looking for?
What will be revealed about who we are seeking? What will be revealed about our true nature and our true desire? Is it our desire that we would see more clearly who we understand Jesus truly is so that we depend on him and his work to bring us to our true nature and true desires.
Perhaps we could look at Collect 7 from the Book of Common Prayer Collects for Various Occasions on page 252:
For all Baptized Christians
Grant, Lord God, to all who have been baptized into the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ, that, as we have put away the old life of sin, so we may be renewed in the spirit of our minds, and live in righteousness and true holiness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
"Whom are you looking for?"
This Holy Week, how would it change you, if you asked the Lord to make you aware of these words in a new way?
Bishops & Father Mike