Wednesday, March 24, 2010

I threatened to put up my homily for the next to last Wednesday in Lent, so here goes.
In the words of St. Paul, "Grace, mercy and peace be unto you in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen
Tonight we are at the end of our slow and solemn walk to a most sacred time in the history of the world, the awful fulfillment of God's promise of salvation. This walk started back in the garden when Adam and Eve brought sin and death into the world. He promised to send a Messiah that would crush the serpent's head and immediately sacrifices an animal, maybe a lamb, for the skins that would cover Adam and Eve, a covering for their sin. So we learn early on that there is no redemption without sacrifice. We see this throughout the Old Testament with Abraham and Isaac, with the Passover miracle in Egypt that we remember next week, and now we are at the point of God's ultimate sacrifice for our redemption, that of his only son, Jesus, the Christ.
The priests and their mob have spoken, "We have no king but Caesar," and Pilate, anxious to maintain order sends Jesus to be crucified. Jesus is stripped of the mocking robe, dressed in his clothes and is marched off to be crucified. As was the common practice, He is forced to carry the heavy crossbeam that soon he will be viciously nailed to. He is pushed through the angry crowd, many of which had hailed Him with joyful hosannas only a few days earlier. We humans are pretty fickle, like Peter praising Him one day, denying the next. Yet, Jesus continues in His love for us, going forward in the ultimate act of love and sacrifice and so pushes forward to the place of his death.
The common location for crucifixions in Jerusalem was outside the city, known as Golgotha, the Skull. In their efforts in maintain order in the far flung empire the Romans punished violently and obviously. They wanted those punished to be seen and to be examples, so a hill by a road was a perfect location. The cross, if you will, a gory signpost advertising the power of Rome. Often these signposts were labeled, on Jesus' cross would be nailed a multilingual placard reading "The King of the Jews". Passersby could read this title in Aramaic, Greek, or Latin. Was this part of God's plan? I think so. Even at this point of despair, God used Pilate to proclaim the truth to any who would see: this truly was the king of the Jews, their long awaited Christ, if, as Jesus often said, they had eyes to see. The Jewish priests were not happy, though and protested to Pilate. His answer, a rather childish, "What I have written, I have written." And so, this minor Roman official, perhaps the most famous judge in history, passes from the scene, otherwise hardly a footnote in the history of man.
The gospels tell us that Jesus stumbled, unable to carry the beam upon which he would spend his last moments as a man. Is it any wonder? After a long night of prayer, and beatings and humiliation, his body gave out. The ever efficient Romans grabbed a passerby, a Simon, not even from Jerusalem, probably in town for the Passover, to carry the grisly crosspiece up the hill to the killing place. We don't know if this Simon knew anything about Jesus. I doubt it, I think his choice was do it or face immediate Roman punishment. It's amazing what you can do with a sword at your throat. I like to think I would have pushed through the angry mob and offered to help our Lord, to give Him some little honor in His last moments, but, honestly, I don't think so. I think I probably would have been hiding out with the other disciples, scared, thinking all is lost, my Lord is doomed.
The grisly parade continued...John spares us the details and simply notes that he was crucified, meaning he was affixed to the cross until His death. History has given us the details of this terrible punishment. St. John does mention that the soldiers divided up his clothing. It was the custom, probably considered a benefit of these soldiers' detail. When they came to his undergarment and found it to be seamless, rather than rip it up they drew lots to see who would get this prize. John reminds us that this fulfills an ancient prophecy from the 22nd Psalm, "They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots." Jewish readers would also be reminded of the seamless garments that God commanded the high priest to wear. Jesus is our high priest, offering this one last living sacrifice, Himself, for our salvation.
We don't know all who were there at the killing ground that day, but John tells us that he was there with Mary, Jesus' mother and the other two Marys. These few, for sure, stayed with Him through his final hours. But what of those others, His disciples, the crowds , that followed him and hung on Jesus' every word, where were they? I know that I much as I need to get close to the cross, I also want to turn away in shame, it should be me up there. It should be my sins being punished. Yet, Jesus, this spotless, sinless lamb is hanging there instead of me. I don't know what to think, I am ashamed, I am in awe, I am once again reminded of my helpless humanity in the face of God's plan for both our judgment and our redemption. Even at this point, Jesus last moments, he reaches out commanding John to take care of his mother, Mary; she to adopt John as her son, and so establishes a caring Christian community on earth, carrying out His great commandment to love one another. It's kind of where were at today, struggling to love one another. It's hard because we're not that attractive, we've got a lot of warts and rough spots, we're mostly pretty selfish people, not really wanting to put ourselves out too much, yet it is our sacred obligation to love one another as He has loved us. Look around you, here, in your family, in community, in our nation, the truth is only through Jesus can we truly love one another.
John tells us that then He accepted a drink and declared, "It is finished."
Fortunately, for us, we know the rest of the story, but did John and Mary, did the rest of the disciples, the many other followers who watched on that dark Jerusalem afternoon? They must have been devastated. We know that in only a few days, Jesus would reveal himself as the Risen Lord having crushed satin once and for all. Once and for all, redeeming those who believe in Him, defeating death and restoring God's plan for our eternal life. It's a full circle, the new Adam takes us back to the garden, home to paradise, home to eternal life with God.
Tonight brings us to the end of this horrible and wonderful story from Gethsemane to Golgotha and fortunately, we are right where we belong: at the foot of the cross. Thank God! Amen.
Now, as we ponder Jesus last moments on the cross, may God's peace which exceeds all understanding keep our hearts and minds on Jesus, the Christ, our Savior and Messiah Amen

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