Passion Sunday, Cycle B
Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago
Where do we stand? Where do you line up? Can you see yourself parading with the peace marchers who threw their garments on the ground and waved palm branches in the air striding into Jerusalem through the East gate? They shouted Hosanna! It means, ‘Lord save us!” (Mark 11:9)
Or perhaps could you picture yourself on the other side of town at that other larger and more organized parade scholars tell us rode into Jerusalem that day by the West gate, the one celebrating the power of Empire, and the mighty spectacle of military hardware, human ingenuity, order, and discipline represented by the Roman army? They were like so many who crowd the lakeshore at the Air and Water show here in Chicago.
Or perhaps, you can see yourself lining up with that other crowd of religious nationalists and cynics who found fellowship with each other in heaping scorn upon a scapegoat. Finding someone to blame for all their troubles, they shouted, “crucify him.” (Mark 15:13) Or are we like Simon of Cyrene, compelled into service, somehow, almost by accident, we became part of this story through no decision or desire of our own? (Mark 15:21)
Or perhaps, you see yourself lining up with that battle-hardened, world-weary Centurion standing at the foot of the cross, who declared, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” (Mark 15:39) The bible doesn’t say. I wonder, what did that Centurion see that no one else did? Some say the Centurion was merely being satirical and ironic rather than faithful.
The peace march, and the military parade, the self-righteous, and the accidental tourist, both the faithful and the cynical confessor –I confess, I have played them all. I have visited all these places. Whether by commission or omission, I have marched in all these parades.
But Mark seems to say something we haven’t thought of. Mark seems to see us standing, not among the living, but among the dead. He tells us the curtain in the temple was torn in two at the moment of Jesus’ death. Literally, the realms of heaven and earth are now joined together. The undying life of God now lays in, with, and under, all that is. So that even the sky could see and mourn the tragedy of Jesus’ death.
We are like poor Lazarus stumbling out from his tomb, called from darkness into the light. Freed from death we would yet close our eyes. We long to lay down again in the cold comfort of our graves, but for the call of the Lord of Life, who now stands with the crucified, the bloodied, the brutalized, the betrayed, the executed, the lynched, the refugee, the suffering, the afflicted, the poor. God with us. We stand with Jesus, who emptied himself and took the form of a slave, even to the point of death—even death on a cross. (Philippians 2: 6-8) Our parade follows the winding way of Jesus and his cross, so that, like him, our weakness may become our strength, our emptiness a fountain of abundance, our unknowing a source of wisdom, our very mortality a gateway to eternal life.
This Thursday, March 25th, was the anniversary of my baptism. Some of you will remember I didn’t always know the day that I was baptized, or the place, or even (briefly) I worried whether I was baptized at all —until we undertook a baptismal project here at Immanuel some years ago. I had to do some sleuthing.
March 25th is significant for another less personal reason. Nine months before Christmas, in which the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would give birth to the Son of God, it is a festival day, the Annunciation of Our Lord. The ancient church believed that this was also the date of the world’s creation and of Jesus’ death on the cross. March 25 was marked as New Year’s Day in many pre-modern Christian countries.
Christmas and the cross go together. In Mark’s gospel, the cross, like the day of Christ’s birth, is a sign of the incarnation. I was marked with the sign of this cross at my baptism, as you were. We would be mere clay and ash but for the breath God breathed into us. Where do we stand? We stand with Jesus. Where do you line up? We line up behind the Lord. Stand beneath the warm gaze of God to be healed. The cross shouts once and for all, stop striving and trying and planning to make yourself better and stronger. Try instead this other plan. Let love draw you. Let fellowship with Christ elevate you. Let the undying life of God fill you. To God be given praise.