April 9, 2017
Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5–11; Matthew 26:14- 27:66.
Today is Palm – Passion Sunday. Today’s liturgy takes us through the exhilaration of what Jesus experienced that first Palm Sunday as he made his way into the holy city of Jerusalem; the disappointment of what he found in the Temple, and the enormity of the week that followed: his arrest, trial, crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection on the first day of the new week – Easter Sunday.
But our Lenten Journey is not complete. There is still Holy Week to experience as you come Thursday night to walk the Stations and think about what Jesus “picked up and Laid down”. Then, we will have Communion together, set-up the Altar of Repose, and strip the Sanctuary portion of our church. The next day is Good Friday. Together, these two services help us remember that Jesus experienced total humiliation before he was glorified on that first Easter Sunday – all for us.
Palm Sunday Was a Mountain-top Experience
followed by a valley experience below. It wasn’t like Jesus had never experienced this dynamic of before. Remember the high, high of the Mount of Transfiguration? His body was transfigured. His Heavenly Father spoke out of the cloud that covered the mountain. Moses the Lawgiver and the Prophet Elijah were both allowed to return to this world and Jesus had a conversation with them. The three disciples with him were speechless as they witnessed this incredible event.
And then Jesus returned to the valley below when he confronted a demon possessed son, an angry father, and nine confused disciples. Is it any wonder Jesus was frustrated by the reality of life in the valley after the mountain top above? His experiences with mountain tops and valleys gives us a template to better understand our own lives because all of us live in a journey between highs and lows.
Holy Week is Mostly About Life in The Valleys.
In the Gospel lesson this morning there are five scenes out of Jesus’ life that portray this truth. Each scene has a bowl, a cup, or a jar attached to it. Listen to these scenes and how Jesus handled them. Which one will apply to your life today?
- Bowl of Betrayal (26:21-23), “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me.” The scene is the Last Supper. Jesus has arranged the seating. We know this because Peter is very unhappy with his seat. It is the servant’s seat and Peter should be serving Jesus and his fellow disciples by washing their feet. Instead, Jesus – the master of the house – is forced to again model the role of servant leadership for disciples who still don’t get it. This is the context for most Maundy Thursday services. At the other end of the table Jesus is sitting next to Judas. No wonder Peter is acting with an angry face. It ought to be his seat. However, Jesus knows something no one else knows. Judas is the treasurer for Jesus’ ministry and he is a thief. Yet, Jesus invites him to sit in a seat of honor – maybe he is hoping Judas will repent. Before the rest of the events that must take place can unfold, Jesus must reveal the one who will betray him. That betrayal triggers the events that result in our salvation. So, who betrays Jesus? The one who shares the bowl with Jesus from which they eat their supper. Such an intimate connection. The bowl of sustenance turns into the bowl of betrayal. Have you ever felt betrayed by one close to you? The second container important to us is the
- Cup of Communion (26:26-29), “Drink from it all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” We are at the same Last Supper scene: Jesus washing feet. Judas being revealed as the one who will betray Jesus. Jesus doing extensive teaching about his death and the coming of the Holy Spirit. And one other thing. They are eating the Passover meal and as they are finishing Jesus takes the bread and wine set aside for Elijah and institutes the sacrament of Holy Communion. Jesus takes a cup of wine and uses it to identify with the blood he will shed the next day; and by our participation in that cup we also share in his sacrifice and the benefits he earns for us through the shedding of his blood. He earns for us salvation and that salvation results in forgiveness of our sins and healing for our illnesses, injuries, and infirmities. This cup of communion Jesus offered his disciples is the same cup we receive each week. It reconnects with the covenant made for us with God by Jesus and all the benefits the shedding of his blood brings us. Have you experienced that Covenant Renewal in Communion? The next cup is the
- Cup of Temptation (26:38-39, 42), “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” … “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” The scene is the Garden of Gethsemane. The Passover meal is over. They sing a hymn and leave the Upper Room and the city of Jerusalem to an Olive Tree grove on the slope of the Mount of Olives to spend the night. There, Jesus enters a time of deep temptation and prayer – the fullest weight of his pending crucifixion and the pain that awaits him, enhanced by the continuous, accelerated, very strong, deceiving and lying temptations directly from Lucifer himself, tormenting Jesus. His anxiety is recognized by the multiple requests he make of his disciples to stay awake and pray for him, and Luke’s recording that his blood pressure was so high that he was sweating drops of blood. Luke 22:41-44 (NIV) 22:4 He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 43An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. All of us face temptations not to do God’s will in our own lives. Jesus has shown us that fervent prayer, complete trust in God and utter dependence upon the presence of the Holy Spirit can enable us to successfully navigate the stormy waters of temptation. It won’t be without pain that sometimes turns us inside out, but how many of us have resisted evil to the point of the shedding of our own blood? The fourth container is the
- Bowl of Expediency: Jesus has been arrested and endured a phony trial conducted by the Chief Priests and the Sanhedrin. He is then sent to the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate because only he can order Jesus to be crucified. Pilate is convinced Jesus is innocent of the charges against him and tries to broker a deal whereby Jesus is set free. But, the political crowd will have nothing to do with Pilate’s deal. (27:24-25), “When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood, it is your responsibility!’ All the people answered, ‘His blood is on us and on our children!’” Pilate was trapped in the political conundrum that all politicians eventually end up facing: “do I do the right thing, or the politically expedient thing?” God knew which way Pilate would turn. Keeping the peace was one of his main jobs; and keeping the peace without committing soldiers to fight the Jews was even better. So, Jesus became expendable – a political settlement. All of us face situations – maybe at work, or school, or with certain friends or family members – where the expedient thing to do is to sell out Jesus – at least for that moment. But, Jesus didn’t sell us out. He didn’t do the expedient thing. He chose the Cross and gave his life for us. The last container we encounter today is the
- Jar of Thirst (27:48), “Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink.” Jesus is on the cross, dying. He has two more actions to fulfill. Matthew records them in a skeletal fashion. John fleshes them out a bit more for our understanding: John 19:28-30 (NIV) 19:28 Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. Jesus was thirsty because he had lost so much blood and been through so much physical exertion. Yet, thirsting is also a spiritual realty. In, the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled.” To the Woman at the Well who came to draw water Jesus told her about ‘living water’ that he could give her and she would never thirst again. That’s the water she wanted and the water Jesus is offering all of us today. Are you thirsting to know the reality of God in your life? I invite you to Drink deeply of Christ during Communion today.