March 25, 2018 – Palm/Passion Sunday Year B

Mark 15:1-39 [40-47]

The passion story in Mark’s gospel presents Jesus as one who dies abandoned by all. He shows himself to be the true Son of God by giving his life for those who have forsaken him.

1As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. 2Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” He answered him, “You say so.” 3Then the chief priests accused him of many things. 4Pilate asked him again, “Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.” 5But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.
6Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked. 7Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. 8So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom. 9Then he answered them, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” 10For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. 11But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. 12Pilate spoke to them again, “Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” 13They shouted back, “Crucify him!” 14Pilate asked them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him!” 15So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.
16Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort. 17And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. 18And they began saluting him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 19They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. 20After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.
21They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. 22Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). 23And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. 24And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take.
25It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. 26The inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” 27And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left. 29Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30save yourself, and come down from the cross!” 31In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.
33When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.” 36And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” 37Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. 38And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” [
40There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.
42When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, 43Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 44Then Pilate wondered if he were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he had been dead for some time. 45When he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph. 46Then Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. 47Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was laid.]

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Mark is sometimes called a crucifixion story with a long prolog. It is the shortest of the gospels, yet contains some of the most graphic details about Jesus’ death. And, to be completely honest, I don’t really know what to say. In the face of such suffering, I’m at a loss for words. This Sunday spans about a week. We enter the sanctuary with shouts of “Hosanna”. Jesus has entered the city of Jerusalem and our sanctuary in triumph. But instead of riding on a grand stallion, he’s riding on an unbroken, unbridled donkey and, if you know anything about either donkeys (or Jesus), they’re unpredictable. About 5 days later, we have our second gospel reading and it’s hard to know how we got here.

I think the fact that people were shouting “Hosanna” tells us something, maybe gives us a reason why our readings today are so polar opposites. “Hosanna” means “Lord, save us”. We usually think of it as a shout of praise, but in reality it’s a shout of lament. It’s not a cry of celebration, but a cry of desperation. They want a Savior, and he is a Savior, but they are looking not for a spiritual savior, but a political one. They want Jesus to conquer Rome, not sin and death. They want someone to turn the tables of corrupt and oppressive governments, not the tables of religion and laws. So they cry, “Lord, save us” as he rides down the street on an unbridled, unbroken donkey.

But shortly after his entrance, he makes it pretty clear that he is not going to deliver on their hopes. And we find the same people who shouted “hosanna” while waving palm branches are now shouting “crucify him” while waving fists. This is not the deliverance they wanted and now Jesus will pay with his life. And after the shouts of “hosanna” and the shouts of “crucify him”, we hear Jesus shout. And it’s not a shout of victory, but of agony – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This is a cry from a man who has reached his end – beaten, humiliated, and simply waiting to die. For him, at this moment, there is no promise of resurrection, no future hope of peace, and he has nothing left.

This tells us something important about Jesus. He did not march to the cross, he did not take our sin upon him, knowing that all would be made well. He died a real death and refused to call down angels or powers to prevent it. He is so committed to experiencing life with you, even now, that he went to the cross and experienced the pain of death for you and with you. If the cross tells us anything, it’s that there is nothing you can go through, no pain, grief, or suffering of mind, body, or spirit which God does not experience with you.

The people Jesus is dying for are the same people who shouted “hosanna”, the same people who shouted “crucify him”, and if there’s hope for even them, there is hope for you and me. And so we wait this week, at the cross, where we will watch Jesus die, we’ll walk the path in the garden to his tomb, and we’ll hope that in our pain and grief, even now, that God can make beautiful things out of the dust and sting of death.

Amen.

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