The Sunday of the Passion: A Sermon


Before beginning, a word about this week’s readings. Between the tragic history of Christian antisemitism—which often peaked during Holy Week—and its appearance today in various forms of white Christian nationalism, there’s legitimate concern that the Holy Week readings fuel that. I tend to think that the problem lies not in the readings, but in us as readers, as we forget or suppress our identity. And what is that identity?

Recall Paul’s take on Jewish-Gentile relations in Romans: “But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place to share the rich root of the olive tree, do not boast over the branches. If you do boast, remember that it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you” (Rom. 11:17-18). God’s grafted us gentiles into the Jewish project. To tweak the metaphor, Christian antisemitism is at best an exercise in sawing off the branch on which we’re sitting.

We call ourselves—rightly—the people of God. That means that we’re vulnerable to all the temptations that identity entails, the temptations chronicled at some length in Scripture. Again, Paul writing to the Corinthians: don’t make the same mistakes Israel made in the wilderness. Antisemitism blinds us to the danger we’re inescapably in. It’s we—the people of God—who cry “Crucify him.” Nuff said.

From our Gospel reading: “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” God invites us, particularly during Holy Week to enter into unspeakable sorrow and joy

The sorrow: this —what we’ve just heard— is who we are. It’s not all that we are, but it’s an inescapable part. It’s not so much a matter of the particulars, Judas’ treachery, the disciples’ cowardice, the cynicism of the religious leaders, Pilate’s leadership, the soldiers’ brutality. Combine the 1st Century Roman system of justice—one of the better systems on offer in any century—with the 1st Century Jewish religion—one of the better religions on offer in any century—and you get what we just heard. All this is what it costs God to deal with our sin.

Our sin. Our gluttony, lust, greed, envy, anger, sloth & pride. We are all victims of the sins of others, but there are few things more dangerous than so focusing on our victimhood that we lose touch with the ways in which we fail to love God and our neighbor.

For the forgiveness of our sins. Precisely in the midst of unspeakable sorrow, unspeakable joy. Most of us don’t dare enter into the sorrow without having encountered the joy, that it’s already all right. “…my Blood of the new Covenant, …shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” The New Testament never tires of exploring this mystery.

  • Jesus, the human who offers the pure obedience to God—as we heard in the first two readings—that none of us are capable of offering, and so opens the door to reconciliation between God and humanity…
  • Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world…
  • Jesus, God Incarnate, who by his death destroys the works of the devil…

We could go on and on. For the moment, Charles Wesley’s lines sum it up: “I felt my Lord’s atoning blood / Close to my soul applied; / Me, me He loved—the Son of God / For me, for me he died!”

Who are we as human beings? Folk who kill God when God shows up. Who are we as human beings? Folk for whom God does show up because God loves us.

So enter into the unity of unspeakable sorrow and joy of Holy Week. We’ll gather Thursday for the Last Supper, Friday to stand around the cross, and Sunday to be bewildered by the women’s announcement of an empty tomb, and enter into their joy.

And what God has joined, let’s not pull asunder. For some that means: show up on Good Friday. We can celebration life at Easter (Easter bunnies and all) only because of what Jesus accomplished on Good Friday. For some that means: show up at Easter. Without the resurrection the suffering Christ—much as we may appreciate the company—is incapable of transforming our reality.

Unspeakable sorrow; unspeakable joy. May we accept God’s invitation and drink deeply.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s