Today is Wednesday in Holy Week. We are right smack dab in between Palm Sunday and Easter. This is the week each year when we remember the end of Jesus’ life and memory. This is what our reading this morning instructs us to do. To look to Jesus as the pioneer of our faith and consider how he endured hostility.
Last Sunday we celebrated Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. People welcomed him with enthusiasm. Maybe you were in church and joined in waving palms and shouting “Hosanna in the highest, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” On Palm Sunday, I gathered with others who follow the way of Jesus and together we sang and celebrated and marched towards the church. The same church where each week we gather to read scripture, pray together, break bread and drink wine – where we as a community come together to remember Jesus “who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” In church last Sunday, we processed together celebrating the ministry of Jesus, giving him glory. We reenacted the Gospel story, just as people have done every year on Palm Sunday for time in memorial. As the Gospel story is told, the joy that comes in celebrating Jesus’ message of love as he enters into the Holy City quickly changes from “hosanna” to “crucify him.”
In this way, Palm Sunday begins a week of story-telling and remembering that culminates in Easter celebrations on Sunday. On Easter our joy and celebration will return. But it’s important for us to not jump ahead too fast. We have a few more days to get through before then and the stories we hear on those days, even the hard ones, matter. On Easter Jesus rises from death, he is resurrected, but he has to die first in order for that to happen.
Today I’m going to lean in to the hard stuff and I invite you to come along with me. I know – what a downer. Invite a guest to come preach and she makes us all depressed, already rethinking doing that again. But the old adage is true: without dark we wouldn’t know light, without pain the sweetness of joy. The hard stuff brings meaning to the good stuff – a kind of meaning that we wouldn’t be able to describe without it. Jesus suffering and death is not only a necessary thing to get us to resurrection it also brings all sorts of deeper and fuller meaning to his life. As our reading testifies: “for the sake of the joy that was set before him[, Jesus] endured the cross.” Speaking honestly, we all live lives that are filled with both joy and pain. We work hard at something and succeed. We get an adorable new pet. We get in trouble. We fail a test. We get accepted into college. We celebrate a birthday. We mourn the death of a loved one. We stay up way too late watching our favorite movie. We lose our snap-streak with a friend.
Sometimes we are the cause of our own joy or pain, and sometimes we are not. If we follow Jesus’ ways, study his teachings, look to Jesus as the perfecter of our faith – we will come to understand that our pain and sorrow should not cause us to lose heart or grow weary. God took on human form as Jesus. In doing so God shows us that God knows what it is like to feel joy and happiness and also pain and sorrow. God understands the human experience. God knows what it is like to be rejected, to fail, to be punished. Knowing this – each time I experience loss or fall short I understand that God is with me. This is what we learn during Holy Week. With this in mind, let’s think a little bit more about Jesus’ final days. What we in the Episcopal Church call the Triduum: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil.
Tomorrow is Maundy Thursday, when we tell the story of the last supper. Jesus washes his disciple’s feet, an act that is thoroughly revolutionary. In Jesus time it was the servant’s job to wash the dust from other’s feet. When Jesus takes on this role he is giving us an example of how we are to live our lives as loving servants. Afterwards, Jesus takes bread and wine, blesses and shares them. Jesus then says to his disciples and us his followers: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” When you go to church tomorrow night for Maundy Thursday services you will probably be invited to wash your neighbor’s feet and you will celebrate Eucharist for the final time, a last supper, before Easter. You will be reminded that you should love one another as a servant. Loving like Jesus means doing what is right over what is easy, doing what is best for the community over what you want. Loving like Jesus is not simple but it is important and it takes practice.
Next, on Good Friday, Jesus is betrayed. Judas, one of his twelve disciples, turns Jesus over to the chief priests and Pharisees who arrest him. Simon Peter takes up his sword and in doing so disobeys Jesus’ teachings. Peter denies knowing Jesus three times. These friends and followers of Jesus, did they learn nothing in all of the time they spent with Jesus? Most of us can probably relate to this story in some way. I would bet that everyone in this room knows what it is like to be betrayed, for someone to do something we’ve asked them not to, to be denied. These are not easy things. It takes strength of character to do what is right, to not act out of anger, to face this pain and choose love. On Good Friday Jesus shows us the way. He says: “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Jesus commands us to love one another always, not just when it is convenient. At the end of the Good Friday story Jesus dies and we are left to sit with this sorrow.
On Saturday night, we will celebrate the Great Vigil of Easter. This is the most Holy night in our Christian tradition. We tell a series of stories which have shaped our Christian faith beginning with Creation and ending with the resurrection of Jesus. We are told: “’Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him.’” We baptize new believers and renew our own baptism vowing to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers; persevere in resisting evil, and whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord; proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ; seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself; strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being. We do this as a community, surrounded by other people who follow Jesus’ way of loving servanthood. In the words of the letter to the Hebrews we heard this morning:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”