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Palm Sunday, 04/01/2012

Sermon on Mark 15:1-39, by Amy C. Schifrin

 And as soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. And they bound Jesus and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate. And Pilate asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" And he answered him, "You have said so." And the chief priests accused him of many things. And Pilate again asked him, "Have you no answer to make? See how many charges they bring against you." But Jesus made no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed.
            Now at the feast he used to release for them one prisoner for whom they asked. And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas. And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he usually did for them. And he answered them, saying, "Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?" For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead. And Pilate again said to them, "Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?" And they cried out again, "Crucify him." And Pilate said to them, "Why, what evil has he done?" But they shouted all the more, "Crucify him." So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.
            And the soldiers led him away inside the palace (that is, the governor's headquarters), and they called together the whole battalion. And they clothed him in a purple cloak, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on him. And they began to salute him, "Hail, King of the Jews!" And they were striking his head with a reed and spitting on him and kneeling down in homage to him. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him.
            And they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross. And they brought him to the place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull). And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take. And it was the third hour when they crucified him. And the inscription of the charge against him read, "The King of the Jews." And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left. And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, "Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!" So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, "He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe." Those who were crucified with him also reviled him.
            And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" And some of the bystanders hearing it said, "Behold, he is calling Elijah." And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, "Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down." And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, "Truly this man was the Son of God!"
Mark 15:1-39 (ESV)

"And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross."  Philippians 2:8

"And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it."  Mark 15:23

Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Baptized by John in the River Jordan, tempted by Satan in the wilderness, calling disciples by the sea, dining with tax collectors, plucking grain on the Sabbath, healing a man with a withered hand, forgiving sins, calming the sea, casting out demons, feeding five thousand, conversing on a mountaintop with Moses and Elijah, blessing the little children, riding a colt into Jerusalem, eating the Passover with his disciples, kissed by Judas, denied by Peter, arrested by the authorities-mocked, stripped, and brought to Golgotha...

And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, a bitter sedative-something to anesthetize his pain-but he does not take it. He does not drink it. Could any drug stop this pain? What we see on the surface is brutal enough-nails piercing bone, blood dripping on a garbage heap. What the world sees on the surface is brutal enough, but the pain that arises in the heart of God is greater than any anesthetic could assuage. For unlike the rest of us who do whatever we can to avoid pain, unlike the rest of humanity whose faithfulness comes and goes, who can find an array of anesthetics to tempt us away from reality, Jesus only, Jesus always, does his Father's will. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.

This is the week where those who have eyes to see will see his obedience. This is the week where those who have ears to hear will hear his triumphant cry of love. This is the week when those who still have blood in their veins will feel it pulsing like a mighty stream. This is the week from which every other week emerges. Holy Week. Everything leads to this week, everything. The world turning on its axis leads to this week. The moon and the stars were set in their courses for this week. From the beginning of time he was meant to heal us. From the beginning of time he was meant to save us, for in his obedient death our sins would be put to death, and all the rebellious world would be embraced by the Father's love. Why would Jesus, the beloved Son, run from this week? Why would Jesus run from this pain...for he alone is the One who trusts that it is his Father's way of drawing all people into life.

Between the time he enters Jerusalem on that beautiful frisky colt and the centurion's proclamation of his innocent death, Jesus will journey into all the untouched places of our hearts. Whatever shred of self-righteousness we have left will soon vanish, for his love will expose all the things about ourselves we wish to hide. The chief priests will accuse him of many things-all the things from which the poor benefitted. But in that moment, Jesus will remain silent, a gift of love for all those whom he sheltered. Yet even now, all who have received his gifts have abandoned him as they hide in their own fear.

Pilate wants to release Jesus, but the crowd does not want it. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews? No, of course not, as if his execution would numb their pain. After all, it was only a dream that life could be different than it is. He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down from that cross, that we may see and believe. God is on trial and our unbelief is the accuser. So I ask you now, is salvation simply the end, the cessation, of pain? Isn't that the pinnacle for us in so many of our prayers? When we're in trouble, don't we just want to get out of it, no matter what the cost?

Of course we do, but we are fools to think we can do it on our own, and we are fools to think that there is nothing worse that our own pain. No matter what, all our efforts will eventually end in death, but for God, death is not the end. For he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name: Jesus knows that running from pain is not the answer. Jesus knows that he must feel it all. Jesus knows that when we share in his cup we must taste the world's suffering. Jesus knows that eternal joy is not disconnected from human sorrow.

How often, and in how many ways do we ask for our wine mixed with myrrh? We now live in a world so addicted to its own pleasure seeking, that like junkies on the street we'd do anything to anesthetize our own pain, not to hear the howl of loneliness, not to see to hollow eyes of the starving poor, not to smell the stench of our brothers and sisters who live on the edge of this world's garbage heaps. We'd do just about anything to shut our ears and close our eyes so as not to feel the pain of our own complicity in this world's sin, and not only as it blankets distant cities, but more often than not as it stares back at us from our own unforgiving homes.

But in this week, at last, in this week, we will come to know again a power greater than ourselves, a fierce power that need no anesthetic, a surging power that is not afraid of our pain, a merciful power who calls unto into his loving embrace. Our pain ends here, for he takes it into himself. He takes us into himself. This is the power of salvation, and God is its author. He gives it freely to us with his arms outstretched, even as we run from the cross, having hidden so long in the shadows of our lies, or our fears, or whatever else we have use as a drug to keep us from feeling-feeling the world's pain, feeling our own pain, just too afraid to feel the first breath of hope, that life really could be better than we've ever known. His love on the cross is complete, for it is without fear, and such love will not end until it has gathered in the ends of the earth.
He breathes his last breath for us, for all of us, that we may breathe in his life. Trust in him for everything. Truly this man was the Son of God, the centurion declares. May our voices echo his eternally. Amen.    

The Rev. Dr. Amy C. Schifrin
Strawberry Point and Monona, Iowa

E-Mail: amyschifrin@yahoo.com