(Isaiah 50:4-9a, Psalm 31:9-16, Philippians 2:5-11)
(watch here: http://youtu.be/C2O8RWJtpmY)
As 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.
Ernest Hemingway, the great American author from the first half of the 20th century, was once quoted as saying, “The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.” This was an interesting quote to come from such a strong man. It almost seems contradictory to the larger-than-life personality that was Hemingway. He was an adventurous man who wrote several American classics about strong people including “The Old Man and the Sea,” “The Sun Also Rises,” “A Farewell to Arms,” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” The main characters in all of these novels were independent, strong-willed, fearless people. They led disciplined lives of purpose and determination that have resonated with the American people for decades. Perhaps this is because we, as Americans, have a rich tradition of being a hard-working, free-spirited, determined group of people. Hemingway simply channeled our values through his writing and his characters. The strength of his characters, our strength, comes from their ability to encounter obstacles in life, be broken by them, and to build strength in the broken places just as Hemingway’s quote suggests. We, as Americans, have a history of being in dependent, fearful situations that test our willpower. These situations may break us in places but we fortify them and come back even stronger.
It’s important to keep Hemingway’s wisdom in mind as we enter Holy Week. Some years we enter this week by recalling Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem in the days leading up to his arrest and crucifixion. He rode into the city on a donkey and people cried out, “Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!” But this year our Gospel reading has us pick up well into the Passion narrative. Jesus had been arrested and stood before Pilate to plead his case. Pilate couldn’t judge Jesus but instead handed the responsibility over to the people. Out of fear, we heard the people condemn Jesus to crucifixion. The soldiers mocked him and Jesus endured a painful death on the cross. In the days ahead, we will further dwell on these events that led up to the cross but we start the week with a mere overview. Make no mistake about it, this is what we are celebrating this week—Jesus’ death. Jesus was mocked, tortured, humiliated, and murdered. For what? Pilate couldn’t come up with a reason for it. The people justified it by claiming Jesus was a threat to the Roman order. No, Jesus was like everyone else in this world. The world broke Jesus as it eventually breaks all of us. None of us gets out of this life without being broken in one way or another.
But the breaking isn’t the end. The breaking is a beginning. As Hemingway noted, some of us become strong at the broken places. The prophet Isaiah understood this all too well. In our first reading, we hear him proclaim, “The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word.” Isaiah welcomed times of suffering as opportunities to feel what others feel and to provide words of comfort. Good teachers must first learn the material before they can begin teaching it to others. Students naturally sense when their teacher doesn’t understand what they’re teaching. The teaching comes across disjointed and forgettable. Isaiah understood that to become a good teacher on the subject of misery meant he had to suffer as others suffer. He wrote, “I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.” Isaiah suffered so that through his suffering he might best know how to comfort the suffering; to teach those who suffer how to endure their suffering; to teach them how to become strong in the broken places.
David was no stranger to suffering either. He sang, “For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my misery, and my bones waste away…I have become like a broken vessel.” David, arguably the strongest of all of Israel’s kings, felt times of misery and brokenness. He was no different than Isaiah, no different than us. The world broke him just as it breaks us. David’s song does exactly what Isaiah spoke of–it gave him the tongue of a teacher. David sang of his misery but he also sang of hope in his misery: “But I trust in you, O Lord; I say ‘You are my God.’” David didn’t lose his faith in God’s ability to deliver him from his suffering. David trusted God. This sure and steady faith is what strengthened him.
As we’ve walked the last several weeks together, two words have repeatedly appeared in these Sunday messages: strong and faith. Lent is a time of sorrowful reflection on our Lord’s sacrifice on the cross. Indeed, the world broke Jesus. Yet Jesus was made strong in his brokenness. It gave him the tongue of a teacher as both Isaiah and David had been given. Jesus suffered in death so that he might teach us to cling to faith in our own deaths. Faith is what makes us strong in our times of brokenness. Faith reminds us of God’s steadfast love for us. Faith sustains hope in hopeless situations. Yes, the world breaks everyone but God gives us faith to endure the times of breaking. God loves us so very much. God wants nothing but the best for each of us. God gave His only son to us to be mocked, humiliated, tortured, and murdered so that we might return to a return relationship with Him. As we enter this Holy Week, we should reflect on Paul’s wisdom. “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death.” How can we reflect on what Jesus did for us nearly 2000 years ago? Through FAITH! None of us were at Jesus’ crucifixion yet we believe it happened through faith. It was an event that was consistent with God’s deep and abiding love for us. Jesus taught us the depth of God’s love and we are blessed to receive faith in Jesus. In today’s readings, we are blessed to have received a…faith strengthening.
But in the off chance that the readings didn’t strengthen our faiths, perhaps the wisdom of a poem might do the job:
I asked for strength and God gave me difficulties to make me strong. I asked for wisdom and God gave me problems to solve. I asked for prosperity and God gave me brawn and brains to work. I asked for courage and God gave me dangers to overcome. I asked for patience and God placed me in situations where I was forced to wait. I asked for love and God gave me troubled people to help. I asked for favors and God gave me opportunities. I asked for everything so I could enjoy life. Instead, He gave me life so I could enjoy everything. I received nothing I wanted, I received everything I needed.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.