The Passion of Christ

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On the cross, we see that God enters the darkness in which we live.  He doesn’t reign over creation from afar.  He enters our world.  In Christ, he puts himself physically into the pain and fear which afflicts our lives.  He knows and feels and suffers as we do.  He dies as we do.  He does this so that he can be physically with us, and by his physical presence he brings forth his new life in us.

Sunday of the Passion/Palm Sunday
April 13, 2014
Matthew 27:11-54
Peder Stenslie

About a week ago in my 6th grade classroom, I had the students check out a Bald Eagle nest cam from Decorah, Iowa.  A nest cam is a hidden camera that has been placed to get a good view of a nest without bothering the birds or interfering with their nesting activities.  It then transmits the images to some viewing station… in this case, an internet site.  On the particular day we clicked on the nest cam, we could see the mother eagle sitting on the eggs.

(Link: http://www.raptorresource.org/falcon_cams/index.html)

Bald Eagles usually lay their eggs in March and incubate – or sit on the nest – for 35 days.  So what we saw in the classroom was not a lot of action, but absolutely amazing.

We could clearly see that it was cold and windy, and there was the mother hunkered down in that open and exposed nest, bearing whatever the weather or the world might send her way.  I’m sure you all understand why the mother sits in that exposed position for so many days… why she doesn’t just go and fine some pleasant shelter?

It’s all about life.  In order to bring forth life from those eggs, the Bald Eagle mother must keep them warm and safe always.  She uses her very body as the means to make this happen.  Her body heat, powered by her own beating heart, surrounds the eggs with the warmth they need for life to grow inside.  No matter how cold it is above, below in the nest, the mother’s body generates live-giving warmth.

The mother’s body also stands as a barrier to prevent predators like snakes, squirrels or other birds from getting at the eggs.  If any of these nest predators should aim to claim an egg, they will have to go through the eagle mother’s body to get it… not an easy thing to do.

This is how the eagle mother answers her creator’s call to bring new life into a harsh and dangerous world.  She doesn’t hire an egg-nanny.  She doesn’t employ stout bodyguards, or build a thick-walled defensive compound behind which she can place her eggs.  She certainly doesn’t leave her little unhatched brood to work it out on their own.  She commits her own body as the physical means through which new life might come into the world.

The mother Eagle seems a fitting example as we consider the awful, yet wonderful mystery of the passion of Christ.

Let there be no mistake… what happens in today’s Gospel lesson is deeply disturbing.  In one week’s time, Jesus goes from being celebrated and praised and basking in the warm light of people’s affection to completely alone, rejected… exposed to bitter hatred and brutal violence.  Like a terrible storm, all of this world’s darkness and viciousness are heaped upon him as he places his body… all that he is… between us, his people, and the forces of sin and death.

This good man… our creator’s beloved son, no less… who taught and lived the way of love, who healed the sick and befriended the outcast… is rejected and abandoned by the very people he has loved and served.  He is humiliated and mocked.  His body is beaten and whipped and torn.  Iron nails are driven through his hands and feet, and his life — over six agonizing hours — is drained away as he hangs on an upright cross.

People naturally want to know, “Why did it happen like this?  Was is necessary that Jesus die like that?”  These are profoundly unsettling questions that can still makes us squirm today.  To help us, the Church has offered a number of explanations over the centuries to answer these questions.

Some of these explanations do at times make a measure of sense to me.  Occasionally they even speak powerfully to me; but very often they still leave me bewildered.

What I have found is most important to me is not that I figure out an answer to why the crucifixion had to happen.  What is important to me is simply the fact that the crucifixion did happen.  That fact that Jesus died… on the cross… alone… forsaken… I realize that’s important to me.

On the cross, I see that God enters the darkness in which we live.  He doesn’t reign over creation from afar.  He enters our world.  In Christ, he puts himself physically into the pain and fear which afflicts our lives.  He knows and feels and suffers as we do.  He dies as we do.  He does this so that he can be physically with us, and by his physical presence he brings forth his new life in us.

That is the way of God.  He moves and draw nears to us so that he can bring forth life in us.  Just like the mother eagle.

Jesus is never nearer to us than when he is suffering and dying on the cross.  There he joins us in our darkest moments… in our pain and fear and dying.  There he places himself between us and the clutching powers of sin and death.  There he takes hold of us in a powerful way.

Shortly before he was taken by authorities, Jesus explained to his disciples what he would accomplish by his death.  He told them:  “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all things to myself.”  (John 12:32)

Through the crucifixion, the final barriers between human and God fall away and God fulfills his will to be fully with his people.  This is God’s way… and it is his promise.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus’ last words to his disciples were:  “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

God abides with us and in us in many ways.  He comes to us in the hidden but constant work of the Holy Spirit.  He meets us in the lives of neighbors and strangers.  He touches us as we read and study scripture together.  He meets us in prayer… and in the good work we do.  And as the cross shows, he also comes to us in our failures and despair… and in our dying.  Anywhere and always in life, God is there with us.

His presence with us continues in the sacrament of Holy Communion which we receive today… we share with one another the body and blood of Jesus… we share the gifts of forgiveness and new life.

The crucifixion, you see, is about God, in Jesus, drawing near to us, and us being drawn to him… so that we might belong completely to him… so that his new life might take root and grow in us… fill our lives with strength and joy… and help us be a light and blessing to others.

The passion of Christ… to which we are witness today and this week… is about the promise and the gift of God’s physical presence with us… always… in all our living and in our dying.

Amen.