The story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is more than 2000 years old. We probably find it difficult to imagine what it might have been like to have lived through those days with Jesus, but today, I invite us to try. I invite you to open up your imagination and try to put yourself into this story.
We start with Jesus entering Jerusalem. He has been preaching and teaching across Galilee for three years. He has healed the sick, and shared meals with people that are known sinners. He has challenged the religious leaders with his radical ideas of God’s unconditional love. Now, he comes to Jerusalem, the Holy of holies for the Jewish people. When he enters the city, people get excited. They have heard of this preacher and prophet. They wonder, could this be the Messiah for whom they have been waiting all their lives? We are those people, the crowds, wondering, can Jesus change our lives.
When Jesus came into town, they put together a simple impromptu parade to welcome him. They pulled down branches from the palm trees and waved them, like they would do for a king. They shouted “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” Meaning – this is someone special. This is God’s own son, come to turn our lives upside down – or maybe to turn them right side up.
But it does not take long before the mood of Jerusalem changes for Jesus. As we will remember this Thursday night, Jesus shares a Passover meal with his disciples. He institutes the meal we now celebrate as Holy Communion. We call it the Last Supper because it was the last meal he shared with his disciples before he was betrayed by Judas and arrested. The religious leaders in Jerusalem have him arrested under the charge that he is claiming to be the King of the Jews. This is against the law because according to Roman law, Herod is the only king.
Jesus is brought before the Governor, Pontius Pilate and Pilate asks him: “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus says: “You say so.” Then the religious leaders accuse him of many other things. When Pilate asks him to defend himself, Jesus is silent.
Pontius Pilate does not want to be responsible for sending Jesus to his death. He is looking for a way out. There is a tradition at this time of year, that the Jews can have one prisoner released. Pilate asks the crowd, “Do you want me to release Jesus to you, or Barabbas?” who was an insurrectionist. They crowd chooses Barabbas. When Pilate asks the crowd, “What do you want me to do with Jesus?” they answer, “Crucify him.”
The crowd that welcomed Jesus with waving palms on Sunday is now shouting “Crucify Him” on Friday. This is how quickly we human beings can turn. Of course the crowds were swayed by the chief priests who wanted Jesus out of the picture. Jesus had too much power and they were threatened by him.
And so Jesus was taken off to be crucified. After Jesus was crucified and he was hanging on the cross waiting to die, the scripture says: “Those 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.”
Jesus could have saved himself but he did not. He chose to suffer. Because of this we know that he understands our suffering today. We all experience our own sorts of pain and sorrow. We are discouraged. We feel cast out. We feel unloved. We are betrayed by those we love, just like Jesus was. God sent Jesus to live as a human being so Jesus would experience all the sorrows that human life has with it. Now we know that God knows our sorrows, first hand.
When he breathed his last breath, a Centurion (that’s a soldier) who was standing watch over him said, “Surely this man was God’s son.” A soldier in the Roman army made a witness to the divinity of Jesus.
There are many characters in this story. Which one are you? Are you part of the crowd that welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem and waved palm branches? Do you claim Jesus as the Holy Son of God who gives you new life? Are you filled with joy when you think about Jesus and what he means to you?
Are you one of the disciples? Those closest to Jesus who shared a holy Last Supper with him, only to fall away. He asked them to pray with him in the Garden of Gethsemene and they fell asleep. They did not go to the cross with Jesus, to see him crucified, because they were afraid. There are times when we want to follow Jesus but we fail, don’t we?
Are you Pontius Pilate? He wanted to save Jesus. He wanted to do the right thing. But he let the crowd sway him. He let the chief priests pressure him into sentencing Jesus to death. Pilate knew that Jesus had not broken any laws, but he allowed the crowd in its frenzy to push him to sentence Jesus to death. Do you allow yourself to be swayed by others to do the wrong thing, even when you want to do the right thing?
Are you part of the crowd, including the chief priests who shouted “Crucify him!” We want to believe we would never have done that. But there were good people in that crowd, good people who got swept up in the moment. They lost their way. Do you ever lose your way and turn your back on God?
Are you the Centurion? The one who professed his belief that surely this man was God’s son. Somehow the Centurion saw through all the chaos and the betrayal and he saw the truth. Jesus was the Son of God. Even on a horrific day, do you hold on to Jesus? Do you cling to the promise that this is the Son of God, the one who brings us healing and unconditional love?
We have all been part of the crowd at one time or another. We have all been a disciple who fails Jesus. But in this Holy Week, I invite us to hold up the Centurion as our example. He was the one who saw Jesus and knew he was the Son of God.
Jesus is the one who gives us hope when we are discouraged. Jesus is the one who gives us peace when our lives are in chaos. Jesus is the one who loves us when we feel unlovable. Jesus is the Son of God. So in this Holy Week, lean into Jesus. Our ancestors may have been in that crowd that said “crucify him” but we have the benefit of being on this side of Easter. We know that he overcame death with life.
So let us give our lives to the Son of God. Let us put our trust in him. Let us stand at the cross with the Centurion and see the face of Jesus and say, “Surely this is the Son of God.” Let us give our lives to him.