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March 20, 2005 (Palm Sunday)—“A Parade or a Passion?”

Pastor David Barber

Sisters and brothers, grace be unto you and peace from God our loving Creator and from our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

A few years ago The Journal of the American Medical Association published an article "On the Physical Death of Jesus." I found it surprising that such a journal would include this subject, but it did.

It mentioned that crucifixion probably began among the Persians, but the Romans perfected it as a form of torture and capital punishment. It worked tremendously to intimidate and to keep the masses in line.

It was designed to produce a slow death with maximum pain and suffering. It was one of the most disgraceful and cruel methods of execution, and was reserved primarily for slaves, foreigners, revolutionaries, and the vilest of criminals. Roman law usually protected Roman citizens from crucifixion except perhaps in the case of desertion by soldiers.

What we are told from the Gospel of Matthew is that Jesus not only endured this pain and humiliation, but he also endured it alone. Matthew does tell us that some women watched from a distance, and later they gathered at the tomb after he died.

But for the most part, he suffered and died alone. He was despised and rejected not only by his enemies, but also by those who boasted of their faithfulness even unto death.

There was no caring hospice nurse. There was no physician to give him aid and assistance so that he could die with dignity. There was no supportive family there to surround him with compassion and comfort. He died alone, for there was no one who chose to enter into suffering with him.

All the disciples had left him. In fact the word "betray" or a form of that word is used 15 times in Matthew's Passion. While Luke tells us that the two criminals on the cross were divided in their support of Jesus, Matthew tells us that both criminals taunted him and mocked him.

Also, the only word that Matthew records from the lips of Jesus was, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

Every step of the way, each person in this drama made a choice in regard to Jesus. The crowds, Judas, Peter, Pilate, the religious authorities, and the criminals all make a decision about Jesus.

Although Matthew tells us numerous times that this was done to fulfill the prophets, they each had an opportunity to betray or to befriend Jesus. They each a chance to enter into suffering with him and to be with him as he endured this horrible affliction.

We, too, will join him soon on the parade route. We, too, will sing his praises and shout our "hosannas." We, too, will wave our palm branches and proclaim him king.

But will we also join him on the passion route? Will we join the humble one as he walks obediently all the way to death - even death on a cross? Will we join him as he gives his life away for all people - especially the poor, the downtrodden, and the outcast?

How close are we prepared to get to the faces of human misery and pain? How close will we get to our own pain? How far will we enter into the lives of those who are dying, and how far will we venture into our own dying?

We, too, have a choice, this morning, but also each and every day of our lives. Will we show up only for the parade, or will we also walk with Jesus on the route to his bitter passion?

"Come close," says Jesus, "Come close, for in me and in those who suffer, there is life and salvation. There is hope and healing, and through this avenue, you will be born into eternal life."


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