Passion Sunday/Palm Sunday
April 5, 2020
“The Long Road”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
William Barclay in his commentary on this section of Christ’s passion and suffering writes, “When a criminal was condemned to be crucified, he was taken from the judgment hall and set in the middle of a hollow square of four Roman soldiers. His own cross was laid upon his shoulders. And he was marched to the place of crucifixion by the longest possible route, while before him marched another soldier bearing a placard with his crime inscribed upon it, so that he might be a terrible warning to anyone who was contemplating such a crime. That is what they did with Jesus.” (The Gospel of Luke, Page 282)
He went there by the longest possible route. But when you study the life of Jesus you see Him taking the longest road over and over again. He did this according to His Father’s timing and purpose. The longest possible road can be the best road, as well.
Today is Palm Sunday. Next Sunday is Easter. But I have chosen to do something that I have never done in my entire ministry. I have chosen not to make the Palm Sunday text my text. Since the early 1960’s the Christian Church has also called this Sunday, Passion Sunday. The text is unbearably long – Matthew 26 and 27 – 141 verses. It goes from Tuesday of Holy Week with the anointing of Jesus with the extremely expensive perfume, to the corpse of Jesus requested by Joseph of Arimathea so he could bury Him, to the Roman guards told to keep watch over the tomb. In those 141 verses we learn of the institution of the Lord’s Supper, Jesus praying in the Garden, the betrayal of Judas, the denial of Peter, the trial before the Jewish authorities and the Roman authorities, the anxiety that Pilate had over his sentence given to an innocent man, the crucifixion of Jesus, his burial and the question about what would happen next. This week, maybe today, on this Passion Sunday, read those two chapters. You will get an account of the true passion that God has for you.
When Jesus had to carry that crossbeam to Golgotha – the place of the skull – it wasn’t the first time that He took the longest possible route to do what He was called to do – to restore people contaminated with sin’s curse – to save us. Before the necessity of not gathering together as a congregation began, many of the people of Ascension were studying the Revelation of St. John. In 13:8 of that book, it tells us about Jesus, the Lamb of God, “Who was slain from the foundation of the world.” This plan of our eternal salvation was begun even before Adam and Eve sinned. On Thursday of Holy Week, Jesus speaks about the road that He had to travel, “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” (John 12:27-28a)
My point in telling you this little tidbit of His route that day and that they made Him carry the cross by the longest possible route, to be ridiculed and despised by as many people as possible, is that everything came about by God’s design. It was a long road that wasn’t taken by some accident. This wasn’t simply happening due to Pilate’s weakness, or by the hatred of the crowds of people. The route Jesus would take was God’s path: “Slain from the foundation of the world”, “It was for this very reason that I came into this world.” The very first promise of the pain of this Holy Week and the cost to make us God’s chosen people was made within moments of the choice that Adam and Eve made to rebel against God’s will for them. To the serpent, the devil, God’s plan was stated, “I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15). Jesus, the woman’s seed, would be bitten by the devil’s poisonous strike. But as He is bitten, His heel crushes the devil’s head. This story would be written throughout the pages of Scripture. It was a long time in coming but now it was here.
I have a story for you. Around Valentine’s Day there’s this guy who goes into a nice store and asks the lady behind the counter if they had a gift for his wife – some perfume. But he adds, “I’m on a very tight budget.” She comes back with some perfume, just a small bottle, and lets him smell it. “How much is it?” “$75.00” “I guess, you didn’t understand. I’m on a very tight budget.” Well, she leaves and comes back with a good number of bottles of perfume. They ranged in price from $50.00 to $18.00. He looks at them and looks at her and says, “I guess you don’t understand. I am on a very tight budget. I need to see something very cheap.” So, she went behind the counter and handed him a mirror.
He was cheap; our God is not cheap. He is extravagant. He fills our cup until it overflows. This road from the creation of the world, from the time of man’s sinful curse, and now during Holy Week was long and costly. “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) Paul would say of this costly love, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you though his poverty might become rich.” (II Corinthians 8:9)
The long road that Jesus walked was all done for us. I hope that you have people who are concerning themselves about you during this painful time. It is always good to be in the mind and thoughts of others. Well, Jesus, on His road, is always thinking of us. St. Mark gives us some further information about carrying this cross. He writes, “A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross.” (Mark 15:21) The long road, physically, for Jesus, was too long. He couldn’t carry that heavy beam anymore. He had been tortured, flogged, hit, treated with shame, and He couldn’t carry the cross one more step.
I’m sure that Simon from Cyrene – Libya – wasn’t so thrilled about this new job. He might had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover Sabbath. But this changed his life and the life of his family, as well. In Romans 16 a man named Rufus is mentioned again. (Mark had told us that Simon had two sons – Alexander and Rufus.) He had become a believer. The long road, taking the longest path possible, created the timing for Simon from Cyrene to meet Jesus, and for his family to come to a living faith in Him, as well.
I think we’re on a long road too. This week President Trump warned about the next two weeks and the number of sick and dying that we may see. These long 15 days of shelter-in-place will be doubled and now extended through April.
We are so thrilled for the miracle that we saw God do in Dave Hitztaler’s life. We feared that his entrance into the hospital might end in his death. He was amazingly ill. But he came home this past Monday and I saw a picture of him sitting outdoors, drinking a cup of coffee, wearing his silly hat. His wife, Sherry, wrote the day before he was released from the hospital how desperately Dave wanted to go home. As they waited for the day of release from the hospital to happen, part of her note said, “Very frustrating for Dave (and me too). Pray for patience for Dave, (not his strong suit…)
I bet he’s not alone. We want instant. We want fast. We want to get back to how life has been. But right now it is a long road for us. We need patience (And we want it right now!!) One of our folks, Tom Munson, sent a picture of a church sign he saw on the Internet that said, “Had Not Planned On Giving Up This Much For Lent.” I bet no body did. We’re here – we’re on a long road.
But we’re not on this long road alone!! Jesus, the Lord, walks with us. Philippians 2, one of the earliest creeds of the church, speaks about Jesus living in humility, sacrifice and exaltation. We’re on this long road and we need this Lord to walk with us.
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who being in the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)
This is the beginning of the most meaningful week of the year. This is Holy Week. This is Passion Sunday. Jesus was on a long road to bring us the fullness of life. Take it in. Take Him in. Grow in faith in these days.
For the long road that we must walk, this Lord will walk with you. He will hold you, support you and guide you every day. Amen!!