sermon: the cross.

A sermon on the cross for Palm Sunday considering Matthew 27:32-50. I've edited for reading what I actually preached here.

We know how Good Friday ends. We've seen it. It ends in Easter and the glorious resurrection. The Gospels are written with a sense of holy wonder about what happened that Passover and in the later works of the New Testament there is profound theological development considering the implications of what happened at Golgotha, but it’s important to remember Easter didn't look that way 2000 years ago, not to the rest of the world. In the midst of telling his story, Matthew provides clues to see what the rest of the world saw that weekend.

You see, in church on Palm Sunday we see crowds of pilgrims celebrating the arrival of the new king on a donkey. We see the palm fronds waving in celebration; a symbol of triumph. But the rest of the world saw thousands of pilgrims from all over the world enter that same city, and there were other more powerful flags waving. Pilate moved a legion of Roman soldiers into Jerusalem to squash any thoughts of uprising during the volatile Passover. We see Jesus, stolid before the rulers of the earth, resolute in his convictions, but the Roman Empire saw a Jew, maybe even an innocent one. Still, to keep the peace, it was easier to execute him. That’s what governments do, after all, they keep the peace. And sometimes sacrifices have to be made…

We sometimes speak of Golgotha like a dreadful rock concert, in which everyone crowded at the base of a sacred mountain to see the climax of a cosmic tale. But the Romans didn’t see it that way. Archaeologists tell us they chose hills near roads for crucifixion so that people traveling could look and see the advertisement: Rome demands loyalty. And like real estate fliers and homeless people, Jesus met his fate at the side of the road.

As Christians we read the Passion as a story about a world gone mad, crucifying God. But the Roman soldiers were trained to keep the peace, so of course they cast lots to decide who kept the prisoner’s clothes: they didn’t want cause a scene. We see the heavens turn over, the powers defeated in spiritual battle for the universe. But the soldiers saw no such threat. Matthew tells us they could sit down to watch their prisoners. No need to be at the ready.Jesus was not even a martyr. He didn’t enflame the hearts of 1000’s to take up arms against their oppressors. There were no riots over his death. There wasn’t even fiery sit in. Sometimes we wonder why there aren’t more documents that tell the dramatic tale of what happened, why there are no records of the day.

The answer is that the rest of the world simply didn’t care.

The weekend that Matthew Mark and Luke describe was much more bleak than we like to see. It was utterly insignificant to the entire world, save a few. At the cross, all of humanity rejected God. From top to bottom in Matthew -from the marble lined halls of the Roman rulers to the criminals hanging with him; from the devout religious leaders to the average Joe headed to a Passover celebration. Even his committed friends abandoned him; everyone rejects Jesus. It is total and complete.

At the cross, we see everyone in no uncertain terms say NO to the Son of God.

Crosses are fashion accessories now. They are our pride, with good reason. But they are also symbols of our rejection of God. The cross judges us because it reveals the true nature of our hearts: we are opposed to God. The cross judges us because it uncovers how we reject the life God offers us to core. It shows that in truth, we revile the kind of like we see in Jesus, regardless of our religious convictions. And as much as we speak of wanting to be like Him; live lives of obedience, love; of community, justice and healing, the truth the cross shows us is that in our deepest places, we do not want God at all.

The cross is humanity’s NO to God.

And Matthew tells us that all the people had the same contempt for the crucified one: “Save yourself Jesus!” We reject the ways he rejected our rules for living. God, of course would use his power to save himself, for right makes might, or perhaps might makes right, but either way, a real God would tear himself off that accursed thing.

The world cries out to Jesus, “Stop pouring your life out for others!” “Stop listening to the Father like that!” “That’s not real life!” Neither the devout nor the average can imagine a God that would pour his life out, just let it be taken like that. They understand a God that might send Elijah to someone good enough, but they don’t believe people who are good enough end up on crosses.

And so the cross is their NO to God.

Ironically, the Chief Priests and Teachers take Psalm 22 on their lips and use it to deride Jesus. They take the very same Psalm Jesus cries out his lat to the father with, unable to believe that his life could be the one they need, could be the very thing their faith was to point them to.

The cross is their NO to God.

But despite all this, in fact, because of all this, the cross is God’s YES to humanity. Despite our inability to believe, our utter rejection of the kind of life Jesus offers, still, he goes there for you. For me.

He faces the heart of our evil, our unbelief and he still loves and lives. So as much as the cross judges us, judges our No to God, it is Christ’s YES to us.

“Yes, I will have you”
“Yes, I understand you are unable”
"Yes, I want you"

The Good News is that his Yes is stronger than our No.

It tears the temple curtain. It shakes the earth. It releases his spirit to us. For us now, the call to follow, to pick up our own crosses, to love and give in the hidden places, the painful places, is not a commandment to martyrdom, but a commandment to join Jesus in real life, the kind of life Jesus has, the kind that lasts even after death, the kind that sets people free. It’s a different kind of life that starts at the end of our own ability to save ourselves, our own ability to be good enough.

At the cross, Jesus says Yes to us in love and life.


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