Passion Meditation delivered by The Rev. Timothy C. Ahrens, Sr. Minister, The First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Columbus, Ohio, Palm/Passion Sunday, April 4, 2004, dedicated to the Rev. Dr. Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was executed by the Nazis on April 9, 1945, which was Monday of Holy Week and The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was martyred for our faith as the sun was setting on Good Friday, April 4, 1968 and always to the glory of God!
(Part VII of VIII in the sermon series "The Heart of Christianity")
Luke 19:28-40, 22:14-23:56
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of each one of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our salvation. Amen.
Now the silence. He is dead. The struggle is over. The last words have been spoken. "Father, into they hands, I commit my spirit." Life has passed. The crucifixion has ended. It is finished.
But, what is IT that is finished?
The Jesus Project is finished on the hill of skulls. He has discovered along the way that to break through the rock of the human heart, death must come. Teaching is not enough. Neither prayer nor the laying on of hands could do it. Only death could undo the principalities and powers. Only his death could change the hardening heart of humanity. Soon his resurrection project will begin. But, now, only the earth quaking, only the wind moving, only the silence at the end of time. The Jesus Project is finished.
Five days before a parade started this venture. In the hours that follow his death, a parade as well. With palms outstretched, hosannas heralded the King of the Jews on his entry into Jerusalem through the gate just beyond Golgotha. Now, in the same hour in which he dies, there is a parade of Passover animals into the temple. You see, this is the day of sacrifice. While their owners slaughter them, the priests catch their blood and pour it on the altar. While the corpses of the slaughtered are skinned and cleaned in the courtyard outside the temple according to the law of Moses, the corpse of Jesus is carried from the cross to the tomb as darkness sets in, also in accordance with the law of Moses.
Two parades in one week. Two bloody places in Jerusalem in one day. Both parades and both bloody places are presided over by religious people who believe they are doing the will of God. But, on this day, a handful of other people - guided by a Roman centurion's spoken revelation - realize for the first time who the scapegoat has been. And the system which crucified him has been exposed. And its tactics are also revealed. They are motivated for defense of the system not the defense of God. Here on the hill is "the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world." The system of sacrifice is finished. It is forever changed.
The temple life of Judaism is almost finished too. To prevent a revolution is one reason why he was martyred. But, within thirty years the revolution comes anyway. The Romans turn on the Jews with a vengeance and they destroy Jerusalem. The temple of Jerusalem is burned to the ground. It is gone forever. Only a western wall remains and stands as a place of prayer, of lamentations, of loud wailing for each generation that follows. Temple Judaism is finished.
One more thing is finished on the hill of skulls. The separation between God and Jesus is finished. Father and son are united again. No more thirsting. No more weeping. No more pain. The faithful few who carry him to the tomb this day see only a corpse, but God sees the seed of resurrection as he is laid in the earth. God weeps. God feels the pain. God welcomes him into the eternal stream of living water. There is no more separation. God and Jesus are one. Separation is finished.
While Jesus is no longer - no longer teacher, no longer healer, no longer exorcists or miracle worker. He is no longer the hope for a peaceful or a fierce revolution. Cruelty and injustice have not ended as this blood-soaked, pierced, and broken body is removed from the cross. But, God will take care of that in God's time and in God's way.
On this day, on this hill, Jesus has broken down the wall between a God who would destroy and a God who will transform the world through love. He has put himself between his disciples and those who seek to destroy them. He has broken the rock around their hearts and in his death he has shown them a new way to live, and breathe and have their being.
Now darkness covers the land as they take him down and lay him in the tomb. It is the Sabbath. It is his turn to rest. His part is over. His work is done.
But, those covered in his blood are just beginning their work. Their time is coming. Now, their time has passed. It is our time now. Now we are the ones who hold his bloodstained body. What will we do with it? How will we finish it? I pray that in this silence and in the immensity of his love, you and I will find the strength and the will to carry his cross, to finish his work. Amen.
Copyright 2004, The First Congregational Church
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