Thursday, April 5, 2007

Everything to Do with Me

Texts: Isaiah 53; Luke 22-23

"DO YOU HAVE A MINUTE? I need to tell you what happened to me, only a few months ago.

"Oh! My name is Rivkah bas Yaakov, and I live with my husband and three children in Sepphoris, about five miles north of Nazareth.

"This is the first year I’ve been able to come up to Jerusalem for the Passover. My two eldest are finally big enough to make the journey, and my youngest, I left with her grandmother. And so, I came.

"It was very exciting travelling with the crowd of pilgrims along the road. We were all looking forward to going up to the Temple and eating the Passover lamb.

"We reached the outskirts of Jerusalem late on the first day of the week. Ahead of us was another crowd of pilgrims, singing and shouting even louder than we were. Something about 'Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!' I thought they were just being really enthusiastic with one of the going-up-to-Jerusalem psalms. But word drifted back that it was the rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth, who was causing all the commotion. Seemed He was riding into Jerusalem, and people wanted to crown Him king.

"Well, that was interesting, but nothing I needed to get involved in. I had enough to do keeping my boys from getting lost somewhere. Whatever Jesus was up to, it had nothing to do with me!

"(You may not believe this, but up in Galilee I never got around to hearing Jesus preach. I was too busy with the house and the children and all. I was glad to hear that this Teacher could do miraculous cures. But I didn’t need healing. His miracles were nothing to do with me.)

"Anyway, that day coming into Jerusalem, the commotion over Jesus of Nazareth died down by the time we reached the City gate. The next few days went by quickly. There were old friends to visit and provisions to buy for our Passover meal-- I hardly had a minute to sit down.

"Which was why I was so annoyed, five nights later, to be awakened by the roar of a mob, a few streets over. My husband opened the lattice and saw a fellow running by outside. 'What’s all the noise about?' my Reuben asked. The fellow replies, 'Oh, they’ve arrested Jesus of Nazareth for sedition! They’re taking him to the high priest’s residence, to be tried!'

"Oh! That was really too bad. I’d always heard Jesus was a good man. But I supposed it was only to be expected, the way He kept running up against the authorities. I was sorry He’d been arrested, and I hoped they’d decide to let Him go. But I figured Jesus would have to take care of Himself. I wanted my sleep--- and anyway, it had nothing to do with me!

"The next morning, I needed to go to the market to buy the bitter herbs for the Passover meal. I was told I could find good produce at a stall near the palace of the Roman governor. But as I came nearer, I could hear shouting, angry voices from the palace courtyard. I was beginning to think that Jerusalem was nothing but mobs! I asked a passerby what was going on, and she replied, 'Oh, it’s terrible! They’ve taken Jesus of Nazareth before Pilate, and they want permission to have him crucified!'

"And as she spoke, the uproar rolled towards me like a wave and out of the confusion I could hear voice after voice screaming, 'Crucify him! Crucify him!'

"Oh, no. I’d seen a crucifixion once, and never wanted to look on one again. What a hideous, unjust fate to fall upon someone like Jesus! I felt totally sick about it, and hurried straight back to our lodgings. After all, what could I do about it? Nothing! Besides, if Jesus went to the cross, what did it have to do with me?

"But I still needed my bitter herbs. So later that morning, I set out again. I was heading along Market Street, thinking hard about everything I’d seen and heard in Jerusalem, when I came to the intersection with the street that leads to the western gate.

"A crowd lined the way. This crowd was not raging, or roaring. They were just standing in stunned silence, or weeping. I looked down the street and saw a Man, or what was left of a Man, lashed, torn, bleeding, struggling under the weight of a massive cross. I could hear the whispers: 'It’s Jesus, the prophet from Galilee. They’re taking Him to be crucified.' 'It’s Jesus-- He told the high priest He was the Son of Man spoken of by the prophet Daniel.' 'I hear He told Pilate He was our true king, the king of the Jews.'

"I looked, and there on His brow was a crown woven of thorns. Placed there as a joke, no doubt. But as I looked, I could see majesty and patience reflected on His face, struggling through the blood and the pain. And it went through me like a knife: What if it’s true? What if this Jesus really is the Messiah and our promised King? We have assassinated our prophets and kings before! What if we were about to crucify God’s Chosen One? What would become of Israel then?

Just then, He fell under the weight of the cross. The Roman guards yanked a sturdy-looking man from the crowd and put Jesus’ cross on him and made him carry it behind that bleeding, broken Figure. I found that I was standing with a group of other women, most of them from Jerusalem itself. They were mourning and wailing for Him. Me, I was too stunned to do anything but stare. Because it was as if Jesus had been reading my thoughts. He turned His blood-streaked face to us and said, 'Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, "Blessed are the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!"'

"There was no vindictiveness in His countenance, no spite; only love and grief for us, for what would someday happen to us. And the thought came into my head, 'Rivkah, you must get your Passover lamb.' Oh! How could I think of shopping at a time like this!? But then, another Voice was in me, saying, 'Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!'

"Yes, that’s what they said John the Baptizer had said about this Jesus. 'Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!'

"And I watched Jesus of Nazareth stumble towards the western gate, with the poor wondering countryman carrying the cross behind Him. Going to be crucified. No-- Going to be sacrificed. Like a Passover lamb-- For the sins of my people. For my sins. For me.

"All these years, I had thought Jesus and His doings had nothing to do with me. Nothing to do with me? Oh, Lord God, forgive! Jesus and His doings had everything to do with me! It was my sins who put Him on this road! It was my sins that cut open those wounds on His chest and back! It was my sins that laid that cross upon Him, that cross He was now too lacerated and broken to bear!

"He was my Passover Lamb, whose blood could ward off the condemnation rightly coming on me. Destruction would come, Jesus had just said. But Scripture said the blood of the Lamb would keep the angel of death away.

"But how? How could the blood of this crushed and dying Jesus save me?

"I didn’t know how, that day in Jerusalem. I know now that the cross was not the end for Him. It’s a story you need to hear. But right now, I want you to accept in your heart the same truth the living God burned into my soul there in the street to the western gate: That Jesus is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. He is our Passover sacrifice, whose death will keep eternal damnation from us and those we love.

"And now I plead with you, feed on Him in your heart and be saved from the judgement your sins deserve. For His innocent death has everything to do with me. And it has everything to do with you."

Lord, have mercy upon us. Amen.

[Preached at the Tenebrae service, Maundy Thursday, A.D. 2007]

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