Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Sunday of the Passion, year B
text: Mark 14:1 – 15:47
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
I understand why they kept falling asleep.
It was late on a stressful day, where all Jesus’ words carried unspoken pain and sorrow. Past midnight on a warm spring evening, in a sweet-smelling olive grove, Jesus has moved away to pray. What if I lay my head down a minute . . . I would have slept, too.
I understand why they fled. Mark shows Jesus utterly alone at his trial, utterly alone at the cross, barely mentioning the other two crosses, saying the women were “looking on from a distance”. It makes sense many disciples weren’t anywhere near, even at a distance. This was unimaginable horror, to see Jesus taken away violently. He was the one to encourage, strengthen the disciples. With him arrested, no one to say, “Don’t be afraid,” . . . I would have run, too.
What are we doing here this week?
Our ancestors in faith sang of walking with our Lord through this week, keeping watch in the garden, gathering at the foot of the cross, seeing where his body was laid, as if they were there. As if we could be.
There’s no point blaming Peter, Judas, the others, for their sleep, their flight, their denials, their betrayals, their terror, their cowardice, their hiding. We do what they did. When we treat this week as a Hollywood drama to watch once more, remember the good parts, repeat our favorite lines, be thrilled, and two weeks from now are back to our lives. When we sleep through our lives as if what happens this week stays in this week. When we flee from the thought that what we see here is what we might be called to walk.
Go to dark Gethsemane. Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Here might I stay and sing. Our mothers and fathers before us sing as if we really can be there and find God. They sing to us to walk with Jesus not as spectators but as companions who risk everything Jesus risks. To stay awake, put aside our fear, and see what God is doing.
We avoid this walk because we misunderstand what God is doing.
We make Jesus’ suffering and death into a theory of how God saves us, as if this suffering, death, and burial are a legal maneuver to trap God, a sacrifice to appease God, or a bribe to buy God off. As if a theory saves us. As if all we need is our golden ticket.
The suffering and death of Jesus are not a past event we understand as a transaction that somehow helps us. They are the deepest mystery of the love of God we can only experience in our bodies and souls if we actually look. They are the deepest mystery of the love God wants for us to live that we can only know as our good if we actually walk it.
We walk with Jesus this week to see the depth of God’s love.
If we stay awake with him we will see the Christ, the Son of God, hear “no” from the Father and accept it, though he is in pain, afraid. We will see the Triune God willingly suffer the worst of this world rather than turn away or destroy.
When we find the courage to look into the face of the Son of God on the cross, we begin to grasp how much God loves this world. Simon of Cyrene, a random bystander, carries the wood of the cross for Jesus and he and his sons become believers. What might happen to us? Will we not be changed?
Can we look into the eyes of the dying Son of God and ever believe there is a single child of God on this planet who is not embraced in that love?
We walk with Jesus this week for the courage to walk our path.
This week shows us this path of Jesus is our path for the rest of our lives. If we stay awake and hear Jesus say, “not what I want but what you want,” we learn that sometimes God’s “no” means a greater “yes” waits ahead. This gives us strength for our failing nerve, courage for our fainting heart.
We don’t fail to wholly love God or love our neighbor because we don’t want to. We fail because it’s hard to do, it looks like we’ll be hurt, or taken advantage of, or inconvenienced, and we falter. We are afraid.
But walking with Jesus, we always have the One with us who says, “Don’t be afraid.” We don’t need to run from the challenge of love, the pain of forgiving, the hesitance to care for others. We see God’s Son face doubt and fear and hesitance and find courage to do what he was meant to do, and there find our courage.
Our walk with Jesus this week eventually rejoins the women, at the tomb.
We should walk with them awhile and learn. They stayed awake, set aside their fear, and followed to see where their Lord’s body was laid. They watched the stone roll shut. They waited to see what God would do.
That’s our walk of faith. Awake, finding courage in each other and in God’s love, even when sometimes all we can see is stone tomb in the cold of twilight.
But these women say looks are deceiving, and God is even now at work. The morning is coming.
And so, we walk, and watch. And wait.