I was up at my old high school last week for an alumni event. I graduated from St. Stephen’s in Alexandria in 1982. A number of my classmates were there and it was great to have a chance to catch up with them. I enjoyed seeing them all but I could not understand how they got to be so fat, old, and grey when I still look exactly the same! Go figure. Anyway, I found myself getting a little nostalgic as we walked around the school and gazed out at the football field. I wanted to be out there playing again. In fact, I can’t tell you the number of times I have stood on the sideline watching a football game and wanted so badly to be able to play – to jump the fence and get in the game. I’ve said it before, I want to suit up; I want to feel the crunch of pads, to smell the dirt on my face, to share the camaraderie of 10 other teammates. It’s silly I know. But I just don’t want to be on the sidelines or in the stands. I want to be in on the action. I guess I miss the drama, the adventure, the challenge, that feeling of indestructibility you have when you are young. It’s probably a midlife thing.
And yet today when we hear the Passion of our Lord aren’t most of us quite content to be spectators? Aren’t most of us in fact running for the sidelines, or camped out way up in the stands? Even though we read this powerful story in parts, even though all of us are invited to chime in as part of the crowd, don’t we really want to be as far away from this story of betrayal, torture and death as we can get? Sure we’ll watch but we don’t want to participate.
Next week, now that’s the week to come off the sidelines and get into the story, that is the week to get into the action. Who wouldn’t want to be there at the empty tomb, to see the risen Lord, to know the joy the disciples knew when they saw that there master was not dead but that in fact he had destroyed death? Yes, if we’ve got to choose it would be much better to be a part of the resurrection story on Easter Sunday than part of the crucifixion story on Palm Sunday.
Imagine for a minute that right now there is in your pocket or in your purse a little slip of paper with a name written on it, a name that fits you perfectly. It’s the name of one of the characters from the Passion for today and it’s a name that best describes you or, should I say, best describes your spiritual condition at this moment in your life. What name would be written on that little piece of paper?
As I have said in the past – if you want to know the joy of Easter then you have to be willing to walk through the days of Holy Week. If you want to be touched, moved by the joy of the empty tomb then you have to get off the sidelines and out of the stands during Holy Week. Unlike my silly mid life nostalgia – on Palm Sunday all of us do in fact have to get into the game.
What is your part in this story today? What is my part? Whose name is on your slip of paper? Are you one of the apathetic disciples asleep at the switch that couldn’t muster enough discipline even to stay awake with Jesus during his hour of need? Is apathy the mark of your spiritual life these days?
Maybe you are one of the terrified disciples who ran away at the first sign of trouble. Peter whose fear of what others might think caused him to deny knowing Jesus at all. Is fear the mark of your spiritual life, fear of what it might actually mean for you to really claim Jesus as your Lord?
Perhaps you are one of the angry soldiers who lash and taunt Jesus. Is anger the mark of your spiritual life, anger at yourself, or perhaps anger at your life’s situation? Men are famous for this. Men are famous for getting angry when they really feel sad, getting angry when they really feel frustrated, getting angry when they really feel hurt? Do the ones you love always seem to receive the brunt of that anger? Has anger become your primary emotion?
Maybe this year you are Caiaphas the high priest whose prideful need for power and control overwhelmed all other considerations. Are pride and the need for control the marks of your spiritual life? Does your own sense of pride get in the way of you relationship with God? Do you hold onto life so tightly that there is no room left for God?
Perhaps you are more like Judas who becomes the betrayer when Jesus doesn’t turn out to be the right sort of Messiah. Do you turn away when God fails to meet your expectations? Or are you someone who finds it easier to place your faith in other saviors – like money, possessions or status?
Maybe you are more like Simon of Cyrene who finds himself carrying a cross he didn’t ask for, a cross he is not sure how to bear. Maybe this year you are someone who has had to bear a heavy cross of your own, a load you didn’t ask for, a load that feels overwhelming?
Maybe you are fortunate enough to discover that you are in fact one of the women who faithfully braved it all – the arrest, the torture, the trial – one of the women who stood by Jesus till the last and then sat and wept at the tomb. Perhaps you are blessed to have faithfulness as the mark of your spiritual life.
Whatever the case, in order to do more than spectate on Easter Sunday you have to know where you fit into the drama of the Passion on Palm Sunday. You have to claim the role that best suits you at this moment in your life. Because when you find your place in this story then it becomes your story. And when the passion becomes your story then the resurrection becomes yours as well.
You see, what we forget is that the Passion is really a love story. In this love story we choose Barabbas but God chooses us. God in Christ dies for us, gives his life for us, and suffers on the cross for us. And Jesus does it for every murderous one of us – every Peter and Pilate, every Barabbas, every soldier and Simon, every apathetic disciple. Whatever that slip of paper in your pocket says, God loves you and the cross is how far Jesus is willing to go to show you that love. Amen.