Last week as I sat on my patio working on my message for today it was hard to focus on the Passion story. Watching the dogwood blossoms begin to open, listening to the birds of spring, it was difficult to focus on our gospel for this morning. I wanted to think about less depressing subjects than crucifixion and death. I wanted to limit myself to the part of the story we read before the parade where Jesus arrived in Jerusalem as the beloved and adored teacher and healer. The shouts of “Hosanna!” the waving of palms, the smiling faces of the hopeful crowd seemed much more appropriate for a sunny spring day. Let’s just skip over the events of Good Friday, I thought, and get right to the Easter story. We know how he died. We’ve read it, watched it in movies, seen it in art. Why dwell on it? The Palm Sunday parade and the Easter empty tomb are the good parts of the story on either side of a terrible tale of betrayal, torture, political expediency, pain, and death. Can’t we just skip all that?
Well the truth is, if there is any hope for this world of ours so full of war and suicide bombers; if there is ever going to be peace in our time; if love is ever really going to reign in our homes; if reconciliation between races is ever going to occur in this city of ours; it will be because a man rode into Jerusalem one day, not to set himself upon a throne, but to die on a cross. Jesus gave his life that we might know the power of sacrificial love. He gave his life to show us the way of the cross.(1)
You see, the parts of the story we might like to skip, the parts we will read in a few minutes, are actually the most important parts of all. Because the empty tomb, the resurrection, the new life of Easter, can’t be ours until the cross is ours too. Having a Christianity without a crucified Christ is not an option. And being a Christian without allowing the cross to crack us open isn’t an option either. You can’t be a Christian without being willing to die a little, without being willing to kill a little bit of your self-centered ways. Christ’s sacrificial love has to become our sacrificial love. All of us who follow Jesus have to follow the way of the cross.
What does that mean? To follow the cross means we can swallow our pride and let go of a fight because our relationships are more important than our need to be right. To follow the cross means we can pass up a deal, a contract, a job that is perhaps a little on the shady side, a little unfair, that takes advantage of another because there is something more important than our wallets. To follow the cross means we can reach out to someone who has been unkind to us, we can be good to a person in spite of what they have done, because the cross tells us love is all that matters. To follow the cross means we are willing to put up with scorn, even ridicule, if that is what it takes to do the right thing, to be a person of honor. To follow the cross means we never give up hope even when the biopsy is malignant, even when we don’t get the job, even when our marriage is in trouble. To follow the cross means we recognize deep within ours souls that the purpose of life is giving not taking.
As you listen to the Passion this morning ask yourself – “What must I do to follow the cross? Where does the cross need to be enthroned in my life? Where am I still driven by greed, envy, pride, hate, lust, and gluttony?” These are the parts of us that have to be put to death. Because we rise with Christ on Easter day only when we can embrace with Christ the selfless love of the cross. Amen.
1. The Rev. George Thompson, Providence United Methodist Church, Charlotte, NC.