Lent is quite the season of contradictions.
We reflect on our death so we can truly live. We look at those things that hold us trapped so that we may find freedom. We cry out “Hosanna!” at the beginning of a worship service just so we can cry “Crucify Him!” at the end. Contradictions, we are surrounded by contradictions. But it is just these contradictions that help us to grow. It is these contradictions that help us to become mature Christians. It is just these contradictions that help us to see the places in our lives where we are not living; it helps us to see those places in our lives where we are just merely existing.
Today we are confronted with one of the most jarring of the contradictions: We are faced with the people doing a complete “about face” to Jesus. When our service started, we experienced the crowds shouting “Hosanna.” But this is at the beginning; this is when things are going well. However, when the times started getting difficult, the people stopped shouting “Hosanna” and quickly change their tune. The people went from shouts of “Hosanna” to screams of “Crucify Him!” I would suggest that this is possibly one of the most jarring changes in the whole lectionary.
Now, of course, we know that if we were around in Biblical times, the words of “Hosanna” would never leave our lips. We would continue to proclaim Jesus as Lord no matter what was being said by those others. We know that we would never add our voices to the chorus of “Crucify Him!” And we can say that because we have 2000 years of perspective and interpretation behind us.
But have we really learned much in those 2000 years? In what ways do we as people, as a faith community, and as individuals cry out the words “Crucify Him!” when we should be singing out “Hosanna?”
We cry out “Crucify Him!” whenever we choose the way of our comfort, pleasure, or security over the vision of Christ for the world. We cry out “Crucify Him!” whenever we choose to let others take the blame for our failures, shortcomings and mistakes. We cry out “Crucify Him!” when we choose to exploit the shortcomings of others for our own benefit. We cry out “Crucify Him!” when we fail to honor and celebrate the Christ that is in every individual we encounter.
Our culture cries out “Crucify Him!” when it can justify giving multimillion dollar bonuses to employees while taking trillions of dollars from taxpayers who are having difficulty just paying their mortgage. (Remember when “trillions” was a nonsense word?) It cries “Crucify Him!” when those in the positions of power and majority actively work to take rights away from those who are weaker and in the minority. Our culture cries “Crucify Him!” when it sees other peoples and cultures as just a means to boost its own standing in the world.
It is harder to see how we as a faith community may be crying “Crucify Him!” This would seem totally at odds with what we would think. We would think that, as people of faith, we should always have “Hosanna” on our lips. But to think this would be naive. Church history is full of stories of one group attacking another group because “They don’t follow the true faith.” Even various groups who claim to be Christian have been known to attack each other; just look at the Protestants and the Catholics in Northern Ireland. Look at The Episcopal Church and the Southern Cone. And just the other day, I had a Pentecostal person ask me if Episcopalians were even Christians.
And, of course, we personally cry “Crucify Him!” When we fail to recognize the dignity of those around us, we crucify the Jesus that is in that person. When we belittle or gossip, we crucify the Jesus that is found in each person. When we take our family and friends for granted, we call for Jesus to be placed on the cross just as the crowds did so many years ago.
Man, this can seem really depressing! But I believe that it is only in seeing how we have fallen short of the ideal that we can fully comprehend the immense gift we have been given in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ! If I have so many houses that I cannot remember the number, the gift of another house will hardly register. But if I am living on the streets, the gift of a bed for the night can be miraculous! If we believe we can do no wrong, then the gift of forgiveness is just and empty box. But if we realize that we are capable of sin in so many different ways, then the gift of Christ on the cross takes on its full significance.
That is the miraculous thing about the Passion and the Cross: Jesus remembers our “Hosannas” and forgives our cries to “Crucify Him!” Jesus lifts up our strengths and places our weaknesses behind us. We are loved as a parent loves a child, and are forgiven and guided into the way of righteousness.
I am sure the calls of “Crucify Him!” were painful to Jesus. I have to wonder why Jesus didn’t just give the whole thing up and “poof” back up to heaven. If I were Jesus, I would want to say, “People, I am doing this for you! Can’t you have a little gratitude?” But Jesus didn’t. Even while the people were calling for his crucifixion, Jesus was willingly going to his very painful death for just those people. For just those people, and just for us!
And even though we, as a people, as a congregation, and individually continue to call for Christ to be crucified, Christ still gives us the gift of forgiveness and asks us to share that gift with those around us.
This is the miracle, the gift and the challenge. The miracle is that the one who was truly God and truly human would suffer on behalf of those who so very often and so easily turn their back on him. The gift is the full and total forgiveness that the cross and resurrection brings to us. This forgiveness is a gift that allows us to move boldly beyond our shortcomings and to move boldly into the world. And the challenge is to take this gift of forgiveness and extend it to all those we encounter. To realize that as Christ looks beyond our sin, we, too, should look beyond the sins of those around us. That as Christ give us total forgiveness, we are called to extend that forgiveness to others.
Knowing that we have the forgiveness of Christ should not become an excuse to wallow in our shortfalls. Knowledge of our forgiveness should become our challenge! Can we go out and love as Christ loved? And even if we can’t, we know that we will be welcome back to hear the message, to be fed at the table, and to be sent out again.
We can bear to have a time like Lent because we know that the stumbling blocks we find in our lives are already forgiven by our God. God knows our shortcomings and loves us and forgives us anyway! Even when we may be saying “Crucify Him!” with our lives, God hears the “Hosanna” that we sing in our heart.
Our Lenten journey is nearing its end. But we are not at Easter yet. We still have Good Friday and the grave. But we can courageously walk this path because we know that our Savior goes before us to lead the way. And we know that even if we fear to follow, our Savior is there to forgive us, to renew us, and to encourage us.
Contradictions: Life from Death. Forgiveness from Humility. Strength from Weakness. Our Lenten journey continues. But through it all, we know we have a Savior who will not leave us stranded on the cross.