By Deacon Tony
The Passion of Our Lord according to John.
Sermon delivered before the reading of the Passion
Today we commemorate the greatest act of love in history: the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. As sorrowful as today’s events are; this remains a day of highest celebration; for we can never think about the cross without recalling what Jesus’ death accomplished for us. His death is our reconciliation with God. His cross is the bridge over the abyss carved out by sin, and uniting us once more with our loving Father. On this bridge, we cross over with Jesus from death into eternal life.
Jesus is the fulfillment of every prophecy, promise and intention of the Father. His cross is the meeting place of righteousness and mercy, of judgement and grace, of faithfulness and sovereignty. Without the cross there would be no salvation, no church, no forgiveness, no healing, no hope. everything centers on his death and resurrection.
Comparing John’s Passion narrative to the Synoptic Gospels we hear a very different perspective of the Passion and the role Jesus plays in it. Throughout John’s narrative Jesus is not a victim-sufferer, but a royal personage. Instead of his being on trial, John describes Jesus as fully in control. In fact, all the other players in the narrative seem to be the ones on trial; Pilate, the disciples, the religious leaders and the crowds. Starting with His arrest in the garden, right up to his death, Jesus shows a calm and in-charge demeanor. Notice how many times Jesus is described in royal terms; even when he is being mocked by Pilate and the soldiers. Jesus is majestic; He has God’s power in him and is united to God in an unbreakable bond. John has Jesus carry his own cross. Even while going to his death, Jesus is strong; in control. John eliminates the agony in the garden and spends much of the narrative on Jesus’ encounter with Pilate; earthly power and God’s power meet face to face. The focus of the discussion is Jesus’ kingship. “Mine is not a kingdom of this world!”
One can even describe Jesus’ cross less as an instrument of execution and more as a throne from which He rules. From His cross He directs the care of His mother and utters the final triumphant cry, “It is accomplished.” He decides the moment of his death and in the end he is victorious—from his cross. Nothing happens in this Passion story without Jesus allowing it. No one is forcing Him to do this. He will suffer in our place and as a result we will be the heirs to new life.
Having said that Jesus is always in control we will still be able to identify the injustice and cruelty that Jesus experienced.
What happened to the “hosannas of Palm Sunday; only to be replaced with the demand of “Crucify Him; Crucify Him”? We wonder why so many everyday Jews turned on him and why Pilate caved into the demands of the Sanhedrin. We wonder how anyone could justify killing a man who had dedicated his life to preaching peace, love and mercy.
While nearly everyone can condemn such injustice, it takes another set of eyes to perceive the salvation that flowed out of it. Only through the eyes of faith can we see the cross of God’s perfect plan of salvation.
Only if we ask the Spirit to open our hearts will we see in the Passion the battle between light and darkness—and the victory that Jesus won for us.
As we stand here listening and mediating on the Passion we will come to see how much Jesus gave for our sake—both spiritually and physically.
On the surface, it appears that a few men devised an evil plan to put Jesus to death; and to a certain extent this is correct. But on a deeper level of faith, we can see how Satan entered Judas and convinced him to betray Jesus to the authorities. We were warned on the 1st Sunday of Lent that the evil one would return at the appointed time!
If we look at other aspects of the Passion, such as Peter’s denial and the intense hatred of Christ’s enemies, we will also be able to see the devil’s influence behind these human actions and decisions. In all of these strategies, Satan’s goal was to isolate Jesus and weaken him to the point where he would turn away from God’s plan and fall into sin himself. Satan knew that if he could get Jesus to deny his Father just once, our salvation would be jeopardized, and his hold over us would go unthreatened.
This is Satan’s pivotal moment! If there is any chance of getting Jesus to deny his Father and turn away from his commitment to us, it is now.
The spiritual and physical assault Jesus is enduring is so violent that it must feel as if he is separated from his Father. But at the same time he must know in his heart that God will never abandon him.
Let’s imagine ourselves being with Jesus during the final hours of His life; standing with His loved ones at the foot of the cross. The closer we can get to the reality of these events, the more we will appreciate what Jesus did for us. As we reflect and meditate on the Passion we should be asking the Holy Spirit to help us see the spiritual battle that was raging even as the political and personality struggles were taking place.
Ask Him to show us how the lies of Satan, the power of sin, and the darkness in the human heart all play a part in Jesus’ suffering and death. Even go further and ask the Holy Spirit to show us the perfection of God’s plan to save us and redeem us from these influences; and how we can apply the message of the Passion to our lives.
Let the mystery of Jesus’ death sink into our hearts. As the power of the drama pierces us, give Jesus the best gift each of us can give; Pour out our lives on Him in love, adoration and obedience.
Let us stand and listen; let us take Pilate’s advice and “behold the man.” (19:5)
Behold the man, wounded and bruised, crowned with thorns.
Behold the man who was despised and rejected.
Behold the man of sorrow acquainted with grief.
But behold also the man who loved us so much he gave up everything for us.
Behold the man who endured the nails, the whip, the thorns and the cross for us.
Behold the man who endured the weight of sin, the onslaught of the devil, and the loneliness of desertion for us.
Behold him as we gaze up at the cross of crucifixion and when we come to venerate the cross later.
Behold him and give him our lives!