Last night we followed Jesus from the Upper Room to Gethsemane where his passion began. We have followed him from there to his betrayal by one of his own, the false accusations, the severe scourging, the noise of the crowd as he carried his cross, his crucifixion and death.
For some, it was just another show in which a common criminal was executed. The passers-by were only there for the fun and laughter that would fill the emptiness of their hearts only for a passing moment. Even today, people still gather to watch the lynching of a person accused of a crime. For them, it does not matter whether the accused is guilty or not. They gladly bring out their phones and enjoy the spectacle.
For some others, a dangerous opponent to the Jewish religion was killed. He had preached in their synagogues and denounced their hypocrisy and unjust practices at the Temple. His words and actions were a threat to their understanding of the Jewish religion. Today, religious differences still lead to conflict among brothers and people even get killed for mindless excuses.
For the Romans, another enemy of the state had been eliminated and the Roman empire was once more secure. Palestine was one of the most troublesome spots in the Roman Empire. The governors of such regions were known to employ brutal means of punishment like public executions to deter prospective troublemakers. Today, someone who stands for the truth is a political enemy that must be eliminated. Some are imprisoned under trumped-up charges. Some are outrightly assassinated while others are never heard of again.
The elections have come and gone. Votes have been cast for those who declared their intentions to vie for political positions. Some have chosen their own Barabbas, a common criminal from among their ranks, to rule according to their wishes. They have set out strategies to eliminate anyone who calls them to account in the name of national interest. They even have their Pontius Pilate in the form of corrupt election officials that would help them to deliver the result. The only thing that stands in their way is the voice of the people calling for social justice, good governance, and accountability.
For the people at the site of the crucifixion, the day ended in the death of Jesus. For us, the death of Jesus is the beginning of eternal life. The meaning of today’s celebration is clear: Christ died for us while we were still sinners. Although he stood against the injustices of his time, he was not a political activist or agitator. He gave a human face to the justice and mercy of God. Although he healed the sick and fed the multitude, Jesus was not a philanthropist or a social worker. His life brings the reality of the love of God to everyone. Even though he was killed by Pilate’s judgment, Jesus was more than a political martyr. He died to save the whole of creation. He knew he had to die. He also knew that this price must be paid for the justice and mercy of God to meet humanity and free him from slavery to sin and death.
The death of Jesus asks a question that strikes at the heart of our existence: who are you? If everything is taken away from you, what will be left? We are Christians and this means that Christ must permeate every aspect of our lives. If everything else is taken away from us: wealth, friends, occupation, connections, and achievements, we will remain Christians. We will remain children of a Father who never abandons his children. We will remain brothers and sisters of Christ who saved us by dying on the Cross. This demands that God takes sovereignty over everything in our lives. It means that we must intentionally bring our Christian identity into all that we do and wherever we go. It means that the Truth of the Good News of Salvation must not be hidden behind the veil of fear. We must tear that veil of fear and be witnesses to the fact that the death of Christ reconciles us to the Father and all are called to embrace this gift of salvation.
Let us pray:
God of life, God of beginnings and endings, today we pause to remember the power of death.
Today we tell the story of what happens when someone angers those in power.
Today we tell a story of betrayal by a friend, trial by an empire, and execution as a way of silencing the one who names injustice.
Today we tell a story that happened long ago in a land far away.
Today we tell a story that continues to happen today in places close at hand.
As we remember the story today helps us to see its truth.
As we tell of Jesus’ trial and execution, remind us of those who are found legally guilty of doing and saying the right things.
As we tell of the friends who are conspicuously absent from the cross, remind us how easily we slip away when the struggle for justice becomes dangerous or challenging.
As we look at the cross, remind us of the power of the empire in any age, and remind us of our duty as people of faith to proclaim a different empire, a different kingdom, a new way of living together. God of endings, today we hear the agonized words “It is finished”.
Today we think of all those things that are stopped before they come to fruition, of hopes crushed beneath reality’s heavy foot, of promises left unfulfilled,of possibilities that leave us wondering..
God of life and death, beginnings and endings, today we pause to remember the power of those in charge to run the world.
Today we remember the many people near and far who are broken by that power:
those who live in places where peace is just a word, not a reality, not even a dream;
those who are pushed to the margins because of their race, their gender, their bank balance, their marital status, their orientation, or any of the countless other ways we find to set people apart;
those who live with nothing so that others may live with abundance
those who choose to challenge the injustices in their world and are crushed beneath the feet of those in charge
But even as we remember that power, we remember that day follows night, hope replaces despair, and life will conquer death.
At the end of this celebration, may we be ready to challenge the empires of our world, even if such a challenge leads us to a cross outside the city gates.Help us remember that every ending is a new beginning.
We pray in the name of Jesus Christ who showed us the depth of his passion for Your Kingdom, who taught us to live in love and justice, in whose life, death and resurrection we can find the path to your Kingdom and who taught his friends to pray by saying:
Our Father, who art in heaven…
May God bless every member of the Ascension Family through Christ our Lord. Amen.