Scripture Readins: Mark 15:25-37
This week has been an emotional week. At least it has been for me, I don’t know about you. We’ve heard inspiring words from my colleagues as they have shared the stories of Jesus at our lunches. They’ve done it from a historical perspective, they’ve done it from a personal perspective, they’ve done it with story telling and fact sharing. And they’ve all done it as a people who strongly believe in this God we call Father, who has sent His Son into the world to bring all of us into relationship with Him.
Every year at this time, it seems that popular media, magazines, television, newspapers, they like to release something that calls into question the validity of who Jesus is. Whether it’s his relationships with others, or whether or not he rose from the grave, or if he really did any miracles, or even to question whether or not he really existed.
For some reason, the seasons of Lent and Easter have become a time where society welcomes opposition to the Christian belief system. Sure we have the right to free speech and all that, but I’m sure if I stood here this afternoon and challenged the belief systems of other worldly religions, I wouldn’t get away with it. Yet, our beliefs are constantly under attack.
We had a discussion after Prayer Workshop the other evening around the sacredness of our Holy days. We know that for years we’ve been competing with lots of other things on Sunday mornings, that’s not new to us.
But did you know, that increasingly, there are events scheduled on Good Friday and Easter Sunday which are taking people away from our churches? It’s true!
Of course it’s not the fault of the people in our pews, they want to be in church, they hate to miss it! But the organizers of events have decided that these days are convenient for them to do what they want to do, even the morning we celebrate the fact our Saviour has risen from the tomb.
I know some clergy friends who bemoan the fact there are Easter Egg hunts organized by their communities which conflict with their church services on Easter morning. And they will talk with families about looking forward to seeing them on Easter morning in church, only to hear they won’t be there because they’re taking their kids to the egg hunt. And these are families which are actively involved in their churches. The pressures to be involved with community has taken them out of the church.
It seems like Christmas is the only safe holy day we have left right now, and we can thank the fact there is a huge secular celebration that people don’t want to miss.
We’re up against it aren’t we?
We are progressing far past the point where the church has influence in our communities. We are now one of many options, and those options are growing in popularity, and they are higher priority than our churches.
All these conversations I’ve had over this last week around this topic, and many people I’ve run into this week, we are all concerned about this trend, the question becomes, “What can we do?”
As I reflected on these conversations and these questions, here’s what has come to mind for me.
What have we remembered over the last 7 days?
On Sunday, our churches remembered the triumphal return of Jesus to the city of Jerusalem. We remembered the people lining the roads and cheering, “Hosanna! Here comes the king, the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”
But right after, we remember those cheers went silent after Jesus passed through the city gates. We remember Jesus and his disciples eating together for the last time. We remember the betrayal of one who was a trusted friend. And today, we remember he was beaten, stripped, and hung on a cross in a most cruel method of torture which took his life.
Jesus, just a few days ago was celebrated as the one who was going to save the people. He was going to set them free from their oppression, he was going to give them their lives back.
But then the crowd turned on him. And he was left alone to die.
It wasn’t that long ago the church was celebrated, revered, maybe even cheered for what it was doing. But now, things have changed. To be a Christian who is willing to publicly proclaim Jesus Christ as your personal Saviour is to cause yourself to stand out as someone who is different. And not always in a good way.
Oh sure people seem to be disappointed when churches close in our communities, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of passion to keep them open any more. It’s more of a nostalgia than the loss of something truly important.
So now, we’ve been left alone. Forgotten, put on the back burner, ignored. In some corners of the world, even beaten and killed.
Did you know Christians are the most persecuted of all the religions in the world? Sure, here in the West we’re pretty safe, but go and try to be a Christian in the Middle East, or parts of Africa or Asia. Think of the bombing which happened last Sunday at the Coptic Church in Egypt as they worshipped Jesus Christ on Palm Sunday. And remember how there were other attacks before Christmas in which Christian died. I pray our brothers and sisters remain safe on this most holiest of weekends as they too worship our risen Saviour.
How did the world get to this point? How did the church, especially here in the West, go from being the most significant building in our community, to being an afterthought, forgotten, ignored?
I don’t know. And I wish I knew an easy way to change it back.
But, the reality is, I don’t think it’s going to happen any time soon.
Here’s what I do know. That as we watch our Saviour hang on that cross. As we see him speared in the side. As we see him take his last sip of sour wine. As we hear him cry out “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?”…
In this we see Jesus knows our own pain.
He knows our struggles, he knows our doubts, he knows all there is to know about us.
He knows what it means to be rejected and alone.
Just days ago the crowd LOVED him. And now the crowd is mocking him even as he takes his final breath.
“He saved others, but he can’t save himself! Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe,” they said.
“Let’s see if Elijah will come take him down!” they said.
Rejection is not easy, especially when it’s from someone you love so much.
Jesus loves these people, he really, really does! It’s why he came! He came so people could see the love he has for them, and that same love which comes from our Father God.
Just as we love our neighbours, our friends, and even our family, who may not share our same love for Jesus. Well, probably even more so, because Jesus loves with a perfect love only God can offer.
Jesus offers his life for us so we may know God’s perfect love.
In case you missed it, the theme for our lunches and services together this year is “Suffering and Glory: The Hope of our Faith.”
And over the last few days we’ve been looking at the suffering of Jesus as he was betrayed, as he was beaten, as he was shunned, and today, as he was forsaken and killed.
And in the Gospel of Mark, we are told it was with a loud cry… he gave his final breath.
Jesus died in agony. Alone. Rejected. Forgotten.
I pray that none of us have ever, or will ever, feel that way.
In this agony, at the point of his death, Jesus can’t even feel the presence of God in his life. The cross, and all the shame, all the pain and rejection, it severed his connection with God.
The humanity of Jesus has been split apart from the divine as he gave his life.
The Gospel of Luke has been our focus at Carman over the last number of months. And this recollection of the life of Jesus has surprised me at times, especially the way Luke connects parts of the life of Jesus.
For instance, last Sunday, as the Pharisees told Jesus to silence the crowd who was cheering him on into the city of Jerusalem, he told them, “Even these stones would cry out!”
Which I connected to the story of John the Baptist in Luke 3, where he said God would raise up children of Abraham from the stones.
Well, this weekend we may have another connection. After the death of Jesus, how long was he in the tomb? 3 days.
Humour me for a second as we take a look at Luke 2.
“Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts…” (Luke 2:41-46)
When Jesus was 12 years old, he went missing for 3 days after Passover. Today, as the Passover festival is happening around them, Jesus will go into the tomb for how long? 3 days. And after 3 days, he will be found.
Today is the start of those 3 days. Today we remember Christ died on the cross. Alone. Forgotten. Rejected. Separated from his Father.
You’ll notice there’s no benediction at the end of this service, if you look at your bulletin.
A benediction is a celebratory acknowledgement that God is with us when we leave our services and to seek His blessing.
Today is hard to celebrate knowing Jesus has paid the ultimate price and is apart from his Father. For the next two days will mourn the loss of our Saviour.
We will mourn because part of what he has done, he has done for us.
Jesus died for me, and he died for you.
What does this mean? How can Jesus die for us?
He does this to show us that death has no hold on us. He does this to show our sin cannot rule us.
He shows us that our weakness, our failures, our pain, our sorrow… they are only temporary.
He shows us God’s love surpasses all those things, and it is for eternity.
Jesus, the perfect Son of God, he has done something we cannot do for ourselves. We cannot come into the presence of God because of our sinfulness. At least we couldn’t.
Romans 6 tells us that in the death of Jesus Christ, our sin dies with him, if we are his followers. If we know Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, he has done what we cannot do for ourselves. He has taken our sin upon himself, and it broke him, it killed him, it separated him from our Father in heaven.
But he also shows, it cannot overcome the love of the Father.
Because… how long was it? 3 days! In 3 days he erased it all.
But that’s a story for another day. A story for a Sunday morning coming very soon.
But for now, we wait. We watch as our Saviour pours out his life for us, as he cries his final breath, hanging from a cross, forsaken, alone and rejected by all.