Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion Isaiah 50:4–7; Philippians 2:6–11; Matthew 26:14–27:66
Backward into time Jesus suffering is a sign of love, an invitation to love and a revelation about love. Richard Matheson wrote a science-fiction story called “The Traveler.” It’s about a scientist named Paul Jairus. He’s part of a research team that developed an energy screen to permit people to travel backward into time.
The first trip is scheduled to take place a few days before Christmas. Jairus has been picked to make the trip. He decides to go back in time to the crucifixion of Jesus on Calvary.
Jairus is a nonbeliever and anticipates finding the crucifixion different from the way the Bible describes it.
When the historic moment comes, Jairus steps inside the energy screen. The countdown goes as planned, and the launch is made on schedule.
Soon Jairus finds himself soaring backward into time 100 years, 1,000 years, 2,000 years. The energy screen touches down on target. Calvary is swarming with people. Everybody’s attention is focused on three men nailed to crosses about 100 feet away.
Immediately Jairus asks the Command Center for permission to move closer to the crosses. They grant it, but tell him to stay inside the energy screen.
Jairus moves closer. As he does, his eyes come to rest on Jesus. Suddenly something remarkable begins to happen. Jairus feels drawn to Jesus, as a tiny piece of metal is drawn to a magnet.
He’s deeply moved by the love radiating from Jesus. It’s something he’s never experienced before.
Then, contrary to all his expectations, events on Calvary begin to unfold exactly as the Gospel describes them. Jairus is visibly shaken.
The Command Center realizes this and fears he’s becoming emotionally involved. They tell him to prepare for immediate return to the 20th century. Jairus protests, but to no avail.
The return trip goes smoothly. When Jairus steps from the energy screen, it’s clear he’s a changed man.
The author ends his story with this comment: It was Christmas Eve and it was a lovely time to find faith.
The author probably had several points in mind in writing the story. One point, however, stands out above the rest. It’s the deep impression Jesus makes on Jairus. The thing that impresses Jairus most isn’t the suffering of Jesus. Rather, it’s the love of Jesus. Love radiates from Jesus, as light radiates from the sun.
The story of Jairus makes an important point: We shouldn’t focus on the suffering of Jesus during the Holy Week ahead. What we should focus on is the love of Jesus that speaks to us through his suffering.
The suffering of Jesus speaks to us about his love in three ways.
First, it’s a sign of love. It tells us in the most powerful way possible what Jesus told us in his lifetime: The greatest love a person can have for his friends is to give his life for them. John 15:13
Second, the suffering of Jesus is an invitation to love. It says in the most powerful way possible what Jesus said so often in his lifetime: Love one another, just as I love you. John 15:12.
Third, the suffering of Jesus is a revelation about love. It tells us that love entails suffering. Jesus stressed this in his lifetime, saying:
If anyone wants to come with me, he must forget himself, carry his cross, and follow me. Mark 8:34
We need to stress this teaching of Jesus, just as Jesus did. We need to meditate on it more and more. It’s a teaching we’ve almost forgotten.
In our era of painkillers and instant gratification, we expect everything to be pain free.
But this is impossible. Some things in life don’t come pain free. They are painful by their nature. Consider a few examples.
It’s painful to try to rekindle a relationship that has begun to cool.
It’s painful to try to keep the lines of communication open with someone who doesn’t listen to what we say.
It’s painful to try to deal with someone who is demanding to the point of being unreasonable.
It’s painful to try to face each day with courage in a world that’s passed us by.
You and I can’t get into an energy screen and go back to Calvary this Holy Week. We can’t even get on a plane and go on a Holy Land tour. But we can meditate on the Holy Week gospel. We can retrace, spiritually, the Holy Week steps of Jesus.
We can learn the lesson of love contained in the suffering of Jesus.
We can learn that the suffering of Jesus is a sign of his love for us.
The greatest love a person can have for his friends, Jesus said, is to give his life for them.
We can learn that the suffering of Jesus is a revelation about love: true love always entails suffering.
If anyone wants to come with me, said Jesus, he must forget himself, carry his cross, and follow me.
Finally, we can learn that the suffering of Jesus is an invitation to love our brothers and sisters.
Love one another, Jesus said, just as I love you.
This is the message contained in today’s Passion Sunday readings. This is the lesson of love that Jesus wants to share with each of us in the week ahead. Let’s close by paraphrasing a familiar prayer:
Lord, teach us to love. Teach us to love, as you loved us:
to give and not to count the cost; to fight and not to heed the wounds; to toil and not to seek for rest; to labor and not to ask for reward, except to know that we are doing your will.
Series II Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion Isaiah 50:4–7; Philippians 2:6–11; Matthew 26:14–27:66
Three reasons Jesus’ death is a sign of love, an invitation to love, and a revelation about love.
In March 1986, USA Today carried a front-page story about the crucifixion of Jesus. It was based on a doctor’s article in the New England Journal of Medicine.
After commenting on the medical dimensions of crucifixion, the doctor observed that we tend to romanticize the death of Jesus. In reality, he said, it was one of the most brutal deaths anyone could ever imagine.
Ancient writers tell us that scourging, which often preceded crucifixion, was itself a terrifying ordeal. It wasn’t unheard of for a victim to die during the scourging.
Ancient writers also tell us that victims of crucifixion sometimes went insane. They spent their final hours on earth completely out of their minds.
One ancient writer tells us that after the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, Jewish freedom fighters waged guerrilla warfare against the Romans.
One day the leader of a small guerrilla group was captured. The Romans threatened to crucify him in plain sight of the others, who were holed up in caves on a steep hillside.
The rest of the guerrillas surrendered rather than see their leader suffer such a humiliating and horrible execution.
All of this raises a question a tremendous question. Why did Jesus allow himself to suffer death by crucifixion? Why did he submit to such a horrendous ordeal?
The answers people give to that question boil down to three main ones.
First, Jesus wanted his death to be a sign. He wanted it to say, in a dramatic way, what he told his disciples so often during his life:
“The greatest love you can give for your friends is to give your life for them.” John 15:13
Second, Jesus wanted his death to be an invitation. He wanted to invite us to do what he told his disciples to do so often during his life: “[L]ove one another, just as I love you.” John 15:12
Finally, Jesus wanted his death to be a revelation. Again, he wanted to tell us what he told his disciples so often during his life, that love entails suffering:
“If any of you want to come with me . . . you must forget yourself, carry your cross, and follow me.” Mark 8:34
And so the crucifixion of Jesus makes three important statements. First, it’s a sign of Jesus’ love for us. Second, it’s an invitation for us to love as Jesus loved. And, finally, it’s a revelation that love entails suffering.
Of these three statements, the final one is the one we need to hear, especially in our day.
In our modern era of painkillers and instant gratification, we tend to forget that life entails suffering. We tend to forget that love entails suffering.
On Monday night,March 24, 1986, just before the Academy Awards, Barbara Walters interviewed President and Mrs. Reagan.
One of the questions she asked was how they managed to keep their love alive across 35 years of married life.
When they didn’t answer immediately, Barbara tried to help them by saying, “Was it because both of you were so willing to give and take on a 50–50 basis?”
The first lady broke into a gentle laugh and said:
Oh my, married life never breaks that evenly. Sometimes it’s more like 90–10. So often one of us has had to give up so much more than the other.
The president nodded in total agreement.
That was the high point of the interview, because it made such an important point: When it comes to love, we can’t keep score! The day a husband or a wife begins to keep score in a marriage is the day that marriage begins to die. Married love and family love, by nature, involve pain sometimes a great deal of pain. And that pain rarely divides itself evenly between family members. More often than not it’s a lopsided division sometimes terribly lopsided, like 90–10.
And this brings us back to our starting point, the crucifixion of Jesus. By his painful death, Jesus speaks a threefold message to us. First, Jesus says he loves us: “The greatest love you can give for your friends is to give your life for them.”
Second, Jesus says we should love one another:
“[L]ove one another, just as I love you.”
Finally, Jesus says loves entails suffering:
“If any of you want to come with me . . . you must forget yourself, carry your cross, and follow me.”
In conclusion, then, the crucifixion of Jesus is a sign of love, an invitation to love, and a revelation about love.
It tells us that Jesus loves us with the highest love. It invites us to try to love others in the same way. It reminds us that love will always involve suffering.
This is the practical lesson of love that Jesus wants us to carry home from this liturgy.
This is also the practical lesson of love that Jesus wants us to share with the world.
He wants us to tell the world by the example of our love that he loves us, that we should love one another, and that love will always entail suffering sometimes a great deal of suffering. Let’s close by paraphrasing a familiar prayer. Please bow your heads and pray along with me in silence:
Lord, teach us to love. Teach us to love others as you love us.
Teach us to love and not to keep score; teach us to love and not to heed the pain; teach us to loveand not to insist on an equal return; teach us to love and not to ask for any special reward, except to know that we are doing your will.
Series III Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion Isaiah 50:4–7; Philippians 2:6–11; Matthew 26:14–27:66
Faith challenge To connect the crucified biblical Christ with the crucified mystical Christ.
People passing by shook their heads and hurled insults at Jesus. Mark 15:29
Years ago, author Malcolm Boyd wrote a creative story about the suffering of Jesus on the cross.
It begins in a large, inner-city church in Indianapolis, Indiana, and goes something like this.
On the sanctuary wall of the church above the altar hangs a life-sized crucifix, much like the one in our church. Suddenly, the body of Jesus on the cross begins to move and come alive. Slowly, Jesus works himself free from the cross.
As he does, the nails from his hands and his feet fall to the tile floor, echoing loudly throughout the empty church.
Jesus slides down the cross, drops to the floor, goes to the men’s room, gets some paper towels, and wipes the blood from his body.
Then he walks outside, and heads for the city’s famous Monument Circle. It is a warm day, so he doesn’t mind being in a loincloth.
I n an east-side church in Manhattan, something similar happens. Suddenly, the body on a gold cross begins to move and come alive.
Jesus has a little more trouble freeing himself from its nails, but he finally succeeds.
Once again the nails fall to the floor echoing loudly throughout the church.
Still wearing his crown of thorns, Jesus walks south on Madison Avenue toward Rockefeller Center.
A cab driver sees him and is so startled that he drives his cab right over the curb onto the sidewalk.
Fortunately, it is at a time when this street, like the one in Indianapolis, is almost empty.
Soon other bodies of Jesus disappear from other crucifixes in other churches in cities around the world. I n a church in downtown Moscow, something new and more disturbing begins to happen. Katrina Pavlov is praying before a life-sized crucifix. Her eyes are closed. Suddenly, she hears someone moaning.
She opens her eyes, and can’t believe what she sees. The body of Jesus is gone from the cross. In its place is a black man dressed in a prison uniform.
It turns out that he was an innocent man, serving a life sentence in a prison. Twelve hours later, Red Cross officials find a white youth fastened to a cross in a mission church in Ethiopia.
His body is covered with welts and his left eye is swollen shut. The youth turned out to be a college student from Evanston, Illinois.
As news of these incredible happenings began to spread across the world, people began to ask: “What’s going on?” Then, slowly, they begin to understand.
The flesh-and-blood-body of the historical Jesus crucified on Calvary no longer hangs upon a cross. That body is risen and glorified.
But a very real body of Christ still hangs upon a cross. It is the mystical Body of Christ.
It is the flesh-and-blood body of victims of all kinds of brutality and persecution.
It is the body of a college student in Utah, fastened to a rail fence and beaten to death.
It is the body of a man, dragged to death behind a pickup truck in Texas, because his skin has a different color.
It is a Catholic schoolgirl in Thailand, who steps on a mine while taking a shortcut to school.
It is the body of someone of whom Jesus said, “What you did to this least brother or sister of mine, you did to me.”
Some of these least brothers and sisters are members of our own parish family. They may even be sitting next to one of us, right now.
The challenge that each one of us faces this Holy Week is clear.
It is the challenge to make the connection between the flesh-and-blood body of the physical Christ of biblical times and the flesh-and-blood members of the mystical Christ of our times.
It is the challenge to take to heart the words of Jesus, when he says: “Whenever you refused to help one of these least important ones, you refused to help me.”
The challenge of Holy Week is not only to make this connection, but to do something about it in our lives.
This is the awesome, scary challenge that today’s Passion Sunday readings set before us. The flesh-and-blood body of the historical Christ crucified on Calvary no longer hangs on the cross. That body of Christ is risen and in glory.
But a very real body of Christ still hangs upon a cross. It is the body of the mystical Christ.
It is the flesh-and-blood body of an innocent victim of brutality or persecution, sometimes in our own community.
If we fail to make this connection, if we fail to take it to heart, if we fail to do anything about it, we fail to live out one of the most important truths of our faith.
Let us conclude with a portion of the Christopher Prayer:
Father, grant that I may be a bearer of Christ Jesus, your Son. . . .
Strengthen me, by your Holy Spirit, to carry out my mission of changing the world or some definite part of it, for the better. . . .
Nourish in me a practical desire to build up rather than tear down, to reconcile more than polarize, to go out on a limb rather than crave security. Never let me forget that it is far better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.