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Remembering What Love Means
14 When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. 15 He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16 for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 17 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; 18 for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. 21 But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table. 22 For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!” 23 Then They began to ask one another which one of them it could be who would do this.
I believe this is the first time I have worked on this passage for Palm Sunday. It seems a bit unfamiliar for Palm Sunday—the day Jesus was welcomed and deeply misunderstood as the messiah. Rather than walking toward the adulation of crowds, in this passage, Jesus is providing a way for us to remember who he really is. This messiah would not bring political victory nor prevent oppression and suffering. Religion would no longer be the arbiter of righteousness and virtue, it would become the promise of ‘God with us’ in every part of our lives—including our sinfulness. The authorities, the crowds and even the disciples constantly misunderstood Jesus. Even after 2000 years, we still struggle with the way Jesus redeems. It was and is difficult to think outside of what we expect.
I asked the FIRL groups why it was necessary for Jesus to die and how did his death actually help anybody. This is no easy question. Theologians have been debating this issue for centuries. The FIRL group was understandably vague. “It is the basis of our faith”;“He made the ultimate sacrifice for us”; “He died for our sins”. All of these things are familiar creedal statements but no one could identify how Jesus’ death was necessary to accomplish the good news.
Jesus radically reinterpreted who God is and what he does. Biblically there is a long standing tradition of equating suffering and hard times with sin. Good people were rewarded and bad people were punished. Whether confronted with blindness or exile, the first question is “Who sinned?” A good God would not allow such hardship unless it was deserved. Unfortunately this conception of God leads to terrible conclusions about our own lives and/or how we see God. Illness, suffering and death are stigmas—or God is unreasonable, harsh and even cruel. (What kind of God would sacrifice his son or allow innocents to suffer?)
This view of God and the world remains with us today. Just this week, in our grief group the question was asked: “How could this happen to such a good man?” We so often need to explain pain and suffering as a function of some unknown (or known) sinfulness. Psychologically, most of us would rather be guilty than helpless.
Jesus changed all of that. It was one of the reasons he was so misunderstood. We believe Jesus was a good man. We believe he is God’s son. Yet neither protected him from being crucified. False accusation, betrayal, pain, suffering and death did not separate him—or us—from God. God was with him the whole way. Jesus didn’t like it (who would?) but he, unlike us, stayed turned toward God even in his darkest moments. While none of us can be Jesus, he shows us the way.
We could not believe such a thing was possible unless we saw it. The cliché, seeing is believing is all too true. Human beings needed to see God in the flesh in order to begin to grasp how differently God loves. Jesus was a real man who trusted God to define him rather than any earthly expectation. This is how Jesus saves. We can trust God to be with us—no matter what happens to us. Terrible, terrible things can and will happen. It is hard enough to endure them without feeling they are signs of our sinfulness or God’s anger. Karl Bath “describes Jesus’ suffering as the visible sign of God’s invisible grace. Although it seems impossible on the surface that Jesus’ betrayal, suffering, and death could “accomplish” anything good, Barth insists that where humankind intended evil, God produced the good. (Robert Hoch, workingpreacher.org; 3/20/16)
Jesus takes the most ordinary activity and makes it holy. Every time we eat and drink, Jesus wants us to remember that he gave his body that we might understand and live life differently. He did this for us. He offers a new promise and a new covenant. In the eyes of the world, service, submission and deference expose us as weak. But this worldly view is exploded by Jesus’ willing participation in his death. Jesus entered the parts of life that we fear and despise to show us there is no part of life that is separate from God. And, since we all die, Jesus had to die. He showed us the way we think of the world is not God’s way. The way of the cross is a hard way but when we trust God, there are possibilities we could not imagine.
Betrayal also belongs to human experience. Judas gets pilloried as a particularly evil man but his sin was not his betrayal, it was his inability to imagine God could love him as such a man. He could not believe that he could be forgiven. He never understood the graciousness of Jesus’ love. And if we include Matthew’s version,when Judas realized he had caused the death of an innocent man, he judged himself as unredeemable—which is another way to say he insisted upon his own way rather than trusting God. That was his ‘woe’—not the icy center of Dante’s hell. Our never ending temptation is to try to rank levels of sin—never realizing that the very attempt seeks to decide for God. The only difference between Judas and Peter was that Peter came back. Peter took a chance on love. Judas could not trust it.
All of the disciples fled or hid when Jesus was arrested and killed. Every one of them betrayed Jesus. This does not make betrayal ok but it does acknowledge, as did Jesus, that it will happen. With the eye of retrospect, the disciples were foolish and self-righteous when “they began to ask one another which one of them it could be who would do this.”
Jesus, knowing he would be betrayed—and later killed, continued to love. This is a vital lesson about real life and real love. In real life, no matter how much you love someone, you will hurt them—and you will be hurt by them. This is not a question of if; it is a question of how often. One of our deepest faith claims is that loving is what matters. There is no protection from the pain. Loving is always vulnerable.
Once again, we need to be directed toward love, as God would love. That happened when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. And we seek to remember every time we sit at table, in community.
May each of us be saved by God’s love and be reminded of that love every time we eat and drink. It is that ordinary and that Holy. Let it be.