In Jesus, God endures our worst
I don’t really enjoy Passion Sunday very much. The story is just so bleak. It’s not bad enough that Jesus is crucified and dies. In the process, everyone abandons him, from the crowds at large to his closest followers. Even Peter, who claims he would never deny his master, disowns Jesus three times.
At the end of the story when Jesus is buried, there just doesn’t seem to be very much reason for hope.
The Gospel reading that begins today’s liturgy finds crowds rejoicing as Jesus enters Jerusalem. They are singing his praises, and throwing down palms as a sign of their acknowledgement of him as their spiritual leader.
A few hours later, the same crowd, more or less, is shouting for his crucifixion. The crowds, along with the Roman authorities, seem so easily manipulated by Jesus’ enemies. They turn away from him so easily.
Maybe I don’t like Passion Sunday because I see so much of myself in the story. Like the crowds in the story, I can go from worshipping Jesus to ignoring him very quickly. One day, I am devoted and faithful and full of hope and confidence in God, and the next day I’m anxious and fearful, clinging to my own meager resources because I don’t think God will provide all I need.
And maybe Passion Sunday is supposed to make us uncomfortable. In many ways, it is humanity’s darkest hour — a conscious, vicious rejection of the unconditional love of God. If we’re not uncomfortable with this story, then maybe we don’t see ourselves in the crowd. Maybe we think, “I would never betray Jesus.” That’s what Peter said, of course, before betraying him three times.
The good news is that Jesus knows that we are all fickle and wobbly in our faith, and he welcomes us still. We don’t have to be perfect to be followers of Jesus. If we think we’re perfect, odds are that we are not following Jesus at all but simply indulging in some idealized vision of ourselves. We all betray him and we are all called, like Peter, to feed his sheep.
Jesus lives on, unstoppable by the forces of evil and of human frailty. In Jesus, God endures the worst that humans can deliver and demonstrates that his love is greater than any resistance we can muster. It’s been said many times that it wasn’t nails that held Jesus to the cross on Good Friday, but love. Love led Jesus to the cross and love kept him there.
Passion Sunday lets us know quite vividly that God’s love is not dependent on our spiritual performance. In fact, God’s most loving act, the sacrifice of Christ, comes not when we are at our best but when we are at our worst. God loves us because of who we are, not because of what we do.
If the rejection demonstrated today does not shake God’s love loose from us, nothing will. Nothing can. Maybe Passion Sunday doesn’t have to seem so bleak after all.