Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Palm Sunday + April 9, 2017
Text: Matthew 27:11-66
In the Middle Ages, a new form of theater developed called the Passion Play. It’s performed in many different ways and in different venues. The point is that what started in the Church became a whole genre of performing art.
When we hear the Passion today, we might sit back as idle observers—as theater-goers. We might want to say “Boo!” when the Pharisees come on, hiss at the Roman soldiers who mocked Jesus, and weep when Jesus is lashed and carries His cross to Golgotha.
But the Passion is not meant to be idly observed; it is meant to be participated in through faith. This is your Lord’s passion, not a fictional character and not a stranger. We are not just audience members, but actors in the drama.
When Pilate’s misunderstands and is mired in unbelief at the plain words of Jesus, that is us. When he perceives that Jesus was delivered up on fake charges, sits on a judgment throne, and yet refuses to do justice, we do the same. Pilate washes his hands in response to the pangs of guilt, hoping to silence the nagging voice of conscience but refusing to repent, and we’ve been there too.
In the Judgment Hall, the crowd thirsts for Jesus’ death. They used their vote to free a murderer and condemn of the Giver of life, just as we have used our freedom to turn away and reject God’s ways. Like the crowd, we would rather be God’s people without Him telling us what that means.
When Jesus is taken out by the soldiers, we are there too. They proudly mock this suffering man, alienating themselves both from His cause and His agony. Not only do they revel in the fact that they seem to be better off, but they rub that fact in and belittle Jesus. If He’s supposed to be some kind of Savior, He must be useless because all this is happening to Him and He does nothing to stop it. Like them, we would rather have glory, power, and visible success, rather than rejection, weakness, and suffering.
Then, there’s Simon of Cyrene, who was compelled to carry His cross. Now it can’t be avoided. Jesus’ passion is not something to be spectated, but we are part of it. St. Paul says, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” We are marked with the cross in Baptism, and He calls us daily to take up our cross and follow Him.
Truly, His cross was the greatest, for by it He saved the world. But we should not be surprised when this world and this life of sin compels us to carry the cross. Why can’t life be easier, people like us, justice be done? These are the wrong questions to ask. Rather, by faith we see what God is at work doing the suffering and death of Christ. It is His Passion to save us.
So when we bear our own small crosses, trust that God will be glorified through this burden, agony, betrayal, or loss. Mind you, how this will be is rarely apparent from under the cross. “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Jesus’ disciples couldn’t see what God was doing until Easter and Pentecost. So don’t try to look for a reason right away—it may well be hidden from you. Instead, trust the good and gracious will of God for you: “For those who love God, [He works] all things together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Believe in the God who saved you through death and resurrection, and know that in His love, He will also save you from every evil, that you might glorify Him.
This Holy Week, as we walk with Jesus to the cross, find comfort in what He has done, because it isn’t just a story to be read. It’s a story to be lived, for by it you have life. Amen.
 Romans 6:3
 Matthew 16:24
 Hebrews 12:11
 Romans 8:28