A PASTOR’S POST: Sunday of The Palms & The Passion
“Which is more amazing,” asked pastor and theologian Karl Barth, “to find Jesus in such bad company, or to find the two criminals (who were crucified with Him) in such good company?” Ironically Barth asked that question in a sermon he preached for the inmates of the Prison of Basel, Switzerland, in 1957. That was almost 60 years ago. But the question is still a good one. It makes me wonder how I might preach a sermon on the passion of Jesus to prisoners condemned in prison.
But there is a sense in which I am preaching as a prisoner among prisoners every Sunday. Are we not all fallen sinners who stand convicted of our sins just as the two thieves were justly convicted of their crimes? The difference is that for Christians, the Judge has intervened and offered Himself in exchange for our freedom from sin death and the power of the devil, paying the price for the sins of the world. He is not only our judge, but “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
Craig Bell said it clearly in our Cross+Gen Sunday School class this past Sunday when he commented, “Those three crosses out in front of our church say it all!” He was right. They do say it all.
Three crosses! One is the cross of Jesus. From this cross we hear Jesus say, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” On the second hangs an impenitent thief who rails at Jesus, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” And on the other hangs a penitent thief who asks, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Luke doesn’t tell us their names, almost inviting us to ask, in which of these two do we most see ourselves?
But Jesus said to the penitent, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” In a way these are the sweetest words in the whole Bible. They declare the mercy of God to be an open door for all who seek it, any time anywhere. Like Barth’s congregation of prisoners from sixty years ago, we are also a congregation of the condemned because of our sin. The only question is whether we can admit our deep need for God’s mercy. In which of the condemned do I see a reflection of my own spiritual state?
This is one of the most important things about celebrating Holy Week. Everything in the world around us wants to fill us with lies about how “important” and “deserving” we are. A recent survey said sixty percent of Americans agreed that heaven is the place where “good people go to be rewarded for their good lives.”
Based on this survey it is very clear that far from being a “Christian nation” we are a nation of Pharisees who do not understand how much they need the mercy of God, for the true Christian knows that heaven is God’s future for those redeemed by God’s mercy. Holy Week shows us this need so that we may, with holy joy, celebrate the Easter good news that Christ is risen! There was mercy enough from the cross of Jesus for both thieves. There is mercy from the cross for us all.
I hope you will enjoy our last Lenten Midweek Soup Supper and worship service is this Wednesday, March 16 with Deacon Larry Oliver sharing the message on Job 14:1-14. His sermon theme will be “It is Enough!” I will be serving at Peace in Philomath this Wednesday.
Please remember to sign up for the Maundy Thursday Agape Communion meal commemorating the Last Supper on Thursday, March 24. Just call the church office (541-753-2816) and plan to bring a dish to share as part of the meal that evening. We begin at 6:00 PM. The complete Holy Week schedule is provided below. I look forward to sharing a blessed Holy Week with you!
Pastor Joe Hughes
217-898-9063 (voice & text)