We have abandoned Jesus. Jesus will not abandon us
A Sermon preached by The Rev. Tom Pumphrey
At St. Peter & St. Paul, Marietta, GA, April 14, 2019
Palm / Passion Sunday (year C) Luke 22:39-23:39
Luke 22:39-23:39 (NRSV) The lengthy narrative of the betrayal, arrest, trial, torture and crucifixion of Jesus.
Today is Palm Sunday. We begin with shouts of “Hosanna! Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” We begin with hymns of joy and a procession with palms, remembering Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, surrounded by crowds praising him. But today is also Passion Sunday, where we get a foretaste of the Holy Week ahead, where the crowds who welcomed him turn on Jesus; his disciples betray and deny and abandon him. Jesus is unjustly tried and tortured and hung out to die with only criminals beside him.
The Passion narrative is an old story, but we share it as a congregation because the Passion is our story as well. How easily we move from “Hosanna!” to “Crucify him!” How easily we abandon and betray and deny and flee from Jesus when our fears overtake us. From the same lips come praises and curses, words of kindness and malice.
When life shakes us up, we look to save our own skin first, and our fears and self-protection drive us to a defensiveness that pushes others away. So we abandon each other and are left isolated. When push comes to shove, we push God away too. How easily we abandon the duty of love and selflessness when times get tough. How easily we abandon God in our fears and insecurities. How easily we let our defensiveness separate us from God who loves us so dearly.
Jesus experienced all of this in his passion. But Jesus did not respond with the same defensiveness and insecurity. Jesus rested in God’s care, and though he felt the pressure deeply, still he answered his detractors with love for them. When one of his disciples struck the servant of the High Priest with a sword, Jesus replied “No more of this!” and he healed the man. In his mock trial, Jesus would not play along with their injustice, but neither would Jesus strike out against them. When he was mocked and beaten and nailed to a cross, Jesus prayed “Father, forgive them!” And to the sinner that hung near him, Jesus offered his assurance, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
Yes, the crowds and the disciples abandoned Jesus, but Jesus did not abandon them. Yes, we abandon Jesus, but Jesus will not abandon us. Jesus was willing to pay the full price of his own life so that we would not have to pay the full price for our sins. Jesus took the self-giving love of God the Father, and embodied it in his self-sacrifice. Jesus gave his life for evil men and women. Jesus gave his life for us. Even though we turn our backs on Jesus, Jesus will not abandon us.
Jesus did not run from his betrayer, Jesus did not flee from the police and thugs. Jesus did not run from Pilate or the High Priest or the crowds or the Roman soldiers. Jesus gave the full measure of his love for them—even in giving up his life. Though we turn away from God in our own fear or our own defensiveness—though we turn away from God in our own neglect, still God loves us. Even though we abandon God as he calls us to love one another, and to have mercy and forgiveness and to be reconciled to each other, even though we abandon God in our prayers and place our possessions and plans in higher priority, still God loves us—still Jesus will not abandon us. Rather, Jesus pursues us and calls us back to ourselves, back to each other, back to him.
Jesus came to change our abandonment into connection. Jesus came to change our fears into faith. Jesus came to change our despair to joy. Jesus comes to our towns and cities and hears the confusion of our praises and our curses, our devotion and our neglect. Jesus then responds and says “No more of this!” and “Father forgive them” and “today you will be with me in paradise.”
This is the mystery of Palm Sunday that invites us into the drama of Holy Week. We walk a road of darkness with Jesus, hearing God call us to repentance. But the way of the cross is the way of life, and when we walk that road with Jesus, we will embrace more deeply the joys of the resurrection.
Walk that road this week. Walk with Jesus the way of the cross—the way that leads to resurrection and new life.