Our morning began by re-enacting Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. But things have gone bad, and quickly. By the time our gospel reading ends, Jesus is dead, his lifeless body laid in the tomb.
Now we wait. We wait in an uncomfortable place between crucifixion and resurrection.
In fact, we will go backwards before we go forwards. Over the course of Holy Week, we will go through this story again, a little more slowly. On Thursday, we get the Last Supper. On Friday, we hear again the story of the crucifixion.
Then, finally, next Sunday, on Easter morning, we move forward to resurrection. The preparation of Lent will be over. Jesus’ crucifixion will be behind us. Easter is all about new life, about God’s victory over the forces of evil and death, about Christ’s exaltation.
But today, this week, we face the horror of the cross. This week, we linger in the pain. This week all we can do is wait and hope for God’s deliverance.
Palm Sunday and Holy Week through Saturday is all about suffering. And although Holy Week is not fun, I am grateful for it.
I wish that every day were like Easter. I do not mean just at Church. I mean in our lives. I wish we consciously experienced God’s love washing over us every day. I wish we never suffered. I wish we were never afraid. I wish the people in our lives never died.
But that is not the life we live. Last week was a strong reminder of that for me. Last week, death was part of my life. I went to two funerals on Tuesday, and another one yesterday.
The good news of this week is that God knows just how we feel when we struggle, when we suffer, when we face death. God knows, because God went through it too.
“Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself . . . . Being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on the cross.”
That is God’s love at work. Christ’s suffering and death reveals to us, more than anything else ever could, the depth and the power of God’s love.
God who knows suffering, God who loves us enough to suffer for and with us, God makes possible the hope that keeps us going through our hard times, the hope that points beyond our suffering, beyond even our deaths, to God’s ultimate triumph and to our victory in God.
That hope beyond hope, that trust in God even in our darkest moments, that is the theme for all of our readings this morning.
Isaiah knows about suffering. Isaiah anticipates the one who gives his back to those who strike him, his check to those who pull out his beard, his face to those who insult and spit on him.
But even in that moment of suffering, Isaiah insists, “The Lord God helps me . . . . He who vindicates me is near.”
The Psalm is a prayer for mercy from a person in terrible pain. AND the Psalm is a prayer of trust. “As for me,” the Psalmist says, “I have trusted in you, O Lord.” And so the Psalm ends with this prayer of hope. God, “make your face to shine upon your servant, and in your loving-kindness save me.”
In perhaps the most beautiful passage of all, Paul moves from Christ being “obedient to the point of death,” to “God . . . highly exalted [Christ] and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend . . . and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”
Our readings acknowledge the inevitability of suffering and death, for us and even for Christ. And having acknowledged our suffering, our readings all express a profound and authentic faith in Christ and hope for our lives.
Like Christ, we will suffer and we will die. But because of Christ, we can face suffering and death, knowing that God is near and that God’s face shines upon us. In Christ, we can look forward to the time when we and all the people we love will experience exaltation, new life, God’s love, perfect intimacy with our Lord.
Looking forward to that day in faith and in hope, I give thanks to God in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.