Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22
As you know by this
time in our worship service, today is Palm Sunday in the life of our
congregation. The children have joined in our festival worship,
promenading with their palms and pine branches, waving them in their
hands. You have
processed forward and received your palm crosses that hopefully you
will place conspicuously in your home, kitchen, living room or
bedroom. You have seen Jesus coming riding into church on a donkey
and it is always weird to see a donkey in the sanctuary. You have
heard the crowds of the congregation chanting, “Hosanna to the Son
of David. Hosanna to the Son of David. Praise God. Praise God.”
Yes, we know that Christ came to be king, but by Good Friday,
five days later, the crowd found out that Jesus was not going to be
a political king, a bread king, a miracle king, and so they started
to chant softly at first but then crescendoing in power: “Crucify
him. Crucify him. Crucify him.” All of this is to remind us of
that first Palm Sunday parade two thousand years ago.
But today is also
Passion Sunday. Passion Sunday. In fact, I believe that it is more
important to call this Passion Sunday than Palm Sunday. That is, it
is the beginning of Passion Week. It is the first day of Passion
Week that is eight days long, from Sunday to Sunday. Today you heard the Passion story re-enacted. At this time in
April, we realize the passionflower is ready to bloom. The
passionflower has actual thorns; the passionflower has five spikes,
reminding us of the five wounds of Christ. It is a flower that
reminds us of the woundedness of Christ. So today is also Passion
The focus on the
sermon for today is not going to be on the palm parade, but on the
passion of Christ. The
title of the sermon is simply one word from the Bible, passion.
When you think of
the word, passion, what do you think of? When you hear the word,
passion, what do you see in your mind? What memories are associated
with the word, passion? I
immediately think of young love, when I was a very young man and was
madly in love. With
Lorna Finkelbaum, when I was fourteen or fifteen years old and
growing up in Jackson, Minnesota.
I was passionately in love with Lorna and she was
passionately in love with me. Our emotions were young, strong and intense.
… Or, when I think of the word, passionate, I think of
James Bond and all those James Bond movies. James Bond has so many
love scenes with so many women and they are all beautiful women.
In those movies, there is always a passionate embrace, a
passionate kiss, which is a long slobbering kiss.
James Bond is always so passionate. …Or, when I think of
passion and passionate, I think of a passionate orator. I think of
the great speeches of Martin Luther King, Junior. I think of his
speech in Washington, D.C, there in the Washington Mall with the
Washington Monument at one end and the statue of Abraham Lincoln at
the other end, and King gave one of the most passionate speeches in
American history, “I have a dream….” And
when he intoned, “I have a dream,” many of us remember those
words, those inflections, the rising and falling of his cadence. He
was truly passionate. If
you see film clips of that speech, you remember again what you may
have forgotten; how passionate the man was. … So when I think of
the word, passion, I think of Lorna or James Bond or Martin Luther
King, Junior. I think of intense, vibrant emotion.
But, when the Bible
uses the word, passion, this isn’t what it means at all. The Latin
word comes from “passio” or “passum” and it means to suffer,
to endure suffering and pain. This is the first day of Passion Week,
the week of suffering of our Lord Jesus Christ. We hear the Passion
story, the story of Jesus’ suffering. Today is Passion Sunday, and
this Sunday remembers the suffering of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Today is Passion Sunday, suffering Sunday.
The first point of
my sermon today is this: that
our God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God who raised
Jesus of Nazareth from the dead, the God who created Mount Rainier
and Puget Sound and the Pacific Ocean, the God who flowered the
daffodils, rhododendrons, and azaleas, the God who created your life
and mine, that God, the true God, our God, is a God who suffers and
cries and dies. Our
true God suffers and cries and dies. The suffering of our God is not
imaginary or fictitious or make believe. God’s suffering, pain and
tears are as real as yours and mine.
Sometimes, when you
see a film on television or a movie, there is a scene where somebody
has been hurt, and the producers spray ketchup across their face.
There is ketchup coming out of their mouths; ketchup running down
their neck. You and I know that it is all canned; it is fake; it is
phony; it is make believe. But then you watch a news program on
television, and you see suffering and violence, it is not make
believe. Two weeks ago Monday, you saw a man by the name of Jim Brady
lying on a sidewalk, shot by an assassin’s bullet. He was the
press agent of President Ronald Regan. You and I saw some gruesome
pictures of Jim Brady, with blood coming down his face, with a
bullet hole in his head, with blood coming out of his mouth. It was
not pretend; it was not fake; it was not make believe. Because it
was so real, we wanted to turn off our television sets.
We were repulsed by it because it was so awful.
Our God suffers
like that. The crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ was of the same
nature. The suffering is so real that you want to turn it off.
The nails were long and real.
The five wounds on his body were real. The thorns in his head
were nastily sharp and real. The one hundred lashes across his body
were painfully real. Passion
Sunday tells us that our God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,
the God who raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead, the God who
created Mount Rainer and Puget Sound and the Pacific Ocean, the God
who flowered the daffodils, rhododendrons and azaleas, the God who
created your life and mine, our God, the one true God, is a God who
suffers and cries and dies. The
cross cries out its message of pain. We hear the words at Lazarus’
death: “He wept.”
Our God, the true God, suffers and cries and dies, like we
We are the only
religion in the world whose God gets hurt, whose God gets stabbed,
who writhes in pain on the cross, who gets whipped, who has five
wounds in his body, and who shouts his pain in the midst of his
suffering on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me
and let me suffer like that?” What other religion is there where a
cross becomes a throne? His
suffering was not imaginary, it was not make believe, it was not
fake. The cross tells us that.
Passion Sunday tells us that.
For some people,
their image of God is “Our Father who art in heaven” and that it
where Jesus lives, safely up there in heaven, where there is no
divorce, no cancer, no accidents, no bullets, no bombs, no wars, no
assassinations. In our
minds, God is like we are: we
move away from our violent neighborhoods on earth and we move to the
suburbs and God has moved to the suburb in the sky.
That is where God lives, up there, up where it is safe, up
there, removed from it all. No.
It is just the opposite. Our God left the safety and sanity
of heaven and came down to this violent neighborhood called Earth.
God became a real human being, and therefore he suffered and died,
like the rest of us do. That’s what Passion Sunday is all about:
passion. Our God suffers and cries and dies.
When one of God’s
children is hurt on this earth, God himself is hurt.
Let me explain by means of an analogy.
Here in my hand is a hammer.
You can see that I have this hammer in my hand, and I am now
going to hit my fingertip. I am going to hit it, and when I hit it,
my fingertip is going to hurt. But it is not only my fingertip that is going to hurt, but so
will my brain. The
brain is the pain center of the body. It is not only my fingertip
that is hurting; my brain is also hurting because it is the pain
Christ is the pain
center of the body. Christ is the head of the body, of the church,
and when any part of the body of Christ is hurt, the pain center is
also feeling the pain. The pain in the body goes directly and
immediately to the pain center in the brain, and Christ is the brain
of the church, the head of the church.
Any time a part of God’s body is hurt, God hurts.
God experiences the pain when any part of the body is
God’s pain is
real pain. For example,
Patti Arnold of our congregation died this past week.
What a young, inspirational woman she was to all of us who
knew and were nourished by the vigor and vitality of Patti Arnold.
The bone transplant at the Fred Hutchinson Center did not
work and Patti suffered long and hard and hard and long.
We were all hurting; her husband, her children, her parents,
her family, her friends. All of us hurt so deeply by Patti’s
death. Her pain was our
pain. But the pain did
not stop with her husband or children or parents or friends but went
straight to the heart and mind of Christ, who is the pain center of
the church. Our pain
gets into the mind and pain of Christ.
Let me try to
explain with another analogy. I
am thinking of my daughter, Anne Marie, when she was a child and
only three years old. I came home one day, quite unexpectedly, and
as I walked into the house, Anne was screaming and Jan, my wife, was
holding her closely and tightly, trying to calm her down. I looked
at her and learned a neighborhood dog had just bit her in the face.
She had two gigantic cuts on that little face.
We called our pediatrician, jumped in the car, and raced to
the hospital. Dr.
Dayton was there. He wrapped her in a straight jacket so she
couldn’t flail her arms. She was so upset. We were so upset. I vividly remember that
surgery room years later, holding her in that little straight
jacket, watching the anesthetic, talking to her, comforting her, as
Dr. Dayton was stitching up her little face.
Her pain was my pain. Her trauma was my trauma. Her cut was
my cut. I didn’t want to stay in the safety of my house.
I didn’t want to retreat to my office. I didn’t want to
run away from her. When
she was suffering the most, I wanted to be with her, in that surgery
room, holding her, and you would do the same.
And so it is with
God. When you and I are injured or cut, when we are hurting or
bleeding, God is with us, with us so very close.
That is the very nature of our God. Passionate.
God is filled with passion and compassion. Our God is a God
who suffers and cries and dies. Our God, the God of Abraham, Isaac
and Jacob, our God who raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead, our
God who created Mount Rainer and Puget Sound and the Pacific Ocean,
our God who flowered the daffodils, rhododendrons and azaleas, our
God who created your life and mine, this true God experiences fully
our pain and sorrow and tears and death.
Our God is
passionate. Jesus is
passionate, and Jesus is the same nature as the Father. Both are
passionate, and passionate means suffering. Passion Week means
suffering week. Passion
story means the story of Jesus’ suffering.
But there is a
second part of the sermon for today. Our God is a God who loves his
children so much that God is willing to die in their behalf. Our
passionate God suffers, cries and dies for us, in our behalf.
I need to tell you a story that gets at this wonderful but
bewildering truth. It is a famous story, made into a movie, and it
is entitled, “The
Bridge Over the River Kwai.” You may have seen the movie, starring
Alec Guinness. There is one scene from this book that I particularly
remember. It is the story of some English prisoners of war who are
now in prison camp in Thailand. The POWs are working in the jungles
of Thailand and are building bridges and roads. There are enemy
guards who are guarding these POWs.
These English soldiers/prisoners go out every day with their
shovels and they dig the roads by hand, and also build the bridges.
The prisoners come back to the camp by about seven or eight
o’clock at night; they put their shovels against the guardhouse
and they then go into their barracks to eat and sleep for the night.
On one particular night, this group of ten prisoners of war put
their shovels by the guardhouse; they leaned their shovels against
the wall of the guardhouse. The POWs lined up for inspection. The
guard counted the shovels and one shovel was missing. There were
only nine shovels. The guard became furious and railed at them,
“Where is the extra shovel? Who sold it to some Thais in the
jungle in order to get some extra money for contraband? Who stole
the shovel?” he screamed at the top of his lungs. All the men stood erect and silent. The guard became increasingly hostile and fanatical, swearing
at them and demanding, “Who took the shovel?” None of the ten
men moved. The guard then took his rifle, put the barrel against the
forehead of the man who was first in line. He spoke more calmly,
“I am going to pull the trigger and blow this man’s brains out
unless one of you tells me who took the shovel. I want to know who
did it.” A long
pause. A very long
pause. And then a man in the middle of the line stepped forward. He
was a young Scottish solder. He didn’t say a word, just stood
there in silence, stiff as stiff could be. The guard took his gun
and in a violent rage, he took the butt end of his gun and smashed
the face of the man, knocking him to the ground. He used his gun
like a baseball bat and smashed the man’s body into the mud. The
other soldiers didn’t move but stood at fixed attention. The guard
stepped back, barked an order, and the nine soldiers picked up their
fallen comrade and carried him to their barracks. The guard, still
furious, went back to his guardhouse and recounted the shovels.
There were ten. Ten. He had miscounted. One Scottish soldier
stepped forward and died, so that one of his friends would not have
to. That is passion.
Passion is the
gospel. Passion Sunday
is that Sunday in which we tell the world that there was man named
Jesus of Nazareth, who stepped forward from the line, and took the
assassin’s bullet so his friends would not have to die. Why?
Because he taught us these famous words that described his life: No
greater love has a person than this, that he is willing to lay down
his life for his friends. Passion.
That’s what passion is.
Today is Passion
Sunday, and we hear the story of the passion of Jesus.
Jesus, like God, is passionate.
Ours is the only religion in the world whose God steps
forward and dies in behalf of his friends, so that they wouldn’t
One small but beautiful word that unlocks the meaning and
uniqueness of the Christian faith.
I used to think
that passion had to do with young love, Lorna,
and growing up and being so passionately in love.
I used to think that passion had to do with James Bond movies
and all those passionate love scenes. I used to think that passion
had to do with listening to Martin Luther King, Junior preach.
But I later discovered that passion had to do with something
else, with suffering. That our God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and
Jacob, our God who raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead, our God
who created Mount Rainier and Puget Sound and the Pacific Ocean, our
God who flowered the daffodils and rhododendrons and azaleas, our
God who created your life and mine, that our God, the one true God,
suffers and cries with us and ultimately dies for us, in behalf of
us. One small word
describes and reveals our God: