I am writing this on the 28th of the forty days of Lent. Hopefully this is true for you as well, but for me this has been the most powerful Lent in my memory. Thanks to Adam Hamilton’s powerful study and devotional guide I have reflected deeper and longer than ever before on Jesus’ last day and passion. Preparing to preach through his last 24 hours on earth has also strengthened the impact of Lent for me this season.
We have journeyed with Jesus through the Last Supper, the Garden of Gethsemane, and the trials before both the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate (Luke also tells us that Jesus faced a quick trial before Herod Antipas as well, before Antipas sent Jesus back to Pilate). We experienced again the cries of the crowd as they (we) chose a savior who would save by violence (Barabbas) over a savior who would save by sacrificial love and non-violence (Jesus). We listened as Pilate, “wishing to please the crowds,” issued the death sentence, and we tried not to turn away from our savior as he was stripped naked and flogged. Yesterday, I suggested that this was the full-frontal disclosure of the love of God.
All of this has been powerful and moving for me. Contemplating the amazing depth of love required for that kind of self-giving, has been overwhelming. And for Jesus to endure all of this and still pray, upon the Cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” is almost unfathomable. To think: He prayed that for the very men who beat, mocked, spat upon, and nailed him to an ancient instrument of torture. When Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” he wasn’t playing around.
Remembering Jesus’ prayer for forgiveness for his executioners, highlights the fact that Jesus really did die for sinners. He died to cure that darkness and sin deep within everyone of us. We merely have to face facts about our depravity and lean on his transforming grace.
But, we’re not finished yet. There are twelve more days until Easter. This Sunday, we will finish our retracing of Jesus’ final 24 hours at the cross. Before it’s all over, Mark tells us that the sky turns black. Darkness seems to prevail. But there is glimmer of hope. The Gospels tell us that the “veil of the Temple” is torn in two. That veil was the separation of the Holy of Holies (where God was) and where people could freely move about in the Temple. Only the High Priest could go in the Holy of Holies, and even he could only go in once a year on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).
On Good Friday, the veil was torn. The barrier between us and God is cracked. THE Day of Atonement has come once and for all, and Jesus becomes the sacrifice to end all sacrifices.
On this Sunday, we will remember that. We will walk with Jesus to the Cross, and we will be aided in our journey by our youth who will dramatize the crucifixion to close out our service.
Then we will wait. Why? Because we know that death didn’t have the last word. The veil has been torn. On Easter Sunday, we’ll learn that nothing now will hold Jesus back. Until then, blessing on the rest of this journey.