If you’re feeling overwhelmed by this morning’s readings, then you are not alone. We just went through a lot! We started with Christ’s entry into Jerusalem on a donkey. Then quickly moved to the Last Supper, Jesus’ prayer and anguish in the garden, to his betrayal by Judas and his arrest. From there we follow him to the high priests’ house, where we watch Peter follow at a distance and betray his Lord three times. Jesus is then questioned and mocked by the council and the crowd. The crowd decides that Pilate should question Jesus, so we watch as he is taken to him. Pilate sends Jesus to Herod who sends him back to Pilate. Pilate wishes to release the innocent Jesus but the crowd says no, “Crucify him.” And so we see Jesus be handed over to death. A man from the crowd, Simon of Cyrene, is ordered to carry Jesus’ cross for him. Then we see Jesus on the hill on his cross alongside two criminals. We watch them speak their final words to one another. Jesus asks for forgiveness for his accusers and then says “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit." We hear the familiar line that the curtain in the temple was torn in two. Then the centurion declares Jesus to be innocent after his death. After all this, Joseph of Arimathea, a faithful Jew, asks Pilate for Jesus’ body so that he may bury it. The Galilean women who have followed Jesus watch where he is laid so that they might return. And then they rested on the Sabbath as commanded. PAUSE. So basically they waited, and this is where we are today. We are waiting for the next episode to unfold. And there is something about waiting that makes you re-think everything.
This week when I thought through this story certain things began to sound very strange to me, even though I know the story well. And other parts are so familiar that they are immune to my deeming them strange. In much the same way that you don’t question certain parts of your childhood. For example, why wouldn’t you eat the same thing every single Monday night? These familiar and immune parts of the story shift to the back of mind. Like, of course Peter will deny Christ three times and then a cock will crow. Why wouldn’t there be a rooster there? The part of the story that has emerged from the overly familiar as being strange to me is that Jesus is innocent.
He is so innocent that both Herod and Pilate can’t find anything to accuse him of. And these two guys were not known for seeing the best in people. In fact, they send Jesus back and forth between each other hoping the other one will find something and take care of it. Finding no such luck, Pilate decides to release Jesus. But then the crowd condemns this innocent man. The crowds would rather have Barrabas, a known murderer, reenter their community than Jesus the innocent man. Now doesn’t this sound very strange? Would you prefer to have a murderer or a religious prophet as a neighbor? That seems like an obvious choice to me. But the strange decision is made; Jesus the innocent man will be crucified.
After Jesus dies on the cross and the temple curtain is torn in two, the centurion said, “Certainly this man was innocent.” In Mark’s gospel he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” This is not quite the same comment. Luke is more concerned with Christ’s innocence than His messianic identity. Even the criminals crucified with Jesus see the injustice of his death commenting that, “we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong." Why is Luke highlighting the innocence of Jesus for us?
Jesus was condemned and killed in this way because he was the only truly innocent person. This is a strange and uncomfortable fact. The idea that the only innocent man in the world died for us is a strange and uncomfortable foundation for our faith. But there it is. It is most definitely the foundation of our belief, which is why we go through the whirlwind drama of Jesus’ last days on earth every Holy Week. And perhaps this strange foundation is why being a Christian is a little bit strange.
If being a Christian is a little bit strange, then the things that Christians do must be a little bit strange. When you reflect on the things that you do in your life, specifically because you are a practicing Christian they may surprise you. I spent some time thinking about just that this week. And what I came up with was surprising. The things that popped into my head most quickly were all the strange places that I have slept because of my Christian faith journey. Now this may be my theme because I started reflected on this as I tried to sleep on the floor in a random church office while chaperoning VIC HOP but there you are. I remembered the families that hosted my children’s choir in Tucson, AZ during a Chorister Festival. I thought of the time I stayed with a Hungarian family in Csurgo, Hungary near the Habitat for Humanity building site our youth group was helping with. I thought of the youth hostel in New York City where I stayed in college on an AIDS awareness trip. I thought of the cabins in Kanuga where I was a counselor. I also thought of the tents where I slept as a camp counselor (these were less happy memories.) I can still see the youth room couches where I slept during lock-ins at the church where I worked in Connecticut. I remember lots of different retreat centers where I stayed during discernment retreats, postulancy retreats and seminary class retreats. And the list goes on.
For me, this list of strange accommodations represents all the time that I have done things outside of my comfort zone (because I really like sleeping in my own bed) because I felt called to act on my faith in some way. I would never have gone of any of these trips or done any of these things if I wasn’t a Christian. And this is what I mean when I say that being a Christian is somewhat strange. Our faith calls us to do strange and wonderful things because we believe in one strange and wonderful thing. We believe that one truly innocent man died for us.
So during this upcoming Holy Week ponder the strange truth that Christ, an innocent man died for you. And while you think about that, reflect on the strange things you do to honor that truth. Maybe you don’t have a list of unusual sleeping situations, but perhaps you can remember moments where you abandoned all your tasks to do something for someone else. Maybe you’ve made some inexplicable life choices based on your faith. Perhaps you’ve taken on friendships that wouldn’t have appealed to you if you weren’t a Christian. Whatever they are, I am sure you have done some strange things for Christ. And I pray that you will keep doing them this week and always. Amen.