May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
on and on,
Time. Sometimes, when you’re having a good time, or you’re “in the zone,” and hours or an entire day can pass in the blink of an eye, leaving you wonder “where did the time go?” Other times, minutes can seem like hours, and time can stretch out so that it feels like an eternity.
During these forty days of Lent, we are deliberately stretching out time, so that we are spending six weeks dwelling in the last twenty-four hours of Jesus life. The night began in celebration, with Jesus celebrating the Passover with his twelve disciples. They broke bread and shared a cup of wine. But that celebration was bittersweet with the knowledge that one of Jesus’s own closest friends would betray him and the rest would abandon him in his hour of greatest trials. To prepare himself for the night ahead, Jesus prays and asked his disciples to pray with him, but they their eyes and hearts are too heavy for them.
As the darkness deepened, Jesus is betrayed, arrested, and taken away to be secretly tried by the religious authorities. After a sham trial, they decide that Jesus deserves death, and they will hand him over to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor. In the meantime, Peter has denied Jesus three times as the rooster crowed, just as Jesus predicted.
And now it is morning, but this time, morning does not bring hope of a new day. Today, Friday, Jesus is taken by the religious leaders to Pilate in order to carry out his death sentence. In Matthew’s gospel, we skip entirely the trip to Herod the puppet king, colluding with the Roman occupiers. No, in Matthew Jesus is sent straight to the source of political power in the region, Pontius Pilate.
At the time of Jesus, Israel was again an occupied territory, second-class citizens in their own country. So the religious leaders were not allowed to carry out death sentences. That was the job of the Romans, and they were very good at it. IF, that is, they could make Jesus seem dangerous to Roman rule. Rome could care less about some internal religious dispute. But if Jesus were really a threat to the government, Jesus would be taken care of. So the religious elite imagined charges that would get Pilate’s attention – that Jesus claimed to be king of the Jews.
This was not the first time, though, that Jesus had been called “king of the Jews.” Long before this, back at the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, a group of wise men from the East arrived in Jerusalem, and starting asking “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” This terrified the entire city of Jerusalem, and with good reason. One does not simply go around claiming to look for the King of the Jews. At this time, there can only be one king of the Jews, and his name is Caesar. It’s no wonder that Herod went to such lengths to try to kill this child. What is the death of one child when the peace of an entire nation is at stake?
And so, all these years later, the question at hand really has not changed all that much – what is the death of one man when fate of an entire nation is possibly at stake?
Jesus, who seems so harmless to us – welcoming children, talking to women, feeding people, healing the blind and the lame. What could be so wrong with that? Isn’t Jesus the kind of guy you want to have hanging around? Not really, at least, not if you are part of the religious elite, and not if you are the empire of Rome. This Jesus was drawing too many people, and attracting too much attention. This Jesus had to go, even if it had to come from witness tampering and massaging of the truth.
But the great irony is that Jesus is actually guilty of the trumped up charges against him. Jesus really is the King of the Jews. He is the messiah, the chosen one, the son of man seated at the right hand of power, coming on the clouds of heaven. Christ is not Jesus’ last name, it’s his title. It means the one who is anointed. It means the one who is selected and set apart by God to rule. It means king.
But Jesus is not just a regular old king, like the brutal and cruel Caesars and Pilates of this world, set apart above and beyond the people they rule over. Jesus is not a king that comes with armies and weapons to vanquish his enemies. Jesus came to be a king WITH his people, to rule them by example, his example of self-giving love. His is a kingdom that conquers by peace. He is a king that rules by dying.
But before Jesus is to die, the soldiers under Pilate must put on a show of strength before this condemned and tortured man. These soldiers are under the impression that they are mocking Jesus when one takes off his own robe to create a sham of a cape and another braided a pitiful crown out of thorns and a third pulled up a tall weed for a scepter. But the truth is, Jesus was never the kind of king to wear gold and jewels and fine robes. What they put on Jesus is just what a suffering servant-king ought to wear – not trappings of power and might, but badges of pain and suffering.
There is one last item that the Christ will wear before that Friday is over, one last garment that this King will put on for our sakes. That is the shroud of death. And a tomb shall be his royal palace.
Because even kings die. No ruler, no emperor, no king, no matter how powerful, has ever defeated the power of death. But then again, Jesus isn’t just a