This post includes the video and manuscript for the Passion/Palm Sunday worship gathering in 2017 at the Patterson Avenue Baptist Church.
The Grace of Disillusionment
Matthew 27:27-31 (NIV)
Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him.
Then they led him away to crucify him.
Some traditions refer to today as Palm Sunday.
Those traditions mark the parade like atmosphere that accompanied Jesus during his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and then through Jerusalem, leading to the temple.
Other traditions call today “Passion Sunday.” They focus attention on Jesus’ march to Golgotha, the Place of the Skull, where the cross waits for him. The passion is introduced in today’s scripture lesson with one simple sentence.
… they led him away to crucify him.
With those words, we are thrust into sadness, suffering, and sorrow. With those words we come face to face with the feeling of disillusionment.
He is the One of whom the angels sang songs of hope, peace, joy, and love.
He is the One determine to deliver the world from the ravages of war by teaching us to turn swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks.
He is the One who came to release the captives and set at liberty those who were oppressed.
He is the One who came to establish justice and mercy.
But now we walk down a dusty pathway in ancient Palestine and we come to “the end of road” where that One is crucified on a cross.
This is defeat and despair.
This is darkness and death.
With this we hang our head in shame and despair.
This is the disillusionment of self.
You’ve experienced this emotion, haven’t you?
You studied a subject in college, expecting to turn it into a career, but the career never materialized and you find yourself stuck in the rut of a deadend job.
You entered a romantic relationship that led you to stand before a minister, declaring your undying love for that other. But it did not work out and your dreams were transformed into a nightmare.
You attached yourself to a group of people. With them you made a commitment to transform the world as representatives of Divine love. But it does not seem to work out so well.
Let’s face it. Sometimes the Church does not live up to our expectations. Robert Frost said he had a lover’s quarrel with the world. It seems to me that many of us have a lover’s quarrel with the Church. In his book Between Dying and Birth, Robert Bachelder writes:
The Church seems more human than divine. It does not live up to our hopes. In the Gospel we have a healing word for a war-racked world, but then we find we have not learned even to handle conflict in our own small circle. That is disillusioning. For some it is so disillusioning that the lover’s quarrel becomes a mean-spirited thing.
You and I often find ourselves disenchanted by what Robert Burns calls “man’s inhumanity to man.”
My grandmother was a Jewish immigrant to the United States who came with her sisters to avoid Nazi oppression.
She, my aunts, and my uncles, would tell stories.
The Nazi’s would line up Jews and march them into gas chambers or incinerators where they would be exterminated in mass.
What they would do beforehand, however, was insidiously evil. The Jews would be gathered in waiting areas where a Nazi leader would make announcements:
“We need doctors and nurses. If you have any experience in the medical profession, please line up here.”
“We need manual laborers to work on the rail system. Line up here.”
“We need people in food services. Line up here.”
Pretty soon, everyone was in a line. Next they would be taken to a room where they were told they could bathe and get a fresh set of clothing. The Jews followed willingly, given hope by the Nazis that their specific skill set had redeemed their lives.
It was all a despicable ploy – a method of crowd control. Rather than a place to be cleaned and clothed, they were marched into gas chamber or incinerators. They were given hope as they were marched to their death.
How can people do that sort of thing to one another? And when we hear those stories, how can we not help but feel disillusioned.
This is part of what Passion Sunday is all about. It’s about the disillusionment we feel when we are reminded of the evil things we experience and observe in others. It is about the disillusionment of self we feel when we see evil attitudes and behaviors in ourselves.
But there is also an opportunity for us today to experience GRACE in our Disillusionment. I know that sounds odd.
Here’s what this means. It means we see ourselves for what we really are. We are broken people. But it also means that in that brokenness, in those moments of disillusionment, we also see the opportunity for redemption.
Passion Sunday is an opportunity for us to allow disillusionment to travel full-circle and to include not just the rest of the world, but ourselves as well.
If you are like most people, you’ve probably let yourself down more than you’ve ever been let down by others.
If we are going to be honest, we have to look at the Calvary and see that it was human sin that put Jesus on that cross. That includes your sin. That includes my sin. This includes the sin of the whole world. John’s gospel declares: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves.”
It was our sin that led him away to be crucified.
Today is a day to face up to that reality. When you do, you have take the first step of faith that allows you to experience the reality of the grace that is always there in the middle of our disillusionment.
More than anyone else, Jesus had ample reason to be disillusioned by life.
He provided his disciples with lessons and examples of sacrificial service, but then found them arguing about rank and privilege.
His heard his disciples vow to stick with him. But one betrayed him; one denied knowing him; and the rest deserted him in fear.
Even from the cross, in the midst of all that anguish, Jesus experienced the very real emotion of feeling deserted. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
That is a cry of disillusionment.
But Jesus did not walk away in disgust. Jesus did not lash out in anger. Jesus faced all the violence human sin could muster, but he stayed true to his ethic of love, inclusion, mercy, and grace. Out of love the Bible says that Jesus endured the agony of the cross.
Christianity makes the bold claim that Jesus is the incarnation (the fleshing out) of God. So, then, it is God who is thrashed and scourged. It is God who is humiliated by the soldiers. It is God who is led to Golgotha to be crucified. It is God was sacrificed. It is God who is marched down the steps of the Via Dolorosa. It is God carries the cross. It is God who was nailed to it. It is God who was mocked by spectators and ridiculed by the religious leaders. It is God who faces the disillusionment of the cross and who LOVES US STILL.
God is with us when we walk through that valley. God knows what it’s like to have hope tested, challenged, threatened and taken to the edge of total loss. We are redeemed by a crucified God who defeated death and bring victory out of disillusionment.
At the cross we find hope in our suffering because we know that God’s love has been poured into us from the cross.
In Jesus Christ, God entered into our human condition and suffered the frailty of the human behavior that betrayed him. God suffered the excruciating disillusionment of death on the cross. And then, on the following Sunday, hope was signed, sealed and delivered as our redemption birthright – and death and human disillusionment lost its power.
The Good News of Passion Sunday is that God is with us even in the worst of times. God is there because God he loves us. That is why the cross is the center of our faith.
It’s profoundly important for us to remember that we serve a crucified God. The older I get and the more of life I experience, the greater the importance of this reality becomes for me.
God is there when it hurts.
God is there in the midst of life’s rubble.
God in with us despite “man’s inhumanity to man.”
God is in the midst of the dust of our disillusioned lives. God holds the surviving pieces and says: Let’s get this life back together again… let’s resurrect it. It will never be the same as it was… but with these pieces let’s build something new that is stronger because it has been tested by faith and hope and by love.
The Crucified God
by: Jurgen Moltmann
publisher: Fortress Press, published: 2015-11-01
sales rank: 96107
price: $17.99 (new), $21.61 (used)
From its English publication in 1973, Jurgen Moltmann’s The Crucified God garnered much attention, and it has become one of the seminal texts of twentieth-century theology. Following up on his groundbreaking Theology of Hope, The Crucified God established the cross as the foundation for Christian hope. Moltmann’s dramatic innovation was to see the cross not as a problem of theodicy but instead as an act of ultimate solidarity between God and humanity. In this, he drew on liberation theology, and he was among the first to bring third-world theologies into a first-world context.
Moltmann proposes that suffering is not a problem to be solved but instead that suffering is an aspect of God’s very being: God is love, and love invariably involves suffering. In this view, the crucifixion of Jesus is an event that affects the entirety of the Trinity, showing that The Crucified God is more than an arresting title—it is a theological breakthrough.