Updated: Jan 31
This is Palm Sunday. We have finished the period of sacrifice and fasting, having come through the forty days of Lent. Basic training is over.
Today, we begin Holy Week and the Easter Season. Hopefully (as the Marine Corp says), as “lean, mean, fighting machines,” fighting for Christ …or better yet, as “the few, the proud, the chosen,” disciples ready to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
We have just heard read 126 verses from two chapters of Matthew. We have relived the final week of Jesus’ life and the many events that made up his final Passover pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
A normal sermon, in order to be restricted to 15 minutes or so, comes from a Gospel reading with many fewer verses. So, in order to fully cover everything we just heard … I hope everyone brought a lunch.
I am kidding … but we should all desire to spend time with this history as told by Matthew, and get to know it on a deep and spiritual level. So much is there to be revealed. Take the time to ponder and amazing new insights are waiting to come forth, to be found by the seeker.
Throughout Holy Week, we will move from the memories of Matthew and visit the memories of John. On Good Friday … next Friday … we will read John’s account of the arrest, trial, execution and burial of Jesus.
These memories are called “The Passion of Christ.” That title comes from the Greek word “paschein,” which means, “to suffer.” It is thus the Paschal Tide or Paschal Time … the time of Jesus’ great suffering. Jesus suffered as the Paschal Lamb, a symbol of the “Passover.”
This is why the Nicene Creed says, “He suffered death and was buried.”
That affirmation states what the sermon to the reading is today.
Jesus was not eased into death by a concoction of narcotics that placed him into a state of numbness, until he stopped breathing. As a society, many feel a humane form of execution must be gentle, and not “cruel and unusual punishment.”
Jesus was cruelly and unusually punished. That was the way the Romans kept control, through a larger population’s fear of a Roman lack of civility. There was no passion anywhere to be found, as the word “passion” is defined in an English dictionary. The death of Jesus had nothing to do with “ardent love, lust, or boundless enthusiasm.” Jesus suffered greatly, in a humiliating, harsh, vile, and horrendous manner.
Because of this suffering, we must look back on the season of Lent, and see its importance. We are supposed to practice hardening ourselves. We must condition our bodies for accepting punishment. We have to become physically strong, but we must attain that state through spiritual devotion.
To gain such strength, we must look at the songs we read aloud today. We heard the testaments of Isaiah, David, and Paul, who each sang prayers to the Lord, for the strength to suffer more.
Wrote Isaiah: “The Lord GOD helps me.” “He who vindicates me is near.” “It is the Lord GOD who helps me.”
David wrote: “I have trusted in you, O LORD.” “My times are in your hand.” “Make your face to shine upon your servant.”
Paul added: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”
Without God’s help, we are powerless. Without that mind of Christ, we are weak … no matter how strong we think we are. Without the mind of Christ within us, we would find no ability to withstand the suffering that Jesus did.
A priest once told me and others, “The earliest Christians were not being mauled to death by lions in the Roman arenas because they believed Jesus was the Messiah. The first rip of their flesh, the first crushing bite, and they would have recanted all they believed … if it were only that profession of faith. They were filled with the Holy Spirit. Only through that could they welcome such suffering”
Today we heard how Jesus announced, “One of you here will betray me.”
“Oh, not me!” Peter said.
Jesus looked at Peter and said, “You will deny you ever knew me, three times before sunrise tomorrow.”
Peter did deny him, and Peter thought he was Jesus’ lead disciple, his number one man.
Still, before he had a chance to deny Jesus, Jesus added, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
It is natural to want to run away from harm, especially when it means great suffering and torturous pain. It is even natural to strike out, to cut the ear off a challenger of your faith.
But, natural instincts from a human brain only go so far.
After he became filled with the Holy Spirit, as the Apostle of Rome, when danger closed in on Peter he was warned by his disciples to leave Rome. They feared they would lose their leader, just as Peter had feared losing Jesus. Those disciples warned Peter to make haste and leave, before he could be caught, unjustly tried, and crucified.
Peter fled Rome as recommended.
On the road out of Rome, Peter saw the spirit of Jesus walking towards him, heading towards Rome. Peter said, “Master, where are you going?”
Jesus said, “I am going to die for you again.”
At that point in time it dawned on Peter. Peter had been tricked by Satan. He feared death more than he feared God. Peter knew then that he had to face the same horrible fate as did the man Jesus.
To do that, Peter had to have the mind of Christ, and not the human brain of Simon Peter.
We all walk that same road. It is the road to heaven. To get there you have to have the mind of Christ. You have to have complete trust in the Lord that no matter what could happen, might happen, or will happen, you are going to serve Him without question or doubt. There is no other way to prove your faith; and only complete devotion and total loyalty will keep you from walking away from that goal.
You serve God, unconditionally.
As human beings, we are born sinners. With human brains that think strategically and logically, we remain sinners. It is a natural and instinctive part of us; and it is the way God made us.
Because the mind of Christ is not natural, we have to learn to have that mind. We have to be trained to receive the mind of Christ. Only then can we perform the Acts of an Apostle.
I remember watching a nature show on television many years back. It was about the big cats of Africa that were rescue animals, on land that was protected by the government. Lion cubs, cheetah cubs, leopard cubs, all kinds of big cat cubs were placed there, having been found starving to death. They were like that because hunters had killed their mothers. The rescuers took them all and released them into this big, fenced-in reserve, where they nursed them to health and let them grow into young adult cats.
The keepers did not want to make them pets. They wanted them to become strong and self-sufficient, so they could then be released back into the wild. But they found there was a problem to this plan.
The lions had not been taught to kill. Instinctively, the young lions would work as a team and chase down a gazelle or wildebeest, only to lie beside it once they had taken it down, not knowing what to do next. Exhausted from the chase, and looking at each other bewilderingly, their prey would quickly realize a bunch of idiots had caught it, then jump up and run away.
The rescuers realized what was missing. A stage of the development that takes place in predators, like lions, is learning to kill, for survival purposes. The young adult cats had to be introduced to adult female cats, who accepted them as members of a pride, then taught them the art of killing. Once learned, each young lion could then fend for himself.
In a sense, we are like young lions. Our instincts have us do dangerously stupid things, without much thought about the consequences. None of us really know how many times we have come close to death and didn’t realize it. Once we know the potential of death, then we instinctively fight for life. We are inherently afraid of death.
We have to be taught to trust, “My times are in your hand, Lord.” Someone has to show us how to have faith that “the Lord GOD helps me.” Someone has to tell us, “Rome is the other way; but if you decide to go there, be sure to trust the mind of Christ.”
After forty days of hardening our will power, we wait to serve. After our self-imposed basic training, not listening to the calls of those things that seem so often to turn us weak in the knees and tempt us to take the comfortable path, the path of least resistance, we are ready for the call from God.
Lent is supposed to be a lot like military Basic Training. In essence, that is when a recruit is taught to stop thinking like you have a brain and let someone else do the thinking for you. We practice how it would be if the mind of Christ were in us, keeping us from eating sweets, or smoking cigarettes, or cussing.
We go through basic training in preparation for the time when we will be called to real duty. We must be prepared. We must be ready for that time when the Lord says, “Go get em soldier.”
Are we ready for an order to accept suffering, to the point of death? Can we handle tormenting persecution? Can we accept people plotting against us, or insulting us, or spitting on us?
If not, then we are just going to deny our faith when the stuff hits the fan. It means we did not take our Lenten training seriously. It means we still think with human brains, “It’s okay. Jesus will die for me again.”
A man named Martin Scorsese made a movie named The Last Temptation of Christ. Its premise was, “What if Jesus had a human brain and not the mind of Christ.” It questioned, “What if Jesus saw how much suffering he would have to go through, and he caved in to the Devil’s bargain: life for your soul.”
Here on the nature preserve of Christianity, you can only be spoon-fed the raw meat of the Holy Bible so many times before you have to know it by heart and mind. If you don’t become self-sufficient, then you become so tame you will always surrender to sin, having never learned how to stand up to temptation and kill it.
You don’t want that.
You have to be like Peter and have that dawning of awareness, that epiphany of understanding. No one is going to die for you … but you.
Each of us will face that mandatory life event alone, no matter how many well-wishers stand beside us at that time. Eventually, we each have to face God.
We relive the lesson that has Jesus showing us how to die, every year, during Holy Week; but how many of us walk away from that responsibility, thinking the suffering is too much for me to bear. “Jesus, please die for my sins again.”
As painful as it is to admit, we have to die before we can be reborn.