WE WANT TO SEE JESUS
Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and requested of him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." John 12:20-21
THIRTY years after our Lord was crucified and raised again St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, "we preach Christ crucified." Why does he say that? Did he not know that Jesus rose from the dead? Did he not know that the Lord ascended and reigns all glorious in the skies?
Following the Apostle's example the church preaches the same message, but the cross remains earth's greatest scandal, not only to those who doubt, but also to those who believe. To us -- to the little Puritan residing in each of us who bristles at the sight of Jesus on the cross. How do we know this? Because the simple act of replacing the empty cross which adorns most Lutheran altars with a crucifix is more often than not a declaration of war in a Lutheran parish.
What rankles us so? It is the painful reminder that it is our sins that were adjudicated there; that we, not the spotless Lamb of God, are the ones who warrant crucifixion for our many and heinous crimes against God. How could that not scare us? How could it not make us see red? But that is the Law side of the cross. Threatening as it is, it must always be maintained because sinful nature only understands the language of fear, but the church's predominate message is not the law, but the gospel. The glad message that the Man affixed on the cross is our Lord, our God, our Saviour and our King who, moved by great pity for us, suffered death in our place, and now we are free indeed!
The subject of the church's discourse concerns both the Lord's death and especially the preparatory ritual leading to it, because Holy Week corresponds to the Old Testament feast of the Passover. This feast was instituted by the Lord to remind Israel of the miraculous deliverance He gave her when He freed her from the tyranny of Egypt. Every year on the 15th day of the first month of the year, Israelite families were commanded to celebrate it by slaughtering an unspotted Passover lamb and consuming it.
There were other ceremonies too. Four days earlier, on the 10th day of the month, the unblemished lamb was to be chosen from the flock then kept until the 14th day. When the evening of the 14th day came it was slaughtered, roasted and eaten. The rabbis who interpreted these scriptures record that the chosen lamb was to be tied up on the 10th day and remain on display before the eyes of the people for the full four days until it was slaughtered.
Palm Sunday is something like the 10th day for the church. The day that the Lamb, chosen by God, was separated from the flock, placed on a donkey and ceremoniously paraded into Jerusalem. Soon, like the Passover victim displayed for all to see, God's Lamb will be bound with ropes, stand trial for our sins, and be openly slain before the eyes of the world. Just as the blood of the Passover lamb caused God's anger to "pass over" the Jewish houses, the blood of Jesus causes his wrath to pass over our sins, and to remember them no more.
Today we are like the Greeks who wished to see Jesus. This is why we come to church. In her liturgy the church shows Jesus to all who care to see Him, and it is done in much the same way now as it was then. She begins with a preparatory celebration. She meets with her Lord, confesses her sins and receives His absolution. She gladly hears and learns His word, prays in His name, sings God's praises and gives Him holy thanks. All of these ceremonies are preparatory however, to the Lord's passion, death and resurrection which we remember in holy communion, but remember is too weak a word. We do much more than that! By our Lord's power the church mysteriously enters, with Jesus, into the never ending song of salvation, praise and thanksgiving celebrated throughout heaven and earth, even as our liturgy says: heaven and earth are full of Thy glory.
The word eucharist, the church's oldest word for holy communion, means thanksgiving. On Maundy Thursday Jesus took bread and gave thanks. He gave eucharist, but it was not only for the bread that He thanks the Father, but most especially for the Bride he was about to redeem at the cost of His life. We are that Bride. We are the joy of Jesu's desire, and the church -- joining in that same Eucharist -- also gives meet, right and salutary thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ for earth's greatest blessing, the gift of the Bridegroom who was glorified in His death and who glorifies us by it. If war heroes can die a glorious death, how much more the Lord of Glory, Jesus Christ our Saviour and King who redeems every sinner from every sin?
That isn't the end of the matter because our lives are patterned after the liturgy. Following baptism every Christian enters a life-long holy week; a period of time that corresponds to the four days that the Passover Lamb was displayed. Jesus told the Greek believers who wished to see him, "Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life."
What does this mean? It does not mean that we should discount our lives or throw them away, but rather that we should give them away, that we should give them over in "faith towards thee and in fervent love towards one another." God doesn't need your mercy or generosity, your neighbor does. God doesn't need your patience or your kindness, your neighbor does, so we die daily to self and rise anew each day to serve God in righteousness and purity forever.
To live our lives this way is the preparatory service rendered by each Christian, in anticipation of the never-ending holy communion we will celebrate with our Lord. As Jesus was glorified through death, burial and resurrection, we will be too. Then where our Lord is, there His servants will also truly be. We are those servants, redeemed by Jesus, strengthened by His Spirit and honored not by men, but by the Father. This is all by grace; by grace through faith and not of ourselves, lest any man should boast. Amen.
~ Rev. Dean Kavouras