The Focal Point of History?
Did you read the insert's introduction at the top? It begins, "Today the Christian Church once more comes to the focal point of history: Passion Week." Really? Is this week called "Great Week" by Chrysostom, and "Black Week," "Week of Silence," and "Indulgence Week" by others really the focal point of history?
I don't think so. I'll tell you what the focal point of people is: there kids. What school they're in and what school they will be in. What activities they participate in and what ones they will participate in. O and they have to be around other kids. I can't tell you how many families told me, when I first got here, that they would like to come to Trinity but we didn't have any kids. Their focal point sure wasn't Passion Week.
It's no different for young people. I can't tell you how many of them have told me over the years that they couldn't consider coming to Trinity because we didn't have many datable people. Yes, their focal point was Passion Week wasn't it? Not hardly. They're focal point was Relationship Week, Dating Week, Social Week, any week that addressed their suffering and loneliness not Jesus' suffering and death.
It's no different with any of us. Our focal point is more likely to be the economy, the Middle East, Japan, the price of oil or gold. Our focal point is not a week in the life of Jesus but our five year plan, our retirement plan, our SAT score, our cholesterol numbers, the obituary page, or our Facebook page.
Let's be honest. Holy Week isn't the focal point of any of us. The only miracles Jesus does No, I'm not going to tell you that. If this week is the focal point of your history you ought to already know the only two miracles Jesus does this week, right? My point is that Jesus goes passive this week. At Lenten Vespers we've seen how the only things Jesus does are suffer, cry, bleed, and die. Tell me; if you're setting there with a cancer growing in your body how that helps you? Tell me; if you have problems in your marriage or with your kids how that helps you? Tell me; if you're worried, frightened, upset, or sad how focusing on a Jesus who is sadder than you and weaker than you helps you?
I don't see how what happens to Jesus this week can be the focal point of all history. Splitting the atom, mapping the human genome, and landing on the moon all take a back seat to Jesus balling His eyes out in Gethsemane, begging not to have to suffer and die, being betrayed by His best friend, and being ridiculed by everyone from pagan soldiers, to church leaders, to common criminals. Yeah, that's what I'm going to be focused on this week.
Didn't you listen to the Palm Sunday reading? Can't you tell where all this is going? Jesus was the focal point of the crowd when He was acting like a conquering king. We're in chapter 19:28 at Jerusalem but days ago in Jericho at 18:31 Jesus started acting like the royalty His disciples needed Him to be. Jesus' lets blind Bartimaeus call Him the Messianic title "Son of David," and then summons him for an audience. Jesus invites Himself into Zacchaeus' house as king would. Earlier in chapter 19 Jesus speaks the parable of how a nobleman gets a kingdom. And then on Palm Sunday Jesus plays the king card, and the crowds go nuts.
He commissions, as a king would, two disciples to commandeer a donkey. He commands them to tell the owners royally, "The Lord of it has need." And Jesus lets them welcome Him into Jerusalem the traditional way they would hail a conquering king. Jesus who told so many people not to tell anyone who He was lets them call Him King and Christ and Son of David. Jesus who told so many people not to tell of a miracle He had done lets them shout the mighty works He had done.
This Jesus can be your focal point. He could do something about your worries about kids, loneliness, retirement, or cancer. I'll bet King Jesus is powerful enough to heal you, to help you, to make you successful or at least happier than you are right now. But this is only Sunday. Passion Week not Palm Sunday is supposed to be the focal point of history. You want to focus on His best friends betraying Him? You want to focus on Peter promising to defend Him and then denying he knows Him? You want to focus on the church rejecting Him though they didn't deny His miracles or the power of His word? You want to focus on the State killing Him in the most painful way though they knew He was innocent?
No you don't. Neither do most people. The popular Jesus of Palm Sunday and the powerful Jesus of Easter Sunday can be people's focal point. They can slog through the problems, the pains, and the fears they are focused on with a popular or powerful Jesus. But what need have they for Jesus of the scars, Jesus rejected by God and not even as powerful as an ordinary man?
No, the only people such a weak Jesus and such a week as this is a focal point for are those whose biggest problem is not their kid's education, their retirement, or even their health but their sins that loom before them as accounts to be settled. They know they must answer for every one of them and know they can't answer for even one of them because they just keep piling up more and more. The threats of the Devil, the testimony of their own conscience, and the unbending Law of God are right. They have sinned here, there, and everywhere. No excuses accepted; no second chances given.
Focus on your sins. These are your problem. If your sins aren't taken care of you may or may not go bankrupt, your kid may or may not get into a great school, your marriage may or may not be happy, but you will die the death of a sinner with every one of your sins on your body and in your soul. And while all the other things you focus on can push your sins out of your head and heart now, they won't be able to on your deathbed and your sins will charge you like so many bloodthirsty warriors calling for your head, and God will give it to them for sin only comes looking for its wages due.
If you see that your sins, what you say, do, and think wrongly, lustfully, evilly, or gossipingly are your problem, then focus on what happens to Jesus this week. Remember He goes through this week as a person just like you. Neil Diamond has a song "Done to Soon" where he sings how Jesus, along with other historical people all "have sweated beneath the same sun, / Looked up in wonder at the same moon, / And wept when it was all done / For bein' done too soon." Look at the sun today and the full moon tomorrow, and know that's the same sun and moon Jesus sweated, suffered, bled and died under. And know that He did all that for your sins.
Jesus, though a Man living like you do under a sun that made Him sweat and under a moon that filled Him with wonder did so with no sin and no guilt. And yes, He wept like you and I will for it being done too soon, yet He didn't have the bitter taste of tears upon His tongue for sins He had done. But He was punished as if He did. He died as if He did. He sweated, suffered, bled, and sighed for your sins and not only yours but the sins of the whole world.
Not just the sins of believers, not just the sins of church people but the Man Jesus died for the sins of the world. The sins of Fanny Brice, Wolfgang Mozart, Humphrey Bogart, Genghis Khan and on to H. G. Wells; Ho Chi Minh, Gunga Din, Henry Luce and John Wilkes Booth, and Alexanders King and Graham Bell were the reason Jesus died. Jesus died because of the sins of all Americans, Asians, Africans, Eurasians, Latin Americans, and Europeans.
So what you might ask? Sydney Carton dies for Charles Darnay in A Tale of Two Cities. Soldiers throw themselves on grenades for other soldiers. Policeman and fireman die for others. They die and in reality it doesn't stop the other people from eventually dying anyway. So why should Jesus dying for me or for absolutely everyone be the focal point of history?
Because not only did Jesus sweat beneath the same sun as you do as a flesh and blood Man He, being True God, made that sun. Not only did the Man Jesus look up in wonder at the same moon as you will do tomorrow He, as True God, made it. And wonder of wonders when the Man Jesus weeps that it is done too soon, it is the tears of God that fall to the ground. An ordinary man could die for the sins of others, but it takes the death of God in flesh and blood to pay for sins. And because Jesus is God just one tear drop, one blood drop, one sigh would be more than enough to pay for all the sins you could ever imagine and even the ones you can't.
So if you know that no amount of water can wash away your sins, then focus on this week. Because this week is where Jesus pays to open up a fountain of Baptism to send forth a life-giving water rich in grace. If you realize that your words of excuse and promises to do better can only damn you deeper, then focus on this week where Jesus pays for the Spirit He will breathe into the bodies of the disciples that will empower their words to forgive sins. If you know that your flesh and blood need real flesh and blood to rescue them from dying eternally for sins, then focus on this week where Jesus gives His Body and sheds His Blood to pay for sins so that He might give His Body for Bread to eat and His Blood for Wine to drink.
You know how looking through a screen you can focus on the screen seeing only it or focus on what's outside the screen so that you see the screen itself no more? You are changing your focal point. You can do that this Holy Week too. You can focus on the screen of your day to day life so the events of Holy Week aren't seen at all. Or you can look beyond the screen of your daily life and focus on the events in the life of Christ this week. You can go to the upper room; you can climb Calvary's mournful mountain and taste, touch, see, hear, and smell the things of your salvation. Or you can see the flies and bugs walking across the screen that is your life. Which do you think is the focal point of history, which do you think the very stones themselves would cry out about? Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Palm Sunday (20110417); Luke 19: 28-40