We stand today on the threshold of another Holy Week. It’s strange that we should call this time by that name. In the original setting, it was seven days of conspiracy, deception, cowardice, betrayal, manipulation, hatred, and violence. And we call that “Holy Week”!
We Christians have a strange vocabulary.
The week began with a man riding a little donkey into Jerusalem. The man was weeping. Tears welled up in his eyes and streamed down his face. He was also talking, mostly to himself. Those who were near enough could hear what he was saying – “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, if only you had known the things that belong to your peace, but now your house is left unto you desolate. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem.”
A weeping man riding on a small donkey and muttering to himself – and, we call that “the Triumphal Entry?” Strange vocabulary!
Toward the end of that week, this man ate the last supper with his closest friends. We call this day “Maundy Thursday”. And, then on the very next day, this man was executed, put to death as a common criminal. Roman soldiers nailed Him to a cross, suspended him between heaven and earth, and left him hanging there until he died. The day of that terrible deed is now known as “Good Friday.” Strange vocabulary!
Why do we call such tragic events by such beautiful names? The answer to that question is this: in the church, there is a deep conviction that the suffering and death of Jesus were part of the plan and purpose of God. And, in the mind of Jesus, it was something that had to be. The cross was inevitable. But what was the nature of that inevitability?
Was it something written in the stars, beyond the scope of human control and understanding?
Did Jesus die on the cross as a helpless victim?
Were he and Judas and Pilate just actors, following a script?
Read the whole story, and it becomes apparent that all of those involved in the crucifixion of Christ were real people – making real choices.
Judas did not have to betray him; he could have refused the bribe.
His other disciples did not have to forsake him; they could have remained faithful.
The Sanhedrin did not have to condemn him; they could have been honest and fair.
Pilate did not have to sentence him to death; he could have released him.
And, Jesus – Jesus did not have to put himself in harm’s way; he could have gone back to Galilee and stayed there.
So, if God did not write the script and direct the drama, what then caused it to happen?
When you and I look back upon that day, it all seems so senseless and so useless.
But Jesus himself is never portrayed as a helpless victim. He did not try to escape. He did not resist arrest. He did not argue with his accusers.
In the last twenty-four hours of his life, most of those around him were gripped by fear.
The high priest feared for his nation.
The disciples feared for their lives
Pilate feared for his job.
And Pilate’s wife feared for her sanity.
Fear was on everyone’s mind, except for the man who was marked for death.
He was the calmest and composed person in all of Jerusalem. Not the image of a helpless victim.
The truth is that Jesus accepted the cross. It was not forced upon him by God. He was not cornered by inescapable circumstances. His death by crucifixion was inevitable, but not in the usual sense of that word. He was not externally coerced by anything – or anyone. The inevitability that Jesus encountered was something that he carried around inside of himself.
It was the inevitability of love. He went to the cross because there was no other way for him to share the depth of our suffering.
He went to the cross because there was no other way for him to embrace the tragedy of our sin.
He went to the cross because there was no other way for him to show the world the fullness of God’s love – a love that doesn’t quit!
No, the death of our Lord was not a tragic accident. It was something that had to be. And, yes, his love for you, and for me, and every other person on earth made the cross inevitable.
And, ah yes, we Christians do have a very strange kind of vocabulary – “Holy Week” – “Triumphal Entry” – “Maundy Thursday” – “Good Friday” – and “Easter”! A strange kind of vocabulary indeed – one created by love!