This day a week before Easter is a bit of an unusual day for us because it brings together two things that seem to be contradictory.
We have what we call the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, and we read the story and our hearts are roused by the idea of hailing Jesus as our King. We wave our palms and we sing Hosanna!
Then we come inside and without really preparing us for it we read Isaiah’s vision of the rejection and suffering that awaits those who seek to do God’s will, and then we retell the familiar story we call “The Passion” – remembering in detail the unfairness of Jesus’ conviction and the horror of his execution.
I guess we celebrate because we believe that in the Resurrection, Jesus was vindicated, but that does not diminish the injustice of Jesus’ conviction or the horror of his execution. In many ways it could be said that Jesus provoked this reaction from the religious and political leaders of his day, and because we know the end of the story Christians have come to believe that in God’s hands, suffering for the sake of righteousness can be redemptive.
From one angle, that is not a message I like to hear. Nor do you, I suspect.
I would prefer to believe that goodness would naturally prosper and bear fruit without pain. That the world would witness the works of righteousness, applaud, and follow suit. I would prefer to think that loving servants of God would, after a long and successful life, die peacefully in their beds and all people would speak well of them at the funerals. I do not want to hear that goodness is often rewarded with misunderstanding and rejection.
On the other hand, I do need to hear the ongoing message.
We know from bitter personal experience or from the stories of others we know and love when we take a stand against injustice or some other evil no-one thanks us. In fact it is often the case that we get into serious trouble ourselves. So we are often tempted to consider the question, “Will the trouble be worth it?”
But this story of Jesus’ passion not only inspires us with his obvious courage in the face of that opposition. This story teaches us that any suffering we endure in the course of exercising our Christian integrity is not wasted. The pain of carrying our cross for Christ in a society dedicated to instant gratification, is not wasted. In a way it becomes a part of the continuing work of Jesus, and it will be consummated in that new heaven and new earth where sorrow and crying and pain are no more. This is something we really need to hear.
It has been said by some who have gone through severe persecutions, it is not what happens to you that matters, but how you deal with what happens. Suffering can disillusion us, embitter us, and break us. Or we can let God use it for a greater purpose, and in the process be made great by it.
Today is the first day of a week long journey towards the cross. We know the story. We remind ourselves of it every year. We remind ourselves of it every Sunday as we celebrate the resurrection in The Lord’s Supper.
Some of you will have stories of suffering in your lives that you still struggle with today. Something about them still drags you down rather than up. It challenges your faith rather than strengthening it. As we journey towards the cross this week, spend some time thinking of how that story might be told differently for you so that it affirms God’s promise that good can be made of the worst situations. Remember, it is not so much about what happens to you that matters as how you choose now to respond to it. This may be where you experience the Resurrection this year.