Pastor B. Thrall
Let’s just sit for a moment with what we have heard and let it sink in.
In the name of the Creator, the Redeemer, the Sanctifier. Amen.
It is a stark reality, the picture painted for us by St. Mark and three others centuries ago and witnessed again each Palm Sunday and Good Friday. Jesus faced the prospect of his arrest and execution with a mixture of dread and of agonized yearning. In his baptism in the Jordan River he had bound himself to struggling and suffering humanity: but only in his death could he show the magnitude of his identification with us in our alienation. Only by dying numbered with the transgressors as a disgraced criminal on a slave’s cross could he show that his embrace of us had no limits and no exceptions. (Martin Smith, A Season for the Spirit.)
No exceptions. We see that on bumper stickers from time to time. “God loves you, no exceptions”, and we may think, “Well, that’s a good thing, because I am not always the most loveable person, so I guess I am getting a break.” Or we may pause a minute and think, “NO exceptions, really? I can think of a couple people I don’t think are deserving of God’s love, for all the misery they have caused, and the violence and destruction they have wreaked upon the humanity and the earth.” But there it is again, no exceptions.
That cross, that final stroke of irony, that instrument of ultimate brutality, was not a choice Jesus would have made on his own, but for us, you and me and all of us, he made that choice and faced his own demise. It was his journey to make, and one day it will be our journey to make, and we will make it with God, just as Jesus did. This is the one for whom we sing, “What a friend we have in Jesus.”
In his book, Everyday Spirituality, James Hazelwood talks about the three kinds of friendships found in an ancient Aristotelian construct. They have held up pretty well over the ages. The first is friendships of utility. These have a transactional quality. We do things for one another, and expect that others will do things for us. I’ll watch your kids on Tuesdays, you watch my kids on Thursdays. At work, I’ll help you with your project, and later you can help me with mine. Friendships of Utility, transactions.
The second kind of friendship is that of pleasure, and this is pretty common. These are the kind of friendships we have with people we play tennis with, or go walking with, or go biking with, or play cards with. People we spend time with because we enjoy doing the same things. Friendships of pleasure.
And the third kind of friendship is that of the good or of the heart, the most important kind. These are the friendships that click, when you help one another yes, when you have fun recreating or working together, yes, and when you find you really appreciate the other person’s characteristics and qualities, and they appreciate yours. You can say almost anything to them, and it’s OK, and they will listen to you and you will listen to them. You make a deep connection. Friendships of the good.
The friend we have in Jesus on this Palm Sunday, and every Sunday, is a friend of the good, of the heart, who knows us better than we know ourselves and who has given of himself in the most ultimate way, expecting nothing in return. His gift of his love and of his life, is a free gift. It is not transactional. There are no strings attached, no expectations, and so where does this leave us?
I think Christ’s gift on the cross demands that we receive it thankfully, knowing at what great cost it came for him, to ponder the miracle and wonder of that. Who else has done so much for us, who else has gone as far as Jesus has to be our friend? And I think Christ’s gift on the cross means we are meant to honor that gift in all its aspects. We don’t have to pay God back for it, we don’t have to go out and do the same thing Jesus did, to die there, though it could happen that we are asked to give our life for another person. No, we honor the gift by doing what Jesus so often counseled us to do. To love God, to respond to the world with the love that God feels for it, and to love one another as God loves us. To show the world what a loving, saving God can inspire.
As we go into this holy week of drama upon drama, of gifts and commandments, of expectations and surprises, let us always remember that for Jesus, there are no exceptions. He died for you, he died for me, he died for the world. What we do with that truth, where we go with that friend, will make all the difference. Amen.