BRIEF REFLECTIONS ON THE PASSION
How did the "Hosanna!"'s of Sunday turn to the "Crucify Him!"'s of Friday? Five days is all, and the crowd turned from shouting "Hosanna!" to shouting "Crucify him!" How does that happen?
Typically, one finds explanations that focus on Jesus and on people's mistaken views about Jesus. One often hears the line of argument, for instance, that Zealots were hoping for a Messiah to lead them into victorious battle over their enemies and simply mistook Jesus to be that kind of Messiah, turning on him by Good Friday. One often sees that kind of portrayal in today's movie versions.
Or the focus is put on the Jewish leaders and their ability to somehow turn the crowd. In the made-for-TV movie of three years ago, one that I like a lot overall, it takes the most modern approach of blaming Pilate and the Romans. Jesus died by a Roman form of execution. They were the overlords in charge of the politics. So this movie portrays Pilate as manipulating everything behind the scenes. Sensitive to the terrible deeds of Christians killing Jews through the ages, we don't want to blame the Jews, so we blame the Romans.
I'd like to submit to you this morning that blaming anyone -- Jews, Romans, the Jewish Sanhedrin, Pilate -- that blaming anyone is completely beside the point of this whole story. In fact, when we try to blame anyone, we are exactly missing the point. For the Christian Gospel isn't about this group or that group needing forgiveness. It's not about this person or that person needing forgiveness. It's about all of us needing forgiveness -- not just the persons there that fateful Good Friday, but about every crowd of persons through the ages who have needed scapegoats to come together.
In the Gospel Passion stories, it is the unity of an otherwise diverse crowd that is most telling. In Luke's Gospel, Pilate sends Jesus to the Jewish king Herod, and Herod sends him back, to which Luke observes, "That same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies (Luke 23:12)." Do you see? This story is about the coming together of a crowd. We can be behaving like enemies toward each other, when all of a sudden a common enemy comes along and we are friends. Look at our own country. Republicans and Democrats can be exactly split of everything else, but vote as one against Saddam Hussein. We can go through the most hotly contested presidential election in our history, a vote that couldn't have been more evenly split, but an act of terrorism suddenly unites us behind our president. The Gospel stories of Jesus passion are not about any groups or persons here that particular Good Friday, as they are about us human beings and the habit we have of uniting ourselves in violence against common enemies. "That same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies (Luke 23:12)." Jesus was their common enemy; they were now friends.
The Christian Gospel, as we said, isn't about this group or that group needing forgiveness. It's not about this person or that person needing forgiveness. It's about all of us needing forgiveness for our way of gaining a relative peace against common enemies. Since the beginning of our human worlds and societies, our way of communion, our way of keeping the peace, is to unify against scapegoats. That's what ritual blood sacrifice was about for many millennia of human community. That's what war is still about today. That's why it took the Lamb of God to give himself up to our sacrificial slaughters. It literally took the Lamb of God to take away the Sin [and it is singular in John 1:29] of the world, that song we sing as we come to Holy Communion because our Risen Lord is our means of Holy Communion. In other words, our way of communion, our way of having peace since the beginning of human societies, doesn't have to be our way of communion any longer. In the Lamb of God and his forgiveness we have a new source of peace for a Holy Communion, a new way of coming together as human beings which doesn't have to be over against anyone else. Cesar and Vicente were baptized into that Holy Communion this morning. We have all been baptized into that Holy Communion. We come here again this morning to be fed and nourished in it, a new way of peace. So that when we leave here this morning we might serve him the Lamb of God and truly be witnesses to that new way of peace in this world, that Holy Communion, that holy way of coming together as God's children, all of God's children. Amen
Paul J. Nuechterlein
Delivered at Our Savior's Lutheran,
Racine, WI, April 13, 2003