2020 Lent VI – Let Him Be Crucified

Postulant Ken Kubo
5 April 2020

And the governor said, Why, what evil hath he done? But they cried out the more, saying, Let him be crucified. – St. Matthew 2:23

The triumphal entry into Jerusalem has inspired huge crowd scenes and musical numbers. And I have to admit that the times have affected me such that I watch one of these scenes in a movie and my first thought is “yikes – social distancing!” Understand that this was the happening event of the day, the headliner, and everybody who was anybody (and even those who weren’t) were thronging the streets. In Our Lord’s words – but what is it that they went out to see? A reed shaken by the wind? A prophet? A teacher? A charismatic preacher? A military leader who would restore Israel to independent glory? A rabble rouser and dissident? Our Lord’s arrival sparked the curiosity, hopes and, it must be said, fears of the people of Jerusalem, whether Judean, Roman, or otherwise. He fulfilled prophecy by the very way He made His entrance, and it is an exciting and uncomfortable thing to be living in a time when prophecies are coming true. The King was coming into His Kingdom, but even those who were glad to see the day did not understand how this would actually come about. At this end of time, we can see that it is the gates of the heavenly Jerusalem as much as those on earth which were opened. It’s easier for us because we do not live in the streets of the earthly Jerusalem; few of us have had the privilege of even visiting there. For those whose realities were bound by the stone and brick and mortar of the physical city, it’s small wonder that spiritual deliverance was harden to envision. It was preordained that Our Lord would thus disappoint some constituents even as He completely fulfilled the suspicions of others.

As history recounts (and memes record), Pontius Pilate was ahead of his time in making the washing of hands a trendy thing. We are called to do this as often as we can to ensure that we are not bringing in contamination from our surroundings or spreading germs to what we touch. We are trying to protect against an invisible uncleanness. Pilate used it similarly to cleanse himself of the all too visible contamination of injustice, to make one last protesting gesture to try to sway the angry mob. At the same time, he was trying to absolve himself of responsibility for what would happen. As we walk with Our Lord during this Holy Week, we do not have that same luxury. We know – as did He – that the triumphant entry into Jerusalem would awaken alarm and galvanize opposition to His ministry and popularity, leading to a swift reversal of fortune. We know the torture, sorrow, and darkness to come. And we know that it was and is for our redemption that those events had to happen the way they did. Pilate was right in that sense that nothing he did could sway the inexorable march to the Place of the Skull. This week, we look ahead to Easter, to the promise of heaven, and not incidentally, the easing of our various Lenten disciplines (and to those who gave up sweets or snacking, Easter will be a little taste of heaven). But we also understand that to get to Easter’s day, we must go through the night before because the day cannot happen without the night. In order for Christ to rise from the dead, He has to die. And so we must say also, “Let him be crucified.” We do not have the option to wash this from our hands. We do not say this in anger or hate as the mobs of Jerusalem – perhaps some of them the same as cried out “hosanna!” days earlier with as much energy. “Let him be crucified” we say quietly, sadly, reverentially because it must happen or, as Dickens penned, “nothing wonderful can come of the story” (A Christmas Carol, Stave i).

An anecdote related by our dear friend Bishop Ashman was the story of a new curate who was preaching for the first time in the big city and told the rector that he was afraid of the sophisticated parishioners, since he’d come from a small country church. The rector told him that he must remember that everyone is afraid to die and that, even though city folks have a hard coat of varnish, they are at the core of it, just as scared and afraid to die. “They want you to tell them,” said the rector, “that when Jesus rose from the dead, he gave the same gift to us.” It bears repeating that Our Lord was crucified, dead, and buried, and on the third day He rose again from the dead. He broke the bond of death and the ancient shackles of sinful willfulness for all humanity and offered to us eternal life. Rich or poor, city elite or country bumpkin, for all who would take His hands outstretched to us, His gift is freely given. And that is the wonder that gives us the wider perspective to see this world’s troubles and temptations and know that for us, at the end of that winding road, there is something better that awaits.

“My days are few, O fail not, with thine immortal power, To hold me that I quail not in death’s most fearful hour: That I may fight befriended, and see in my last strife To me thine arms extended upon the cross of life.” – Paulus Gerhardt

A little bit about Paulus Gerhardt – he was a good German Lutheran minister and served during the initial conflicts between the Lutherans and Reformed (Calvinist) clergy for the hearts (and patronage) of the German people, in particular in Berlin. He sponsored conferences to try to get the two sides talking, but sadly the conferences only gave the excuse for continued argument. Gerhardt was a good theologian and wrote a number of defenses of the Lutheran faith. Yet he was also willing to treat the Reformed clergy as brothers, and his sermons and devotional writings appealed to Reformed attendees at his services as much as Lutherans. He is considered one of the great German hymnists. He knew well that when you put God’s will and Word first, it’s far easier to love your neighbors as yourself. His life is a reminder to us that our faith can be a source of strife – Our Lord said that it would divide even families – but that as a source of strength, it calls us to build bridges where we can.

We truly live in a fearful hour, and adversity brings out the best and worst of the human spirit. Let us remember that the One who will one day judge us saw that worst – the fickleness of the crowds, the cruelty of the soldiers, the cowardice and indifference of those who refused to help – but He went to the Cross because He also knew the best, because He saw us as worthy of love, worthy to be redeemed. For that, He was willing to lay down His life that His broken flesh could become the bridge that reunited God with the people of His fallen Creation. Recalling that dear price that was paid, let us continue our somewhat cloistered Christianity, making that extra effort to be a little calmer when others grow anxious, a little more understanding when others are self-interested, and a little kinder every time the world grows colder. Remember that charity – caritas – is loving our neighbor despite (or even because of) their flaws; we are befriended by Divine Love and that gives us the strength and the calling to be the cup of comfort to suffering souls. So celebrate with those people of long ago Jerusalem. Hum a chorus of “Hosanna Hey Sanna” as you process (carefully) in your confinement. “Rejoice at all times. Pray without ceasing. Give thanks in every circumstance, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thes 5:16-18)

O most mighty God and merciful Father, help us humbly to walk in the Ways of Our Lord, even to the foot of the Cross, that we may truly accept the sacrifice made once for all and strive to live worthily in the shadow of our redemption; bring us through the doubts and uncertainties forced on us by the world, strengthen us to your holy purpose, and guide our footsteps in your ways, that all that we do and all that we are may prosper and find favor in your sight, all the days of our lives.