1968-10thetriumphalentry-fullDearly beloved, this week is our holiest of weeks. Holy Week comes at the end of a season of self-denial, a season of repentance, a season of renewal in prayer. Perhaps it’s been such a season for you. But for at least some of you, it hasn’t. Lent has been a disappointment and a frustration, as it seems instead of becoming more holy, more of a disciple of Jesus, you’ve been exposed for what you really are. A fraud, perhaps; or a traitor; or a pragmatist, going along with the crowd in order to keep your job, your position, your reputation, what’s left of your savings. Lent is a time to discover anew the love of God, and how much good can come from obedience; but maybe what you’ve discovered is your capacity for deceit, hypocrisy, laziness and self-pity.

And then we read the Passion of St. Matthew and find out we are not alone. We hear about Judas the traitor, Pilate the pragmatist, Peter the coward, and a crowd so fickle they sing Psalms to Jesus and then turn around and demand His death.

In them, we must learn to see ourselves, to say,

I am Judas, betraying my Lord. I am a false disciple. I put money ahead of everything else. And then I let despair have its way with me. Sometimes it seems like it would be good if I were dead, and maybe I should end it all.

“And I am Pilate. I know what is right but I don’t do it. I put the blame on someone else, and look the other way at injustice. I worry what others will think, what will happen to me. Times are tough, the economy uncertain; if I don’t go along with what these people want, I’ll be reported and I could lose my job.

“And I am Peter. What a failure I am! I’ve spent all this time with Jesus, listening to His Word, learning the ways of God, but when the time for confession comes, I’m scared of a servant. A little girl!

“And I am one of the crowd. All my worship was just a show; when the mob changed course, I went right along with them.”

But then in this story we see one Man who is different. One Man who, when faced with despair, cried out to God. When threatened with violence, with laughter, with spitting; when bloodied and lacerated and pierced did not flinch, but took it like a man – no, took it like no man ever has. And this Man, who alone is not a fraud, not a coward, not a hypocrite, not a pragmatist, not fickle—this Man surveys His fallen disciples, the corrupt priests of His temple, the heartless leaders of His government, and the crowd to which He had given everything He had—He looked out on these and gave one thing more: His own life. And in doing so, this sinless Man, this perfect Man, this righteous Man, said, “I am Judas, I am Pilate, I am Peter, I am the crowd. All their sin I become, that all their sin I might remove.”

And we who see ourselves in this story as Judas, Pilate, Peter, and the crowd see ourselves also in Him, and He in us. For your Jesus gazes out from the cross and says, “Everything you are I have become, that everything I am I might give to you. Your treason is Mine, your faithlessness is Mine, your heartlessness is Mine, your lust is Mine, your greed is Mine, your cowardice is Mine, your despair is Mine, your punishment is Mine, your death is Mine, your hell is Mine.

“And in return, My righteousness is yours, My reward is yours, My inheritance is yours, My salvation is yours, My life is yours, My kingdom is yours. And all of that I wrap up in this one little saying: ‘It is finished.’ When I have finished it, it is finished; when I have absolved it, it is absolved; when I have atoned for it, it is atoned for; when I have buried it, it is buried; what I have made new, is new. So follow Me, and do not despair. Follow Me, and do not be afraid. Follow Me, and do not sin. Follow Me, for where I go is now opened to you, for what I open no one can close, and I have opened life and heaven and the Father to you.”

Now come, and drink sweet wine from the one who tasted the sour for you, for it is His blood, given for you and for many for the remission of your sins and the resurrection of your body.

Some of the ideas in this are drawn from an outstanding sermon for Palm Sunday 2005 by Rev. David Petersen, Pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church, Fort Wayne, Indiana.