Posted on April 9th, 2017
It’s nice to talk about resurrection, but the words I speak at the time of death sometimes feel hollow. It’s all future-oriented, and while I believe it, we’re still left with the corpse. Someone has to call the funeral home, someone has to open the grave, and then there we are, looking down into the earth. Most of our life is so sanitary, and even at death, we farm out the dirty work to others.
But there, when the casket descends, and you see off in the distance the men waiting to come and close the vault and cover it with dirt – for just a moment, you see and you know that our clean lives are a lie. Squirt the anti-bacterial fluid, rub it thoroughly through fingers and on palms, but in the end your hands will be full of dirt.
Most of the Jews believed in the resurrection of the body, with teachings like Daniel 12: “Those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt” (v2). But they felt the same thing we do: the vanity and meaninglessness of a life that ends in a grave.
The Palm Sunday Gospel (John 12:12-19) we read outside began like this: “The next day.” Those are loaded words. The day before, Jesus had gone to a tomb. It wasn’t sanitized, meant to put you at ease and be comfortable. They protest when Jesus wants the door of the tomb opened. “No! It stinks.”
But then, Jesus does the unbelievable. Not the way we use the word. “Have you tried the pie? Unbelievable.” “Did you see the game? Yeah; unbelievable.” But Jesus does something that really is very difficult to believe. The stinking, decaying, entombed body, He calls forth and makes alive by the power of His Word.
That’s why Palm Sunday happens. That’s why the crowd has gathered to meet Him on the road into Jerusalem. They’re welcoming Him like it’s inauguration day, singing songs about Jesus being a King, waving palm branches for a hero. That’s why this happened. “The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign.”
This is why we also are here. We have heard that Jesus did this sign. Jesus raises the dead.
So to Him we come, with our broken hearts and troubled marriages, with our lonely lives and broken dreams. We come with sins that Lent has not eradicated. We come still having our disappointing boss, our hard-to-manage children, our failures and secrets that bring us shame.
We’ve heard that there’s one who raises the dead. What can He do for us? So we shout to Him, Hosanna! Save us now!
We bring to Jesus our children, as Charles and Megan brought Thomas this morning. “Help him, bless him! Hosanna! Save him now!”
We want our children to be normal, to be healthy, to be successful. What we should want above all is for our children to be Christians. But like a new car, roads with debris and parking lots with stray shopping carts begin to put dents in what was perfect. The new building begins to settle, and cracks emerge, faulty equipment is exposed. The world is filled with death everywhere, and in our children, we see death looming, and suffer guilt for the mistakes we made.
Into all that mess, into all the mistakes we made, into the graves we’ve dug, marches Jesus. He keeps on going, through the crowds, to His cross. Any other man would stop at the throne. He’d carpe that diem, he’d use the crowd to take control of the city. But Jesus goes instead to bear a cross, assume our guilt, atone for our sins, die our death.
“Look! The world has gone after him!” the Pharisees cry. Not really. But we should (go after Him).
What does it mean, to go after Jesus, to follow Him? Charles and Megan, do you realize that’s what you enrolled Thomas in this morning? Peyson and Josie, do you realize that’s what you’ll be pledging in just a few moments? Having a nice life, a good education, good home, good job, good family, good time – what does it get you? Where does it end? “You see that you are gaining nothing.” Go after Jesus.
The way of Jesus is the way of the cross. It’s the way of emptying yourself so your neighbor can be filled. It’s the way of humbling yourself so your neighbor can be lifted up. It’s a way that cannot be conformed to this world, because this world is all about filling yourself, satisfying yourself, lifting yourself up.
But you are those who have gathered here to meet Jesus. You are those who follow Him. His way will mean you lose the argument because you are more interested in peace. His way will mean you aren’t rich because you gave what you have away. His way will mean you aren’t owed anything because you forgave those who sinned against you.
This way is difficult. But it’s the only way we can go. We are disciples of Jesus. We go after Him.
And then, when we can go no further, and our own bodies stink and decompose, He will come and say to you, “Thomas Gregory, come forth! Josephine Angelina, come forth! Person Montgomery, come forth! All you who are joined to Me by Baptism into death, come forth! For sin and the grave have no power over you! You are mine forever.” ✠INJ✠