They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. And he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.” And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. He came a third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.”
Did you know that it took three hundred years for the cross to become the recognized symbol of Christianity? Early Christians were forbidden to depict the cross or the crucifixion in any form. The cross was a means of horrible torture and death still very much in use as a means of state execution. Jesus had been nailed to a cross and the first Christians saw it as the ancient equivalent of the electric chair or the gallows. As C.S. Lewis once said, “the crucifixion did not become common in art until all who had seen a real one died off.”
On Palm Sunday the church reads the passion of our Lord in order to remind the faithful of the difficult and desperate origins of the cross and the man who hung upon it. Every year on this date we are drawn back in time to witness and take part in the suffering and death of Jesus. We are brought back to stand with Jesus as he is betrayed in the garden, to witness the cruelty of the soldiers, to walk beside Jesus on his way to Golgotha and to witness his death. We do this because the two thousand years that separate us from this event in history act as a buffer, insulating us from its painful reality. Palm Sunday is here to remind us of the awful truth of what Christ has done for us. On Golgotha, God took an instrument of death and turned it inside out so that now the cross is the most powerful symbol of life. It is now a symbol of eternal life born out of Christ’s willingness to sacrifice himself, even to the point of death.
The good news for you and me is that our Lord is still doing the same thing for all of us. Because of Jesus on the cross, our shattered lives can also be made into something holy. Because of Jesus on the cross, the greatest suffering we will ever know in life, he has already known. Because of Jesus on the cross, our sins can be forgiven, and our lives redeemed. Christ the crucified is here to take the full weight of the world upon his shoulders, to hang there, bleed and gasp his last. All for us, all for our salvation. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.
Grant us patience, O Lord, to follow the road you have taken. Let our confidence not rest in our own understanding but in your guiding hand; let our desires not be for our own comfort, but for the joy of your kingdom; for your cross is our hope and our joy now and unto the day of eternity. Amen. (St. Augustine’s Prayer Book, p.235)