Mark 11:1–11a; Luke 22:39–23:56

I was absolutely determined not to preach on the movie, “The Passion of the Christ.” I imagined that you, like me, had heard enough analysis and rehashing of the movie and I resisted going over it one more time…..And then I several nights ago I had a dream…..Dreams can be amazing windows into our unconscious minds,….into our souls. Writer John Sanford calls dreams, “God’s forgotten language.”

As I explored the dream with a trusted friend, I realized I had been deeply affected by the movie and perhaps there would be value in exploring it with you this morning.

The first time I heard the story of the Passion told with graphic details of the suffering of Christ, I was a teenager at a Christian summer camp. I had an experience of the love of God and knew with my whole being, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Jesus death meant life for me.

I experienced that same gut wrenching awareness when I watched the movie, “The Passion of the Christ.” In spite of the fact that I have a different understanding of why God sent Jesus into the world than was portrayed in the movie, I had an experience of God’s deep and abiding love as I watched Jesus be present to his own suffering even while he absorbed the hatred of his accusers.

It was excruciatingly difficult and painful to stay present but Jesus knew God was with him. His death set all of humanity free for new life. The “Kingdom or Realm of God” had begun on earth as it is in heaven. The Spirit of God was released to create new life among us. This was not the end of life; it was the beginning.

To be sure, our cultural context has changed.

The gospel writers wrote in a time when tensions between the early church and the traditional synagogue after the fall of Jerusalem were high and that conflict shaped their perspective.

And yet, in spite of the cultural conflict, the courageous act of Joseph of Aramathea, a member of the ruling council of the Jews, was not lost to the gospel writers. Joseph, in the midst of the angry mob of Jewish religious leaders and cruel Roman soldiers, took a stand against both his peers and the Roman army, to provide a burial place for Jesus.

The part of the Christian Church with whom I most identify does not view Jewish religious leaders and the Jewish people as adversaries. We are, together, a part of a faith tradition which acknowledges Abraham as our father. Through dialogue we are seeking to heal old wounds and prejudices. We affirm our similarities, speak out loud our fears and disagreements and respect our differences as we all strive to be faithful to the one true God.

A criticism of the movie is that Mel Gibson went overboard in showing long periods of graphic cruelty and torture of Jesus? Are the violence of the crowd and the sadism of the Romans portrayed in the movie, extreme and “over the top”? It was too much for me. At times I closed my eyes because I could not watch. It was repulsive to me that human beings would be so depraved and cruel.

But then I listened to the news this week and saw the horrible pictures of the US civilians who were killed, dragged through the streets and hanged. Even after all of this time, humankind is still capable of this kind of hatred and mob violence done in an attempt to preserve a traditional way of life. Because I am human, the capacity to engage in that degree of violence lives in me. I shutter to acknowledge the truth of it.

What is so deeply moving and transforming to me about Jesus’ choice to suffer crucifixion for the sake of humankind, is his willingness to stay present to the hatred and suffer death in order to release the power of love into the world.

What we have to offer each other in our local church communities is the gift of presence. What transforms our lives in the places that have been crippled by violence is the strong abiding presence of loving relationships. ……Committed relationships between human beings, who are willing to witness the broken places in the other, receive them, and invite the spirit of the living God to heal them. That kind of abiding presence invites new life and puts an end to violence and hatred.

When tragedy strikes, it is a great challenge to our faith to stay present to our pain and suffering. We have many ways to run away….we drink too much, work ourselves into exhaustion, fall in love again for the umpteenth time, tell lies, take drugs….all because opening to pain is so hard.

It is only by the grace of God that when we do run away, we can chose to come back and release a little more of the sickness in our soul.

However, unless we experience the love of God directly or through other people, it’s nearly impossible to open our hearts to face the suffering.

It is human to want to go from the exhilaration of Palm Sunday where we rejoice in our newfound King to the Joy of Easter morning without experiencing the loneliness and terror of the crucifixion in-between.

When Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” his prayer was not only for those who crucified him but it was for his followers as well. For Judas, who betrayed both Jesus and his own soul, for Peter who lied to save himself, and for us, too, who do violence to others and lose courage to face our own pain and thus project it onto others.

A most precious gift Jesus gave us by not running away from bearing the sin of humankind, is the courage to be present to our own suffering and the suffering of others………

He showed us that the spirit of God will bring us through to the other side, transforming death into life, by the abiding presence of love.

To believe and know in our hearts that Easter will come when we are in the midst of suffering and awakening to our own sin or the pain that life brings, is at the heart of our faith.

Do not despair, Easter is coming. Easter is coming.