“Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” So he delivered him over to them to be crucified.” (John 19:15-16)
Since I was a child, I was always as fascinated as I was terrified by the events of what those in my tradition of faith have come to call “Holy Week.”
How could people who revered Jesus at the beginning of the week, even so far as to throw palm branches and their coats on the ground to make way for him and call him Rescuer, their Hosanna, join the chorus for his demise by Friday? And what is so good about Friday, anyway? How could the disciples, who dedicated everything and vowed allegiance to him and walked and talked and lived with him for three years just abandon him in his darkest hour? What kind of disciple would do that?
These were the thoughts that crossed by mind as I was a boy. But as I grew up, those questions gave way to more powerful questions, questions that came from experience and from the fear that comes from having your faith tested. Questions like, if I were in their position would I do the same? Surely I would. Surely I have.
How many times have I abandoned Christ for something much less fulfilling? How many times have I praised him in one breath only to curse him in the next? How many times have I accepted the title of disciple in the light but abandoned it in the dark, or when it demanded too much of me?
What is loyalty to Christ, and do I myself have it? Do you? Do any of us, for that matter?
As we reflect on Easter, on the glorious resurrection of Jesus, who paid for all of our sin and shame on the cross, it is my prayer that we would not lose sight of the fact that it was our transgressions that put him there.
The story isn’t simply one we read of characters in a book. No, the story of Scripture is more revealing and powerful than that. We are invited into the story, recalling that though our sins and betrayal are great, a debt we can never pay, what held Jesus on the cross was his love for all of us.
Though our sins are as scarlet, he has washed them white as snow.
And though we are forgiven, we can’t forget what it cost. We cannot withold forgiveness from those who don’t deserve it, because that isn’t what our Hosanna did.
We cannot cling to past sins that try to chain us to shame.
We can’t cling to present sins that keep our world shrouded in dark.
We can’t forget that our identities are tethered not to who we have been, or who we have been believed to be, but to whom we belong.
That the Cross is as relevant today as it ever was.
As a kid, I always wanted to blame people trapped in a book, because Jesus was the hero, and the people who betrayed him, who denied him, whipped him, and killed him were the bad guys and I was angry at them for what they did.
But that was before I realized that their story is my story, I am just as capable for that treachery and just as culpable for it.
When asked by Pilate if Jesus was their king, the chief priests answered that they had no king but Caesar, but maybe even that was a lie.
In my own experience, I have lived as king of my own heart and life, and I suspect the same was true of them.
I have lived in pursuit of holiness, grasping and rules and regulations to handcuff my heart to something that slightly resembled God, but left me wanting.
I have lived in pursuit of everything but holiness, indulging in everything I could to fill the emptiness inside me, but all it did was leave me broken and handcuffed to pain.
And I have, in those elusive moments of honest clarity, pursued Jesus, the crucified and risen Savior. He rescues me time and time again. And I deny him like Peter. And I sell him like Judas. And I just run away like the others.
Abandoment. In the face of such a wondrous love, I spat.
What God is this who loves me still?
Who seeks my heart and my devotion,
even when I am blithe to his pursuit, going about my merry way and pretending the lover of my soul doesn’t exist?
Friends, as we think about Easter, I pray we remember what it cost. I pray we share the life giving Gospel again and again. I pray we never turn it into a self help manual, but as a key to unlock doors and let the light pour in.
God is faithful, even when we are faithless.
Happy Easter week.
Keep it holy.