It is almost ironic.
Here we are on this day where the imagery, symbolism, and tradition takes us to the city gates of Jerusalem some 2,000 years ago. It is the day we remember Jesus’ arrival at the start of that fateful Passover week proceeding his betrayal, death, and resurrection. Yet, our passage takes us beyond the gates and to the courtyard of Pilate’s headquarters. On this day when we want to join the crowds in their exaltation and shouting of “Hosanna!,” we find ourselves in the midst of Jesus’ pain and anguish.
It is ironic, however it is also appropriate. As we have seen throughout our current sermon series, Holy Week is about more than palms and celebrations. It is about finding ourselves in the midst of Jesus’ journey and experiencing the stories in a way that opens our eyes to the depths of God’s love and our need of Christ in our lives. Our tendency, though, is to stay among the crowd and shout “Hosanna!,” and rush through the pain of the week and what it teaches.
The reason is that we want this day of Palm Sunday to be both the beginning and ending to the story of Jesus’ narrative in Jerusalem. We want to stay in this place where Jesus is heralded as the beloved Messiah. Doing so gives us the “Hollywood” story and ending that we desperately desire. Where everything is neat, tidy, and comfortable. Yet, life is never a “Hollywood” story and neither is the journey Jesus has been on throughout his ministry.
We’re going a little backwards to go forwards today. Throughout Lent, we’ve seen that there is more to Holy Week than the joyous celebrations. Each story and moment teaches us something about the realities of Jesus’ love for us. While focusing on the specific final 24 hours of Jesus’ earthly ministry, we’ve noticed, I hope, that Jesus has always been on a journey. A journey that would lead him to the cross of Good Friday, the despair of Holy Saturday, and the hope of Easter morning. From the beginning of time, Jesus was on this journey that would lead him to exhibit his messianic calling in a very loving way. It was a journey that arrived on Christmas morning. A journey that saw its first public manifestation at Jesus’ baptism. A journey that came to Jerusalem for its biggest test.
We like to think that Jesus’ journey was easy. If we focused only on his acts of teaching and healing then we might be led to think as such. This was no easy journey. Our study of Jesus’ final 24 hours has shown us as much. Now, with Mark 15:16-22 as our guide, we have come to some of its most difficult and painful moments. Jesus’ journey would now include pain, humiliation, and torture, which all leads to the real purpose and focus of Jesus’ journey.
Jesus’ journey continues from where we left off last week. If you remember, Jesus was condemned to death by crucifixion by Pontius Pilate. We pick it up after the order was issued. Mark tells us Jesus was led out to the courtyard to be flogged and tortured. This was part of the crucifixion process. Roman soldiers would beat the prisoner with a whip to physically weaken the individual. It is believed the whips they used also included metal projections on them to add more punishment.
All of this was done in public for a specific reason. The Romans wanted people to see what happens to whose whom were considered enemies to the empire. Prisoners were humiliated and tortured as an expression of Rome’s power and authority over the people. It was done to promote fear and terror. It worked. The act of crucifixion, and its entire process, was so painful and humiliating that it is still considered the most inhumane form of punishment known to humanity.
In this moment, however, the Roman soldiers decided not to hold back in their humiliation efforts. They wanted to prove a point with Jesus. The soldiers wanted to show that no one could claim to be king except Caesar. This was the reason for Rome’s interest in Jesus and their condemnation of him. They had no interest in the religious claims around Jesus. However, they were concerned about the messianic claim that Jesus is the true king of all. Rome believed that claim was tied to the identity of Caesar. Because of this the soldiers increased their humiliation and torture of Jesus. They placed a robe on him, gave him a crown of thorns, and mocked him with their salutes all with the intent of saying they did not see Jesus as their king.
How does Jesus respond? He never says a word. As the soldiers are torturing and humiliating him, Jesus stays focused on the journey and the work he came to do. Jesus knew the journey would be difficult and include painful moments. It would not be entirely defined by high and holy times. Jesus knew there would be times like these, and so when he faces these difficult moments he stays focused on the task. He does this because the end of the journey, the salvation of all people, was too important to lose sight of.
The journey continued as the beatings stopped. Jesus must now pick up his cross and carry it to the site of his execution, which is known as Golgotha, Calvary, or The Skull. This was part of the crucifixion process. Prisoners were paraded through the streets with the similar intent of making a public display of Rome’s power and force. By this point, Jesus would have been physically exhausted, bloodied, and with little strength. He was now asked to carry a cross that was about eight-to-nine feet in height. He had to carry it about 3/4 mile or roughly the distance from Trinity to the Howard Litzer intersection on Winston Ave. When considering Jesus’ physical condition and the weight of the cross, it might have taken Jesus more than 30 minutes to reach the hillside place of the crucifixion. The pain and weight of the cross would have made the journey difficult.
Again, how does Jesus respond? He never complained. Jesus does what he asks of his followers then and today. He takes on the difficult challenges of life knowing that in going through the difficult challenges we growth in faith and hope in the Lord. Jesus literally picks up his cross and goes forward on the journey to Golgotha knowing what lies ahead. Showing the world God’s love for all was too important to stop the journey. He had to go on.
While Jesus never lost sight of the journey’s purpose, we would be kidding ourselves if we thought it was never difficult for him. When thinking about Jesus’ journey to the cross, we forget that Jesus is fully human and fully divine. The physical toll of being beaten and then carrying the cross would’ve been overwhelming for anyone. We see this play out as Jesus could not carry the cross the full distance to Golgotha. He needed someone to help him. So, some Roman soldiers forced Simon of Cyrene to carry the cross the remainder of the way. We don’t know how far he carried it, but that is not the point of Simon’s involvement. The point is that in this moment of physical weakness Jesus needed someone to walk with him to help complete the journey.
This shouldn’t surprise us. Jesus always had people with him on the journey. It was a journey Jesus never traveled alone. There were always people with him. The disciples learned at Jesus’ feet, shared the message of the Good News of Jesus Christ, and implemented Jesus’ teachings through their witness. They were part of the journey. Simon of Cyrene is now part of the journey by caring for Jesus in giving him physical support so he could fulfill his messianic calling. Jesus never lost sight of the journey. The people who were with him helped him to fulfill his calling as the King of Kings and the Prince of Peace.
That Jesus stayed focused on the journey, but had help along the way says something to us as we begin this Holy Week. Each of us our on a journey of faith and life. It is a journey that is filled with moments of strength and weakness, times of health and sickness, and days when we are up and down. None of us can go on our journeys alone. We need the help of others to support us along the way. We need people who will walk with us on our journey. We need to people who will love us, support us, care for us, and hold us accountable. This is true for our lives and in the lives of our communities of faith. We can never go on our journeys alone. We need each other.
Like Jesus, as well, we must stay focus on our journey and faith in Jesus. Seasons will come and seasons will go, but the one thing that remains constant is our faith in Christ and the Lord’s love for us. No matter what life may throw at us, no matter what obstacle or challenge may come our way, we must remain focused on our hope that is found in Christ and our trust in the Lord’s love. That is what sustains us through difficult moments and encourages us on our journeys.
During this Holy Week, we will be like Simon of Cyrene and walk with Jesus through the streets of Jerusalem and to the hillside of Golgotha. As we have throughout this series, I want to invite you to see yourself along side Jesus in his journey for us. See him washing the feet of the disciples and sharing in the Passover meal in the Upper Room. See his struggles in the Garden. Feel his pain along the courtyard. Allow our experiencing this journey to inspire us and transform us in ways that lead to a deeper faith in Christ.
May what we experience this week and our journeys of faith inspire us, as well, to share the message of Jesus’ Good News with others who are with us in the journey of life and faith. May Jesus’ journey inspire us to encourage others in their journeys each day.