Last year I attended a Palm Sunday service I will never forget. Its impact stays with me to this day and holds particular significance to me this week—Holy Week. In the face of COVID-19, Holy Week could easily get lost if we let it. May we allow our hearts to grieve not being together as a church family in person this week. But may we also be faithful to be present in our hearts and spirits to the cross of Christ, even if we can’t worship together in the flesh. Let us bring to the forefront of our minds what Jesus endured for us this week and not allow the great significance of his sacrifice get lost in the chaos.
Can I tell you about the Palm Sunday service that changed my life?
Craig and I attend a beautiful church that holds rich, reflective services all of the Lenten season and Holy Week. Palm Sunday is a particularly special service with a call and response reading of The Passion according to Matthew. I knew it was coming, like it always is, but for some reason, this time I was caught off guard. I was not prepared for what was being asked of me as a participant in the body of Christ.
The church had various members play characters in the story like Jesus, Peter, Judas, the High Priest, Pilate, etc. Once we had gotten to the part of the story where the people choose to release Barabbas instead of Jesus I was stunned by shouts around me saying, “Let him be crucified!”
As I looked down at my program I noticed the lines for the “people” were in bold signifying the congregation was to read them aloud together,
“We choose Barabbas!”
“Let him be crucified”
“Let him be crucified!”
“His blood be on us and our children!” My stomach dropped. I felt my heart recoiling. “Don’t engage. Pull back. Don’t feel,” I felt my heart telling me.
The cross has always been very difficult for me to stomach. The thought of Jesus going through such intense suffering for mankind, for me, has always been something I tried to accept, but admittedly, with intense unease. I don’t want to need that. I don’t want to need help or fixing or saving. I don’t want to need the cross.
My default is to fix myself, make myself good enough for God. I am a serial perfectionist, and I know it. I couldn’t even bring myself to say, “Crucify him!” because I didn’t want it to be my fault. I felt an internal struggle as each line was recited. Finally, with knots in my stomach, I read aloud, “His blood be on us and our children!”
After this reading of the Passion account our pastor stood to preach. He took an unusually long time of silence before he got started. And then quietly began to admonish us not to shy away from the cross. He prayed we would not shun Christ’s suffering, shame and loss, that we would not turn away from his grief.
But that is precisely what I found myself doing, shunning the cross and turning from Christ’s grief and sorrow.
The cross makes me feel uncomfortable and it should. Someone else took my suffering. Someone else’s blood is on me.
And so, I should be thankful. The cross meant for me was borne by Jesus. What a priceless gift I’ve been freely given. This week I am working HARD to embrace the hardness of the cross, to embrace the suffering Jesus endured out of love for me. You know, it hurts that someone would love me so much in the midst of my guilt and brokenness. His suffering doesn’t feel right or fair—because it isn’t.
It is a beautiful, beautiful thing. I always tried to turn my eyes from the passion of Christ so I could quickly celebrate the resurrection of Christ. But there is no resurrection without the cross.
Let us mourn our sin; let us bow in worship of this King whose body was broken and blood was spilt for us. He is worthy. The cross is worthy of our attention and deep acceptance at the core of who we are. Don’t shy away from it, especially not this week.
This weekend, as we are restricted to our homes and unable to worship together in the flesh, may we all experience the ever-available presence of Jesus and be forever changed by his love and grace. May we all allow God to take us deep into our need for this Savior, exposing the hidden motives of our hearts. And may we receive him fully, releasing any urge to fix ourselves before we come before him. For this is the way of the kingdom, this is the way of the cross. And it can happen right from your home.
May you be blessed as you draw near to the crucified King.