A time of trial (Luke 23)A sermon for Palm Sunday/ Sunday of the Passion April 10, 2022 by Sebastian Meadows-Helmer
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This Sunday's service is very strange indeed.
We have two Gospel readings; one happy, and one sad.
It’s almost as if you get a sense of whiplash,
the focus is shifting so quickly.
But in a way the speed at which events change
mirrors that final week of Jesus’s life.
For three years, Jesus’ ministry proceeded, with its ups and its downs, some highlights, some conflicts,
but overall relatively peaceful and without major incident.
But suddenly, in Jesus’ last week,
his 150th week of his divine ministry, every day is a major event,
as the showdown in Jerusalem at the Great Feast of the Passover comes to a head.
There is much to observe even in our shortened Passion reading today,
but I will concentrate on the trial,
as it is recorded by Luke.
Jesus faced his time of trial.
What led up to that trial on that fateful morning?
The chief priests and the scribes (the religious elite)
had been looking for a way to put Jesus to death:
Because he challenged their authority: he pointed out their hypocrisy,
Jesus was spreading revolutionary ideas which upset the peace,
order and local government, the rule of law which ruled with the sword,
and the colonial structures of the Roman empire.
Jesus performed miracles, healed people and drew large and dangerous crowds.
There was whispering that he claimed divine powers,
that people were saying he was the Messiah, the anointed one,
the one to rule on the throne of David.
All this was very dangerous to the religious elite,
whose power was granted by the Roman overlords
in exchange for their keeping of the peace.
So Jesus was betrayed and captured in the Garden of Gethsamane,
just a ten minute walk from the Temple Gates,
And he was mocked and beaten.
When daybreak came, the assembly of the elders of the people, the chief priests and the scribes hold a court session.
The conflicts come to a head:
Jesus faces his time of trial.
A completely unfair, one-sided, unjust trial.
At his trial, Jesus is questioned.
Are you the Messiah?, they ask.
Jesus responds: If I tell you, you will not believe,
and if I question you,
you will not answer.
But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right Hand of the power of God.”
They continue: “Are you then, the Son of God?”
You say that I am, Jesus replies.
The accusers want to pin a charge of blasphemy on Jesus,
want him to admit that he is God,
which is a sentence punishable by death in the law of Moses.
But Jesus evades a direct answer, infuriating the prosecutors.
The trial continues with the governor, Pontius Pilate.
There Jesus is accused of perverting the nation, being a rabble-rouser, creating disorder.
His words are twisted in the accusation that he forbade the paying of taxes.
And finally again Jesus is accused of treason,
of setting himself up as King in opposition to the Roman rule.
Throughout the trial,
Jesus’ opponents are trying to figure out who he really is,
but they’re blinded by their own prejudices and their perspective of power,
feeling threatened and fearful,
they lash out and try to grasp onto any shred of evidence
that they can twist to get rid of Jesus.
Jesus had his time of trial
and so Jesus has compassion for our times of trial too.
In the Lord’s prayer, the newer and more accurate translation,
we pray to God to "save us from the time of trial”,
those times in our life where we are tested to our breaking point.
We all go through times of trial in our lives.
Perhaps it’s a bout with cancer,
where the chemotherapy treatments are just about nearly lethal each time, and the procedure is repeated again and again.
Others deal with relationship loss,
where family estrangement means siblings no longer talk to each other.
Others mourn the death of a loved one, a spouse, a child, a friend, an animal, and the grief seems too hard to bear.
Others go through the gut-wrenching process of a literal criminal or civil court case, which usually leaves everyone exhausted and a lot poorer.
Or others face slander, conflict and disillusionment with human relations.
These times of severe testing, these times of trial,
we often feel alone, afraid, or angry,
and our previous understandings about life and the order of existence may be challenged in extreme ways.
These times of trial, if they do not break us, they certainly leave us with scars.
In the Garden of Gethsemane,
Jesus told his disciples: “Pray that you may not come into the time of trial”, and later he prayed, with great anguish, sweating profusely:
“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me,
yet not my will, but yours be done.”
Jesus suffered in his trial, so he knows what it’s like to suffer.
He understands our afflictions, he knows what it’s like to endure a time of trial like the ones we go through from time to time in our lives.
I think it goes without saying that it is hard to have compassion for someone else’s suffering if you haven’t gone through it personally yourself. That’s why support groups are so important,
because you know that around the circle,
everyone has gone through the same experience as you.
You know that your experience is real because others are telling the same stories.
For example if you’re in a bereaved spouse group,
you know the others have gone through the same emotions that you have as well, in losing a life companion.
That’s why it’s so important to remember that Jesus suffered,
that God suffered, and so God is not just some distant, passive, un-caring God out there on a planet in outer space looking at us with a telescope. No, God got up close and personal,
became fully human, emptied himself of all divine power,suffered anxiety, fear,
faced accusers who twisted his words, who tormented him,
and who subverted justice to put him to death.
Jesus can suffer alongside of us and comfort us and understand our times of trial, because he suffered in his time of trial too.
He knows what it’s like.
He knows human cruelty,
He knows physical, emotional and mental pain.
He knows what it’s like to pray for the time of trial to be taken away from us, and yet the time of trial still comes.
He knows what spiritual abandonment feels like,
when God seems distant and one cries out:
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
He hung alone on the cross.
So the cross becomes an image,
not just of the physical literal act of crucifixion,
but an image of the burdens, afflictions and adversities and the troubles, hardships and trauma of everyday human existence,
not only for those in the peaceful, affluent West,
but esp, and even more so in countries dealing with war, famine, and human rights abuses.
The cross, the “Tree of life and awesome mystery”,
becomes an image that can bear meaning for us,
that gives us hope that God is near to us when we are in the valley of the shadow of death,
It reminds us that God ultimately understands what we’re going through, that he loves and cares for us and wants us to regain the life that was promised.
In our trials, we can turn to Jesus,
Who knows what suffering is about,
who knows the dangerous and frightening aspects of human life,
and who can accompany us every step of the way.
Since He is the Messiah, the Son of God, the miracle-worker,
but also the rabble-rouser who challenges political systems and religious power structures,
who demands obedience first to God, and then to all else,
This Jesus is someone we can turn to with utter trust and devotion.
We can pray to Him when we’re on our knees in despair,
or even on the ground curled up into a fetal position.
Jesus will remember us when he comes into His Kingdom.
Jesus had his time of trial, and is there in our time of trial as well.
This week, I invite you to read through Luke Chapters 22 and 23, the full account of the Passion,
And think about how Jesus is close to us, and not far away.
He suffered, and so he knows our suffering.
He had his time of trial, so he will comfort us in our time of trial too.
Let’s have a moment of silent reflection.
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