Written by Rachel Denison
Last Sunday I went to the most beautiful Palm Sunday service I’ve ever attended. Its impact is certainly sticking with me this week. I was caught off guard by a particular moment in the service during a call and response reading of The Passion according to Matthew. They 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” and again “Let him be crucified!” “His blood be on us and our children!” were all things we as the congregation were to read aloud together.
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. And I finally could 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 from his griefs away.
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 born 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.
I’m praying we all allow God to take us deep this week into our need for this Savior. And may we receive him fully, releasing any urge to fix ourselves before we come before him. This is the way of the kingdom, this is the way of the cross.
May you be blessed this week as you draw near to the crucified King.
Below are the lyrics to a hymn, “Go to dark Gethsemane,” which my pastor referenced. I encourage you to meditate on their rich meaning:
1 Go to dark Gethsemane,
You who feel the tempter's pow'r;
Your Redeemer's conflict see;
Watch with Him one bitter hour;
Turn not from His griefs away;
Learn of Jesus Christ to pray.
2 Follow to the judgment hall;
View the Lord of life arraigned;
O the worm-wood and the gall!
O the pangs His soul sustained!
Shun not suff'ring, shame, or loss;
Learn of Him to bear the cross.
3 Calv'ry's mournful mountain climb
There' adoring at His feet,
Mark the miracle of time,
God's own sacrifice complete:
"It is finished!" Hear the cry;
Learn of Jesus Christ to die.
4 Early hasten to the tomb
Where they laid his breathless clay;
All is solitude and gloom;
Who hath taken Him away?
Christ is ris'n! He meets our eyes:
Savior, teach us so to rise.