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April 5, 2020



Today is the “kick-off” for Holy Week, the greatest drama of all for Christians.  Starting with palm branches, decorations usually abound as we try to reenact what happened to our Lord Jesus Christ.  We try to not only hear the words, but in whatever best way we can, to feel the incredibly intense emotions that were felt by those who were there in the midst of the celebration with Jesus, which was short-lived, only to be followed by his incredible suffering and death.

A pastor friend of mine had planned a trip to Germany this summer where they put on probably the most realistic version of the Passion of Christ.  The one who plays Jesus actually has a hole in his hands made surgically so when he is on the cross, the nails literally go through his hands. Needless to say, this is high drama and seems almost real.

I fear the trip will not take place this year because there is an EVEN HIGHER REAL LIFE DRAMA going on, not just in Germany, but all over the world where there are people transitioning abruptly from a CELEBRATION of life to GREAT SUFFERING and even TRAGIC and UNDESERVED DEATH.  No one will have to have try hard to imagine what suffering might be like—we only have to turn on the TV or read the local paper.

As a Pastor, I usually work with my worship leaders and planners to try to CAPTURE THE ESSENCE OF HOLY WEEK.  Since I know that we will have a happy ending at Easter, I feel justified to help the congregation walk with Christ from the joy of Palm Sunday, to the gloom of His friends betrayal, his accusers false accusations, his “TRIAL BY MOB”, and his suffering and death like a common criminal.  When we slam that Bible on Good Friday, we want you to feel Jesus’ pain, as well as your own because your and my sin were a key part of why Jesus died in the first place.

Since we won’t be in the sanctuary, to walk with Christ once again in this year’s reenactments, one could say that this year’s worship will be more hollow than in the past.  But you and I know that we will not be less aware of the importance of Holy Week, with its passion and HIGH DRAMA.  

We, meaning collectively the whole human race, will be acutely aware how our celebrating of life can be taken away from us in an instant because of the Corona Virus.  I have to admit to you that even though I have already been given 67 years to experience life on Earth, I have felt the walls closing in on me at times in the last few weeks and months.  When I get to thinking too much about my mortality, I just have to go back to my Fricke family history. My father lost his mother at the age of 2, right after the 1918 worldwide epidemic and WWI.  My mother lost her brother on the Russian front during WWII. She lost her first child to SIDS. My grandmother died from diabetes. Most of the men in my dad’s family died young from heart attacks.  The point is that life can be taken away from us in the blink of an eye, when we are not expecting it. We are surrounded by reminders that we are MERE MORTALS, whether we like it or not. 

Some of the suffering and death in the world we help bring on ourselves, knowingly or unknowingly, and some of it just happens.  A couple of today’s Bible readings show what Jesus did to try to try to reverse the effects of sin and death.

The reading from Philippians reminded us that even though people wanted to crown Jesus a king, He actually saw himself as a SERVANT OF THE PEOPLE—OF US!  I am pretty sure that Jesus had calluses on both his knees and his hands, between being a carpenter with his earthly father, and constantly on his knees bending down to help individuals who needed special attention.  All the while, people still wanted to crown him THE KING OF THE EARTH so he could fix all the problems we earthlings have created. But, not only did Jesus not fix all our messes, Jesus lost his life because he preached a message of responsibility and healing, not a message that the powerful of Jesus’ time or any time like to hear.  Instead, Jesus suffered unjustly, and in our stead, like a common criminal—but there was nothing common about Jesus.

As strange as it may seem, Jesus was given the highest honor possible, not because he conquered all with his immense power or physical presence, but instead because he took the form of a servant and became obedient, even to the point of death, death on a cross.  The amazing thing is that when we kneel before God, we are kneeling right next to Jesus who showed us that there is no greater power than to give one’s life for another person.

This year, we will have no shortage of people who are showing us how to emulate our Servant King, Jesus.  All we have to do is turn on the TV or stop by our local hospital and see how many people are risking their lives to try to save the lives of as many people as they can.  Those FIRST RESPONDERS, whatever their race or gender or nationality or religious affiliation are acting in a CHRIST-LIKE MANNER.

As Christians, we believe that it is through the SAVING GRACE OF OUR LORD GIVING HIS LIFE FOR US ON THE CROSS that is our hope in the afterlife.  But I can tell you that during his ministry on earth, Jesus felt most like kin with people who were loving and serving others, even if it was not clear what faith they were from.  One thing we do know is that Jesus was less impressed by those who tried to put themselves on a higher moral platform by putting others down. All I can say is that I am so glad that its Jesus Christ who allowed himself to be put on a cross, suffered terribly, died for you and me, and who now offers us eternal life.

What I find to be the most amazing on this PALM/PASSION SUNDAY is two things, both of which are INCREDIBLY SOBERING.  The first is the BAD NEWS: I find it very disturbing how FICKLED people can be. When Jesus didn’t come riding on a mighty WAR HORSE and ride into Jerusalem like the powerful king people expected, garnering all the attention that many thought he deserved and they felt he should be shown, it is amazing how quickly even his closest allies turned on him.  Those of us who cut and put up the palm branches know that by the time we get to Friday’s crucifixion service, those palm branches will be all dried out, not fit to be kept as decorations.  

But I’ve wondered at times if we shouldn’t keep the dried up palm branches up through Friday to remind us that it is exactly in the midst of our fading faith that God keeps the faith for us.  I tell myself that certainly I would have spoken up for Jesus, and I would never have gone along with the crowd and I would never have done what Peter did.  

What I am thankful for on this Palm/Passion Sunday is that God has made it clear that however faithful or faithless any of us will be, Jesus Christ is always faithful to me, and to you.  What I am also thankful for is that in our modern-day Passion Play, there are so many people who have made a commitment to save lives instead of risking lives. We can be thankful together that Easter is coming and lives can be saved, and life can come in the midst of death.  You and I can say along with the Centurion, “Certainly, this man on the cross was the Son of God.”

And all of God’s children that Jesus Christ gave his life for said…AMEN!