Here we go again. Lent is almost here. A couple more days and we’re there. The color changes to purple – the color of repentance. The alleluia’s go away. Eventually the Gloria Patri “Glory be to the Father” will go as well. Of course, for Ash Wednesday it’s black – the color of death. Things are about to change. We’re go through the valley of the shadow of death, ending once again at the cross.
Jesus knows what’s coming. He’s on his way to Jerusalem. He’s been traveling since chapter 9, and now it’s chapter 18. They’re close. He tells them what’s about to happen. And, short of presenting them with a minute by minute account, he couldn’t be clearer.
“He will be delivered over to the Gentiles, and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon, And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” But they don’t get it. Now, that’s not really a surprise. Jesus is more popular than ever. The crowds that follow him are massive, and he’s predicting that it’s all about to end very abruptly. It seems like nothing can stop them. After all, he has the power to heal, to control the wind and the waves. He teaches like no one ever has. How can it all end in one short week? The disciples don’t understand, because it’s too unbelievable. Jesus dying? He heals, he brings back from death. That’s not a man who dies. And the disciples know something else – he is not just a prophet. He is the Son of God. God is the author of life. Death shudders at the very thought of him. It must be a parable of some sort, and when the time comes, he’ll tell them what it means.
Of course, that’s not how it happens. Jesus is speaking plainly. He will be killed, and on the third day, he will be raised from the dead. But that’s so unbelievable, that even now, 2000 years after it happened, the world crows about how it simply could not have. Every year during Lent – watch for it this year – there will be some story, some discovery, some sort of book or movie, that claims to debunk the whole Jesus thing. The last few years have seen the Judas Gospel – newsworthy a mere two decades after it was first found – the Jesus marriage fragment – splashed across the news before Easter, and then later quietly admitted to be a fraud sometime near Pentecost. The world can not accept it.
And as much as our spirit is willing, as much as our new man, given in Holy Baptism, may try to believe and live according to God’s word, our flesh is weak, our Old Adam will not be so easily overcome. Our sinful flesh is not only in the world, it is of the world. And so we struggle to believe as well. The disciples believed that Jesus was the Son of God, promised of old, and now come to save them from their sins. They just had trouble with how that was going to happen. Because it’s a tough one. The whole, “God shamefully hanging on the cross, at the mercy of death.” Is a hard one. God is powerful, majestic, glorious, exalted, lifted up, he is not beaten, spit upon, bloodied and dying. And yet, Jesus is lifted up. If you want to see the glory of God, look on at the head crowned with thorns, the side gaping with a wound, the blood poured into the ground. Look there and see your God lifted up. See the glory in that. Because that’s all the glory you get in this world. If you would follow Jesus, you must take up your cross daily and follow him. If you would live the life of Jesus, it is the life of the cross.
It is not he life of the crowds, and the palm branches waving, and the healing of the sick and the raising of the dead. But that can’t be, can it? I mean there has to be some healing of the sick. That’s what happens right after Jesus predicts his death. A blind man. “Jesus, Son of David” His royal title – “have mercy on me.” He is given his sight. The people praise God. This is a glorious moment. It is also the last miracle recorded in Luke before Jesus arrest. The life of the Baptized is the life of the cross. Daily dying to sin and rising again to a new life in Christ. Putting away the old Adam with all his sins and lusts. And living the new life of the Spirit. A life of humility, of obedience, of faith toward God and love toward others.
Jesus prediction is timely, appropriate, and a good reminder to us of whose we are, and what that means.
Because yes, it means a life of the cross. But it means a life. The world doesn’t do things according to the pattern of death and life, it does things according to the pattern of life and death. Death comes at the end, and then life is over for the world. For the Christian, death comes early, and it is followed by life. The church has often decried the culture of death. But how can the world be anything else. Death is always how it ends. And if death is the final enemy we must face, an enemy we can not beat, then at least we can try to control the timing, the means, the circumstances.
And so, we have mothers killing their children, the terminally ill calling for death early. And everything is turned on it’s head. The dignity God gives is the dignity of human life. The world perverts that and tries to speak of Death with dignity. But there is no dignity in death. Death is an indignity. That is why the disciples can not believe that God must suffer it. And yet, Jesus, going to his death willingly, and without sin, destroys the power of death. Humanity tries to destroy it’s power, but only manages to delay it. Death still comes. And for the world, that’s the end of things. There is nothing more after that. Immortality can only be achieved by those who remember and talk about you. Which means, when they stop doing that, you are really dead.
For the church, death in this world is nothing, because we have already died to sin, and been made alive in Christ. Death is but the gate to life immortal.
This past week, there were two commemorations that show how this is true. On Thursday February 12, the world commemorated Darwin’s birthday. Then, yesterday, the world remembered Saint Valentine. Now, the remembrance of Valentine is skewed to say the least, but then so is the birth of Christ. That’s not the point. Let it be a day of romance and flowers and happiness. Nothing wrong with that. And, historically, there is some confusion about the real Saint Valentine and how his day came to be a day of hearts and roses. But we do know a man named Valentine died for Christ at the hands of the emperor. He tried to witness to the emperor of the hope that was his in Jesus Christ. He was killed for his trouble, and so witnessed to the world with his blood.
The world commemorates Darwin, whose great achievement was to try and give meaning to death without God. But it commemorates the birth of a man who is dead. The church commemorates Saint Valentine. We celebrate the day of death of a man who is alive. The Emperor was able to shed Valentine’s blood, he was able to kill him, but he was not able to harm him. The Saints are more alive than we, for they are in the presence of Christ, awaiting the resurrection. We join them, insofar as we are alive in Christ by virtue of our Baptism. By virtue of the life Jesus has given us. For in his death, he did not simply die and go away. He died, but rose again. And now death has no power over him. And, having been joined to his death in Holy Baptism, death has no power over you, either.
In Jesus Name.