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A Sermon for Passion Sunday

Dr. David Smith

St. George's Anglican Church, Prince Albert Saskatchewan

March 13, 2005


On Passion Sunday, the Sunday before Holy Week begins, the Scripture readings help us to understand the meaning of Christ's death on the Cross.  We need to know something of the "why" of the Passion if we want to respond to it as we should.  As we seek to understand why, I suppose the place we must begin is with God's love.  "For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that all that believe in Him should not die but have eternal life."  The passion and death of Christ comes from God's love.

What does love do?  There's a word which expresses it very well, although it is a word we usually use in a negative sense.  It is the word "condescend."  We don't like someone who "condescends" to us.  But the word means "to descend with" or  "to go down with" and in that sense it expresses the activity of love.  Love "goes down with" the person loved in order to be with them and bring them up with it.

A church had a Sunday evening outreach program for teens and they were attracting some teens who had never had anything to do with church before.  Eventually some of the teens started to come to the Sunday morning service.  The evening service was very informal - in fact they used to
sit on the floor at the front of the church rather than in the pews.  So a teen arrived one Sunday morning, perhaps with a few pieces of jewelry in parts of him that most older people wouldn't be expecting, and sat down in front of the pews on the floor.  As he sat there, not thinking anything about the reaction he might be causing, an older member of the church came up the aisle and headed toward him.  "Oh no," people thought, "old Mr. so and so will never understand, and he'll tell off the teen, and he won't understand, and this is all very unfortunate."  Instead, the old parishioner lowered himself onto the floor beside the teen and sat there with him.  Everyone in the church was very moved, except the teen, who didn't think anything out of the ordinary was happening!

That is what love does, it goes down with someone, to be with them and lift them up with it.  People often assume that love like this, which takes on the other's point of view and shares it with them, always results in complete acceptance.  For many years parents have been encouraged to
practice this sort of love with their children.  Where we might be tempted to enforce the proper standards strictly, and not put up with wayward behaviour in our children, we try to see things from their point of view.  They are not adults in little bodies.  What seem to us to be obvious rules of behaviour are not yet obvious to them.  My children are still learning to cope with the concept that while I can speak strictly with them and insist they do certain things, they can't do the same thing back to me.  On such occasions I say to them, "I am the daddy, and you are the little girl.  You have to listen to me."  They seem to need to hear that that's the way things are.

But we try to remember that you can't put an old head on young shoulders, that children don't come at life with a rule book clearly printed in their minds, but they have to learn things by trial and error, and gradually, through discipline.  So love "goes down with them" and tries to share their point of view, to impose what is reasonable on them and not simply enforce strict rules.

Does this mean though that if we do make the effort to share their view we will have a peaceful and harmonious time with them as parents?  I don't think so.  Because if we go down and try to see things their way, we will see even more clearly that sometimes they are selfish and willful and
rebellious.  Sometimes love means dealing with these things even when we would rather not.  Parents have been told for many years that they have to remember that children are children and not to expect too much.  But perhaps parents nowadays have to remind themselves not to be easy on their children but to make sure that they deal with the unpleasant things they find when they
share their childrens' worlds.  The Catholic priest in Spiritwood used to say that parents nowadays wanted to be their childrens' friends, but that the children needed parents and not

If it takes love to give up your adult expectations and remember that children are children,  it also takes love to face up to your childrens' bad habits and patiently try to deal with them.  To accept these without doing anything to correct them is not love.  The parents who let their children be selfish and willful are not loving them.  They are not "going down with them" to their own level, because if they were they would see how serious these faults are and what they will lead to.

And so love, when it teaches us to go to where other people are and share their world and treat them accordingly, does not simply mean acceptance.  In our world today, acceptance and tolerance are often an excuse for lack of love.  People are not willing to really see the wrong that
is there in others around them because they don't want to judge.  But not judging does not mean not seeing.  And when we see others acting wrongly and in ways which hurt others and themselves, then love tries to do something about it.  Martin Luther once said that mankind was like a drunk trying to get on a horse.  We keep falling over onto the other side.  We live reacting
against a time that was perhaps too strict and not understanding enough, when our own time is far too tolerant and doesn't use nearly enough judgement.

This isn't love, it is well-meaning blindness.  We are told that before we judge a man we should walk a mile in his shoes, and this is very true.  But what do we do if we have walked a mile in his shoes and find that he has an unfortunate disposition to harm others and himself?  Do we just accept him as he is?  For that matter what do we do when we find these impulses in ourselves.  Love "goes down with" the person loved in order to be with them and bring them up with it.  It may mean confronting  what is wrong, and if that is done in love it is a costly business.

All this leads us to think about the passion and death of Jesus.  In Jesus God was coming down with us and sharing our lives with us in order to bring us up with him.  When Jesus was on earth he brought out the good that was in many people that others didn't consider good.  He saw the good in tax collectors and the poor and in people who weren't Jews.  But he also saw the bad in us as he lived among us.  And being love, he didn't just accept that and tolerate it and turn a blind eye to it.  He did something about it and that something was very costly.

We find it hard to grasp how seriously the Bible takes our sin, but Jesus saw it all too clearly.  The teaching of the Bible came out very clearly in our study on the Old Testament the other day.   In the book of Exodus, God says about Moses:  "If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make
myself known to him in a vision;  I speak with him in a dream.  Not so with my servant Moses.  he is faithful in all my house.  With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the Lord."  The Bible says Moses was "very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth."  So Moses was very close to God, and Moses bore a great deal for his people.  We read how the people were complaining because there was no water for them to drink.  And the Lord said to Moses:  "Take the staff and assemble the congregation, you and
Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water  So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle."  "Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, "Hear now, you
rebels, shall we bring water for you out of this rock?  And Moses lifted up his staff and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock."

Moses seems to have added something here to what the Lord said.  He seems to have added a little personal anger of his own and a little of his own authority, over and against the authority of God.  It seems very forgiveable when we think about all that Moses went through with his people.  But the consequences of this "small" transgression were severe:  "And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, 'Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them."

Moses and Aaron were not allowed to enter into the promised land because of this one small, all too human offense.   After leading the people through the wilderness for forty years, after being faithful to the Lord all that time, Moses was not going to see the land he was leading them to.   This was the man who was "very meek, more than all the people on the face of the earth."  It reminds me of the saying of Theresa of Avila when she had been having a hard time in the Lord's service and she complained to him, "why are you treating me this way when I am trying to serve you."   And the Lord said, "I treat all my friends this way."  And Theresa shot back, "That's
why you have so few of them"!

The point is that the more God draws close to us and shares our lives and loves us, the more he deals with our lack of faith and our selfishness and our rebellion.  God loved Moses very much and yet he found in his heart something that needed to be driven out so badly that he was incredibly severe with him in order to drive it out.  God's love leads him to deal with what is wrong with us, but he deals with it in a loving and costly way.

That is where we come to the passion and death of Jesus.  When God came down to us, to share our lives, he loved us but he did not turn a blind eye to our sins.  Instead, he dealt with them, by allowing the weight of sin to come down on himself.  He bore the cost of our sins by being rejected, by suffering, and by dying.

As we go through Holy Week, on our journey to Easter, let us take to heart the love of God that we see in the events of the passion.  Let us try to learn a little more about the love that came down with us and shared our lives so that he could take us up with him.  Let us receive that love, and let it remake our hearts.