Mark 11:7-10 & 15:25-27, 33-39
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
March 24, 2024 – Palm/Passion Sunday

A woman named Becky Greer has suffered a parent’s worst nightmare.  She has in fact lost all four of her children: one by leukemia, one by suicide, and two by the hand of the one who took his life.

Yet, she bears grateful witness to how God gave her the fortifying comfort of His presence and enabled her to make it through the long anguish of an overwhelming grief.

The Mothers’ Day after Becky lost her first child, her then nine-year-old daughter Kami bought her a beautiful potted Stargazer lily.  Kami told her mother that the florist swore that if, after the lily died in the Fall, they planted it outside, it would come back to life the next Spring.  Becky couldn’t see that happening and ignored the lily while it slowly faded and shriveled.  But Kami reminded her mother again and again of the florist’s promise, and urged her to plant the lily.  Though Becky, in her certainty it wouldn’t return to life, kept putting Kami off, Kami remained persistent and insistent until Mom finally gave in.  That Fall they “buried” the dead lily in the backyard; and that Winter, Becky felt buried in a bleak bereavement from which she thought she’d never emerge.

But in March, to her surprise, the lily sprang back to life.  It sprouted, grew and produced 27 fragrant pink blossoms.  The sight of that resurrection caused Becky’s heavy heart to feel uplifted in a way she thought she’d never feel again.  For just as she believed the lily wouldn’t survive the darkness of winter, she believed she would not survive the darkness of her grief.

With those blooms reintroducing her to joy and hope, she began to see her life differently.  She saw that God had been with her every second of her long walk down the valley of the shadow of death; and that, even when she couldn’t sense His presence, He was there working on her soul.  Her inability to muster any faith to speak of hadn’t kept God from being very attentive and very good to her.  Even in her doubt and despair, God was healing her and building into her conviction, character and courage, so that even on that fateful, fatal January day when she lost three children at once, His presence held her up and infused her heart of sorrow with peace and trust.

Holy Week for Jesus began with the glorification of public acclamation at a parade.  But the Palm Sunday superstar seemingly destined for enthronement soon became the Good Friday disappointment destined for execution.  Jesus called this nightmare turn of events culminating in His Calvary anguish, His glorification!

As a means of execution, crucifixion was as excruciating a torture as ever devised.  Yet the Gospels speak sparingly of Jesus’ physical suffering.  For Jesus was enduring a far more horrendous pain.  We hear it in the only words Mark’s Gospel quotes Him saying from the cross:  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

In reflecting on those words, Pastor Tim Keller noted that if a church member told him, “I’m cutting you off.  I never want to see you or talk with you again”, he’d be deeply hurt; but if his wife told him that, he’d be devastated.  It would be massively more painful.  For the deeper and longer the love, the greater is the pain in its loss.  Think then how infinitely more painful was the loss for Jesus when God the Father forsook Him and cut Him off at Golgotha.  The two of them had loved each other with unrestrained abandon from eternity.  By His Father’s forsaking Him, Jesus the Maker of the world must have been unmade.  The desolation and devastation the Father’s desertion caused Him must have plunged Him into unimaginable anguish!

We can’t know the depths of it, but we can know the reason for it:  Jesus chose to be forsaken so that we wouldn’t be, chose to let the judgment fall on Him that should have fallen on us, chose to absorb into Himself all the sin, guilt and shame of our broken human race.  He took responsibility for everything so that nothing need be held against us.  He paid in full the penalty we had incurred, and took our place in taking the just punishment for every vile, revolting evil ever committed.  He endured the appalling nightmare of hell to give us the beautiful dream of heaven.

The Apostle Paul once said that Jesus’ passion and resurrection “swallowed” up death and all evil.  To illustrate what that means, Tim Keller shared a nightmare he once had.  It was so horrifying and ghastly that he could never bring himself to describe details; but he did say that, in it, his entire family was brutally slaughtered.  When he awoke, he thought the nightmare was real. So he jumped out of bed to look in each bedroom.  To his overjoyed relief, everyone was alive and sleeping peacefully.  Because in his mind he had lost them but then gotten them back, he burst into uncontrollable tears of ecstatic gratitude.  The happiness of that moment reverberated profoundly in his soul that, he says, it elevated his delight in those he cherished and intensified his appreciation of their being with him in life – and to such an extent that, over the years, it never diminished.

So, if our story does not end with our incurring a debt we can’t pay without being destroyed ourselves, and if Jesus’ story does not end with His being destroyed by paying our debt, we can have hope that everything awful and painful, shameful and deplorable, will be swallowed up in His great grace, and that life altogether will be raised up in a magnificent transformation.

The crucifixion was indeed the glorification of Jesus.  It put on display the glory of His righteousness as He met the demands of justice to deliver us from damnation, the glory of His power as He defeated the forces of evil and sin and death, and the glory of His love as He suffered unimaginable anguish to open the way for us to have an unimaginable happiness we don’t deserve.

Let us glorify the One glorified at Golgotha, this Palm/Passion Sunday and forever!

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