Pray with me: (sung) “You’ve got to walk that lonesome valley. You’ve to walk it for yourself. Oh, nobody else can walk it for you. You’ve got to walk it for yourself.” Amen.
This is not a guilt trip, but let me ask you, “Are you innocent?”
Are you? Innocent? Are you? And, you? And you, there: are you innocent?
I’m sure you’ve heard it said that we listen to the story of the Passion of our Lord three times in Holy Week – Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday – so that we all may take our roles in the crucifixion of Jesus. After all, he died for our sins, didn’t he? Who among us is not sinful? Who among us is innocent?
I beg to differ. I don't / can't buy into that "I-am-a-worm-and-no-man-wretched-sinner" stuff from Calvin. That line of thinking follows the traditional Pauline theological position which holds fast to the idea that the Atonement was necessary because of the sin of Adam and Even in the Garden. I have a great deal of trouble with this position for a variety of reasons which we have discussed in the Lenten Study Program this year. This is not the place for that discussion, so I’ll just leave it at that for now.
We hear the story of the Passion of Jesus and we walk the steps of ‘The Way of the Cross’ not to take a guilt trip but rather to remember and never forget the liberation we enjoy in Christ Jesus who came to show us The Way.
We do this because our Christian tradition was built on our Jewish heritage, one of the cornerstone being that of anamnesis – remembering.
We put ourselves into the story, we reenact and relive the story, in order that we might take the story into our hearts and minds. Indeed, we live the story that it might live in us – in the fibers of our sinews, in the marrow of our bones, in the very stuff of our DNA.
We live the story so we will never forget. We live the story so that our children and our children’s children will live the story so that the story of The Passion of Jesus will never be forgotten.
Finally, we live the story so that the precious gift of our liberation in Christ Jesus will always be cherished.
So, let me ask the question again: Are you innocent?
Have you forgotten the lessons of the Passion of Jesus? Do you cherish the liberation you have in the divine gift of ‘free will’? Do you treasure the gift of grace, freely given and completely undeserved?
Jim Wallis, my favorite Evangelical (yes, I do like Evangelicals and I even have favorites), says that Jesus faced the four political options of his day.
One was collaborationist – to ‘go along to get ahead.’ That was the path Judas took.
One was pietist - the path taken by the religious leaders of the Sanhedrin who made a big show of their religion.
One was withdrawal – or that of Peter, who ran away when Jesus was arrested.
The last was that of political insurrection or revolutionary violence – the path taken by many in Jerusalem at that time, which made both the religious leaders and those in governmental power very, very nervous.
Jesus rejected them all. There was a fifth option - the option He took - called the Kingdom of God.
It is the path of the one who lives out their vocation and makes the sacrifices necessary to be authentic and have integrity. It is a very high calling, one which very few choose to take.
Having said all that, I’ll return now to my original question: Are you innocent?
Have you sacrificed what you believe on the altar of expediency?
Do you ‘go along to get ahead’?
Do you use your religion as an excuse not to use your intelligence?
Do you run from confrontation, avoiding it at all costs – even to the cost of your own soul?
Are you ‘the angry young man (or woman)’ of that popular song, ‘with your fist in the air and your head in the sand’?
If you are, then you are decidedly not innocent. You are as guilty as Judas. Or one of the members of the Sanhedrin. Or, Peter who ran away and denied Jesus three times. You are as guilty any one of the members of the angry crowd who shouted “Crucify him!”
You have a fifth option. It’s the one that Jesus took. It’s the option called the Realm of God.
It’s the option to choose the greatest good for the greatest number, even if it means the sacrifice of one. It’s the option to tell the truth, no matter how costly. It’s the courage to remain silent when the truth is too complicated and dangerous to tell. It’s the choice to live with integrity, even when compromise seems most expedient.
Are you innocent? This is not a guilt trip. It is a journey down, way down deep into your soul. It is an expedition only you, yourself, can make. Don’t miss out on the opportunity for this journey. It is, quite literally, the trip of a lifetime.
There’s still time to humble yourself and have your feet washed on Maundy Thursday. There’s still time to carry the cross on Good Friday.
The good news is that you won’t be alone. You will be with other pilgrims who will be searching to take the option of the Realm of God. It’s the journey of those who worship a Mystery whose real glory can be found in an empty tomb.
(Sung) “You must ask the Lord’s forgiveness. You got to ask it for yourself. Oh, nobody else can ask it for you. You got to ask it for yourself.”
Welcome to Holy Week. This is not a guilt trip.
This is a journey into your soul.