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April 19, 2021

It’s an old story

It’s an old story. It would be hilarious if it weren’t so sad.

A young soldier fighting in Italy during World War II managed to jump into a foxhole just ahead of a spray of bullets. He immediately attempted to deepen the hole for more protection. As he was frantically scraping at the dirt with his hands, he unearthed a silver crucifix, obviously left by a previous occupant of the foxhole. A moment later, a leaping figure landed beside him as shells screamed overhead. The soldier turned to see that his new companion was an Army chaplain. Holding up the crucifix, the soldier cried, “Am I glad to see you! How do you work this thing?”

I suspect that is a pertinent question for many people when they come to the cross these days: “How do you work this thing?” We see crosses hung around people’s necks, adorning the walls of the homes of devout people, even worn as tattoos. 

The remedy to this ignorance? Let us come together, share our faith in Jesus Christ, and gain an understanding of this coming Holy Week, where everything we thought we knew is turned on its head.  Not a believer? We include you in this discussion. There’s something for us all to learn here.   

This weekend we celebrate Palm Sunday, the start of Holy Week, and it all centers on the cross. We begin with the excitement of waiving the palms as Jesus triumphantly enters Jerusalem, but quickly it becomes more serious with what we call the Passion—the events leading up to Jesus’ betrayal, torture, and death on the cross on Good Friday. Jesus did not die an easy death. And we don’t live easy lives, either. All this takes place before we even get to the resurrection on Easter, a week from Sunday. It’s tempting to jump straight into the Easter celebration, but if we do, we miss a key part of the story—the pain and suffering of Jesus and his followers.

If you haven’t read them, I recommend you open a bible and look at what happened. It is always difficult for us to witness the pain of Jesus’ suffering and betrayal. Why is that? I think it’s because we so often betray Jesus ourselves. Oh, we don’t mean to. But we get caught up in all the trappings, forgetting what the story of Holy Week and the Passion is all about.

Or to put it another way, we must pass through the darkness, to come to the light.  

I believe that this understanding helps us as we grieve the lives lost in the recent mass shootings in our country, including the 10 in Boulder, Colorado last Monday, and the eight (including six Asian women) less than a week before at spas near Atlanta, Georgia.  

I cannot get my head around this violence, can you?  We mourn and pray for all the victims, not just those killed. We mourn and pray for everyone impacted—including all of us. And certainly, passing through the darkness in this time of Covid-19 makes it all even worse. Have mercy on us Lord.    

Bottom line? We need to support and love one another now more than ever.   

How does Holy Week and the Passion come in? Thinking about Jesus’ torture and death on a cross is not easy, and neither are these tragedies. Jesus’s passion is precisely where suffering, injustice, pain, death, righteousness, sin, salvation, goodness, and evil meet.  

As one preacher puts it, the Passion of Jesus is where we meet God. God’s plan is not that we suffer, but that we love God. God’s plan is not that we die, but that we live beyond death. God’s plan is not that we seek ourselves, but that we seek God. God has shown this by going to the very deepest pit before we ourselves go there.

Thank God. And see you in church.

Rev. Robin Mathews-Johnson has been the pastor of Watsonville First United Methodist Church since the last century. Weekly Online Gatherings are linked to their website: watsonville1stumc.org. Contact her at (831) 724-4434, or [email protected] 

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