What we’ve called Jesus’ trial is coming to a close, although it’s been more like an interrogation. Pilate can’t seem to find anything that Jesus has done wrong, and he keeps going back to the religious leaders trying to figure out what their plan is, and what they think his plan should be. The religious leaders keep giving reasons and searching for reasons for why Jesus should even be before Pilate and why Jesus should be killed. 1st it was because they said Jesus called himself king over the emperor and then it was because they said Jesus called himself the Son of God, And whether or not they have found the theological truth by accident these weren’t things that Jesus had said about himself.
It kind of reminded me of the confirmation hearings for Ketanji Brown Jackson. Regardless of how you feel or your politics around the issue of the Supreme Court, it did start to seem like, perhaps, these people who had voted for her to be a judge at other times were just looking for a reason not to vote for her this time. Because it wasn’t legal to ask her what her religious beliefs are in the job interview And yet there was that question. And sometimes it feels to me in interviews and politics are the art of asking enough questions to wait for someone to screw up and then use that against them.
I kind of think that’s what was happening during this interrogation of Jesus. The Religious leaders and Pilate kept asking questions of Jesus hoping to get him to say something that would justify the things that they were already planning to do. And Jesus didn’t really give them anything because he didn’t really answer, except talking in riddles that only the people who spent a lot of time with him would only understand long after all things were over.
Last week we looked at Pilate, and how the historical person that was Pilate was not at all a good person, mostly he was a terrible person. Pilate would not be opposed to killing others if it were to save himself. It’s possible that the Religious leaders had backed Pilate into a corner, that he either had to continue with this plan or they were going to go over his head, get him killed, but doesn’t really seem like he would have cared one way or another at the death of any person standing before him.
And let’s remember that the gospel writers are intentional, are smart, are rooted in the Torah, the prophets, and the traditions of Judaism. This writer of this Gospel made different choices than the other three, primarily making THIS day the day of preparation, making it clear that this was the day of Preparation for the Passover festival. When Pilate sent Jesus out to be executed, it was on a flat, stone area, the courtyard, at the same time the Lamb would be killed and prepared for the festival.
So, there’s this movie, The Princess Bride, and I don’t want to spoil anything but Vizzini kept using the word “Inconceivable” for all the things that happen that he didn’t expect and Indigo Montoya looks at him and says “you keep using that word I do not think it means what you think it means.” I wonder if that is what happens when we think about Passover. Toward the beginning of this Gospel, John the Baptist said “behold the lamb who takes away the sin of the world.” Sin, singular and not plural, the sin of the world.
And I think we have taken this understanding of the lamb and sin and applied to Passover. Sometimes, I do not think it means what we think it means.
To be fair, I don’t have a comprehensive understanding of Passover interpretations, so, we’ll just a take a moment and look at the story
We find in the story in the book of Exodus that the Hebrew people who would become the Jews become so numerous while living in Egypt that the leaders of Egypt became fearful that they would rebel and The Egyptian leaders would lose their power and so They enslave the Hebrew people and for hundreds of years According to the writing the Hebrew people built the cities of Egypt. The story goes that God heard the Hebrew people crying out in their captivity and bound and sent Moses to facilitate and organize their liberation. Of course, the Egyptians were not terribly interested in having their slaves leave and so God of Moses had to prove that God was more powerful than the Gods of the Egyptians.
There were plagues and they don’t end until the death of the firstborn throughout Egypt. Now the angel of death who was to enact this gruesome plague needed a sign to tell which homes housed the Hebrew people and which ones housed Egyptians. And so the Hebrew people were instructed by God to take the blood of a yearling lamb and paint it on their doorposts, marking their homes and everyone inside as a follower of the God of Moses and Abraham and Sarah and thus keeping them safe. At the end of this plague, the Pharaoh was no longer interested in having the Hebrew people in his land anymore.
When they received the laws of who they were going to live in the community and with each other and in relationship with God, the feast of Passover was placed at the center of their traditions. The feast, the ritual, and the sacrifice of Passover commemorate this. This, when those marked for death were given life. This, when those who are enslaved were set free. This, when in the face of all the might the powerful could put together there is liberation. This is a nobody group of people who are invited to enter into relationships and are named God’s people. Passover marks the beginning of the relationship between the Hebrew people who would become the Jewish people and their God. At that first Passover, we learned how powerful and mighty God is and gave the people a place and a name, showed them how who they were and how they were going to follow God in this world.
Throughout this gospel, the writer had a very clear idea what it meant to sin. It is singular and it is specific. It is about relationship and abiding. Sin is not being in relationship with God, revealed in Jesus. Sin is not abiding in the word made flesh. It is not a moral failing, it is not a statement of one’s value or worth. It is about the relationship with the one who liberates the oppressed, who claims the nobodies and outsiders and names them beloved.
Jesus is the Passover lamb, brought to the time and place of preparation for salvation, but we aren’t saved from the things we have done wrong, we are saved for relationship. We are liberated from the systems that bring death and destruction and welcomed into relationship of life and life abundant. Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we are redeemed and liberated and set free from those things that keep us separated from God and from one another.
And what’s wild about our story, in the midst of this celebration of Passover, this celebration of liberation, of the God who is not overwhelmed by the powers of this world, who liberations and calls everyone into relationship, in this time of preparation, the religious leaders declare who they are following and to whom they belong, That they have no king but Caesar. At a time when they are to be declaring and remembering the God who has claimed them and set them free, they claimed a different king. A king who brings death instead of life, oppression instead of liberation,
And standing before them is Jesus, who reminds them of the call on their lives to abide in the God who had already set them free, and called them children of God and Beloved.
I think sometimes it almost sounds too good to be true, to be true, the creator of the universe and that the Word made flesh has already claimed you and set you free. That you are always being called back into relationship with the one who loves you and names you beloved. That you are forgiven of whatever has separated you from God and what you have done that has damaged relationships with those around you are those places where you hold on to unforgiveness Whether against yourself or others. Honestly, I think especially ourselves. The greater sin is not abiding in God and not loving the things that God loves.
I think part of what Lent is choosing again and setting right. The tradition of fasting from something for 6 weeks is not meant to help us get over what we might consider an addiction–be it sugar or alcohol or phones. Fasting is there to focus us, to have us choose once more, again, like we do every year, or every day, who we are and who’s we are. It is to choose again in what and who we will abide. Do we choose the powers and the systems of this world or do we choose to follow the God who calls us and calls us beloved? And every time Lent rolls around we again, every year, we are invited again to focus and to set right our direction and we answer again who is our king and in whom will be abide.
And we live into the grace and love and abundance that comes from that relationship, from abiding. We live into relationship with that which God loves. We commit to loving ourselves, loving our neighbors. We commit to being a part of a community that is committed to your growth and well-being–kinda like a church, and you commit to the growth and well-being of others. We live the grace that has been given to us and we seek to reconcile relationships (if it is safe for you to do so) through honesty and forgiveness and time. Lent is meant to give us time to re-set how we live love in the world.
And we remind ourselves of this when we come to the table. Every time we come to the table we retell the story of the God who sets us free from the things that bind us and oppress us that bring death, the God that sets us free for abundant life and living. When we come to this table we are reminded that we are always welcomed back into relationship, that the invitation is always open, that when we don’t live are fully into the relationship with God as we might like, and when we don’t live into the relationship with each other as fully as we might like, as we might be called into, we are always given grace, forgiveness and welcome. You are still invited to abide and still called Beloved.