Thursday, March 26, 2015

Kill Him or Not?


On Sunday, like many congregations, we will celebrate the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem by waving palm branches and shouting, "Hosanna in the highest!" (Well, we probably won't shout, but we'll say it as firmly yet politely as Episcopalians can.) Then, we'll hear the entire passion narrative according to Mark, which means the anointing of Jesus' feet plus the preparation of the upper room plus the Last Supper plus the prayer in the garden plus the betrayal plus the trial plus the denial plus the torture and finally the execution. Yeah, it's not just Palm Sunday anymore. It's the full-on, we-don't-trust-people-to-come-to-church-on-Good-Friday story. (Steve Pankey has written about this before, and his words are still with me). All of that means that preachers are already trying to figure out what to say--whether anything at all needs to be said or even can be said--with so much else already going on.

So, today, I want to write about something completely different. Well, sort of different but still a little bit related.

Today's Old Testament reading from the Daily Office (Jeremiah 26:1-16) ends with a beautiful realization worth remembering as we approach Palm Sunday. In this lesson, the prophet decries the disobedience of God's people and calls them to repent. Essentially, he prophesies that the entire nation will be destroyed if they don't get their act together. Naturally, the people are upset about this, and they decide to kill Jeremiah, saying to him, "You shall die! Why have you prophesied in the name of the LORD, saying, 'This house shall be like Shiloh, and this city shall be desolate, without inhabitant'?" And, just before they kill him, Jeremiah says, "It is the LORD who sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the words you have heard...But as for me, here I am in your hands. Do with me as seems good and right to you. Only know for certain that if you put me to death, you will be bringing innocent blood upon yourselves and upon this city and its inhabitants, for in truth the LORD sent me to you to speak all these words in your ears."

Damn. I love that line. I love Jeremiah's boldness. I love that he knows so certainly that he is God's prophet that he looks his would-be murderers in the eyes and says, "Do it...I dare you!"

And sure enough, the people flinch. They look at each other and say, "This man does not deserve the sentence of death, for he has spoken to us in the name of the LORD our God." In other words, they say, "Well...maybe we shouldn't kill him after all. Maybe he is a prophet. Maybe he is speaking the truth."

On Sunday (and again on Friday), we face that moment ourselves. With the dramatic reading, we will put on the lips of the congregation the infamous line, "Crucify him!" as we all urge Pilate to have Jesus put to death. Jesus, of course, had come to speak God's word to God's people--prophecies that God's people didn't really want to hear. And, then, in the moment, when he looks us in the eye, what do we do? We carry through with our intent. We call upon the officials to kill the renegade prophet. We'd rather his blood be upon us and our children (you have to wait until Friday for that particular line, but you get the point).

When will we come to our senses? When will we flinch? When will we consider the consequences of our murderous intentions? Maybe that's a sermon for Easter Day.

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