Then they all shouted out together, “Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas for us!” (This was a man who had been put in prison for an insurrection that had taken place in the city, and for murder.) Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again; but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” A third time he said to them, “Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no ground for the sentence of death; I will therefore have him flogged and then release him.” But they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified; and their voices prevailed. So Pilate gave his verdict that their demand should be granted. He released the man they asked for, the one who had been put in prison for insurrection and murder, and he handed Jesus over as they wished. (Luke 23:18-25)
In the liturgy for Palm Sunday, it is the role of the congregation to shout “Crucify, crucify him!” as the crowd during the dramatic reading of the Passion. I have never gotten over that experience. It is a powerful reminder that, at the end of the day, it is we who have crucified our Lord—we who, out of sin, have refused to answer God’s love in kind and have crucified it on the cross of our selfishness. There is something about the liturgical enactment of the Passion narrative that blends together the two stories with which we’ve been concerned this Lent: the first, historical narrative of the last days of Jesus of Nazareth, tried and convicted political criminal; and the second, theological narrative of the extraordinary means by which God was reconciling the world to Godself (2 Cor. 5:19) in and through those very historical events. In order fully to appreciate the second narrative, there comes a point when one has to read oneself into the story. When we do so, we may not like the characters we find ourselves playing.
Let us pray: Mercifully hear our prayers, O Lord, and spare all those who confess their sins to you; that those whose consciences are accuse by sin may by your merciful pardon be absolved; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Rest: Consider that, when the crowd demands Jesus’ death, God is mysteriously working in and through their very hatred to accomplish the means of their forgiveness and restoration: the cross. As St. Paul puts it in his Letter to the Romans, “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” Today, as you take your sabbath, be awed by the fact God didn’t wait on us to get our act together to forgive and restore us, but took matters into God’s own hands. Thanks be to God.