Sunday of the Passion
It is appropriate that Samuel Ray Toler received the Sacrament of Holy Baptism this morning because it continues the baptismal theme that we have been emphasizing all during Lent. At our mid-week Lent services this year, the readings for the Vigil of Easter on Holy Saturday have served as the text for the homilies. Almost all of these have been classic baptismal texts because they involve water: the Creation account, the Flood, Israel passing through the Red Sea, and Jonah.
Baptism – both the baptism of Jesus and the baptism of the Christian – are directly tied to the Passion of Our Lord that we heard in our Gospel reading this morning and that we will be observing in the coming days of Holy Week. Jesus’ baptism began his journey to the passion. He was baptized by John and as he came up out of the water the Holy Spirit descended upon him like a dove, and God the Father said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
These words were drawn from Isaiah chapter 42 where God said, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him.” In this event Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit – he was designated as the Christ, the Messiah. In Nazareth Jesus later applied the words of Isaiah 61 to himself, “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives.”
Jesus was designated as the Christ. But he was designated as something else as well. He was identified as the Servant of the Lord – the One who would be the suffering Servant. By this event, God indicated that he was the one who would fulfill the words of Isaiah chapter 53: “But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” From the time of his baptism, Jesus’ entire ministry is on that is headed toward the passion.
Our Lord had told the disciples that this is what was going to happen. Three different times in Matthew’s Gospel he had predicted it. The third and final time had taken place just before he entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. He said, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.”
Jesus has been anointed by the Spirit as the suffering Servant. And in the beginning of the passion account we find that Jesus is again anointed. This time he is anointed with expensive perfumed ointment. When the disciples object about the waste in this action, Jesus replies, “In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial.”
Jesus has been anointed with the Spirit as the suffering Servant. Now he is anointed in preparation for burial because that is where this week is headed – it is headed toward a tomb.
On Maundy Thursday we will gather as the season Lent officially draws to a close. We will hear of how Jesus’ and his disciples gathered for a meal on the night when he was betrayed into death. As he prepares to give himself on the cross as the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world he will tell his disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” He tells us that his self-giving act of love prompts us to show this same love for one another.
And at that supper – the Last Supper with his disciples – Jesus Christ will not simply talk about love. He will institute the Sacrament whereby in a bodily form he gives us this love and forgiveness. He will use bread and wine in order to give them his true body and blood. And he will command them to continue to do this in the future – a command that we obey every time we celebrate the Sacrament of the Altar.
From the Last Supper Jesus and the disciples will go to the Garden of Gethsemane. Knowing what is ahead of him that night and the next morning our Lord will say, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” Three times then he will pray, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” He will be obedient to the will of the Father as he prepares to the drink the cup of wrath against our sin; as he is the suffering Servant for us. As Jesus had said during his ministry, “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Taken prisoner in the garden Jesus will be put on trial before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin, and before the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate. We will gather on Good Friday to hear of how Jesus is crucified between two criminals. As he hangs dying on the cross, the Jewish leaders will mock him as they say, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” These are words drenched in irony for in their unbelief they do not realize that Jesus saves us by staying on the cross; that he shows he is is God’s Son by remaining there until death.
He will hang on the cross for six hours – from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. At the end of that time he will cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He will drink the cup of God’s wrath against our sin down to its last bitter dregs as he dies. And then Joseph of Arimathea will bury him in a tomb cut into rock and close it by rolling a large stone over the entrance. At sundown on Friday night he and the women like Mary Magdalene will leave and return home because it is the start of the Sabbath – the day of rest.
On Saturday Jesus’ body will lie in the tomb. The women will remain at home that day. But we won’t. We will come to church on Holy Saturday for the Vigil of Easter. We will gather to hear those texts from the Old Testament which prefigure God’s salvation through baptism. On the day when Jesus was buried in the tomb will be remember St. Paul’s words: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
You were anointed with the Holy Spirit in baptism, just as Samuel was this morning. You were born again of water and the Spirit. And when you were baptized something else happened. Paul says that through baptism you shared in Christ’s saving passion. You died with him and were buried with him.
Yet there is more to it than that. Jesus Christ was crucified and buried. But he didn’t remain dead. On the third day he rose from the dead. That third day begins at sundown on Saturday. And so at the Vigil of Easter we will begin the first celebration of Jesus Christ’s resurrection. We will celebrate the fact that because of baptism we know we will also share in this resurrection. St. Paul went on to say about baptism, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
And then on Easter Sunday we will gather to hear the angel’s words at the empty tomb: “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said.” We will rejoice in the victory over sin and death that is ours because of Jesus Christ.
I probably say it every year: Four services in four days – that’s a lot of church. I know because those sermons don’t write themselves. But in the three days of the Triduum and in Easter Sunday we walk through the passion with Jesus. In those days we again hear about how much he loved us; about the forgiveness that he has won for us; about the future he has prepared for us. And those are thing we can never hear too much.