Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Tuesday in Holy Week

Today is Tuesday in Holy Week as we prepare to observe our Lord’s death and resurrection for us.  The season of Lent will conclude on Maundy Thursday as the Triduum begins – the one service that runs over the course of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday.  On Tuesday in Holy Week, the Gospel reading is the Passion of Our Lord according to St. Mark (Mark 14:1-15:47).

Scripture reading:
            It was now two days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth and kill him, for they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar from the people.”
            And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”
            Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. And when they heard it, they were glad and promised to give him money. And he sought an opportunity to betray him.
            And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, his disciples said to him, “Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?” And he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us.” And the disciples set out and went to the city and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.
            And when it was evening, he came with the twelve. And as they were reclining at table and eating, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” They began to be sorrowful and to say to him one after another, “Is it I?” He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the dish with me. For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”
            And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”
            And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same.
            And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy, and they did not know what to answer him. And he came the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”
            And immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man. Seize him and lead him away under guard.” And when he came, he went up to him at once and said, “Rabbi!” And he kissed him. And they laid hands on him and seized him. But one of those who stood by drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. And Jesus said to them, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But let the Scriptures be fulfilled.” And they all left him and fled.
            And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.
            And they led Jesus to the high priest. And all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes came together. And Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. And he was sitting with the guards and warming himself at the fire. Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death, but they found none. For many bore false witness against him, but their testimony did not agree. And some stood up and bore false witness against him, saying, “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’” Yet even about this their testimony did not agree. And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death. And some began to spit on him and to cover his face and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” And the guards received him with blows.
            And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.
            And as soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. And they bound Jesus and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate. And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” And the chief priests accused him of many things. And Pilate again asked him, “Have you no answer to make? See how many charges they bring against you.” But Jesus made no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed.
            Now at the feast he used to release for them one prisoner for whom they asked. And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas. And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he usually did for them. And he answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead. And Pilate again said to them, “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” And they cried out again, “Crucify him.” And Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him.” So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.
            And the soldiers led him away inside the palace (that is, the governor's headquarters), and they called together the whole battalion. And they clothed him in a purple cloak, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on him. And they began to salute him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they were striking his head with a reed and spitting on him and kneeling down in homage to him. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him.
            And they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross. And they brought him to the place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull). And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take. And it was the third hour when they crucified him. And the inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left. And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!” So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also reviled him.
            And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”
            There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. When he was in Galilee, they followed him and ministered to him, and there were also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem.
            And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph. And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.

(Mark 14:1-15:47)

Collect of the Day:
Almighty and Everlasting God, grant us by Your grace so to pass through this holy time of our Lord’s passion that we may obtain the forgiveness of sins; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Mark's thoughts: This is what it will look like when hate speech legislation comes to your pulpit

I entered Concordia Seminary, St. Louis in the fall of the 1994-1995 school year in order to study to be a Lutheran pastor.  The previous year, President Bill Clinton had signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  It was a law that had received almost unanimous support in Congress.

I don’t remember thinking all that much about it at the time.  Frankly, there wasn’t much reason that I would have. The protection of the freedom of religion was such a “no-brainer” that almost no one opposed it.  It was an established constitutional right that Americans cherished.

At the end of that school year in 1995, I could not have imagined that twenty years later the events surrounding the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) would be taking place.  There is no need to rehearse here the facts that: 1) it is nothing new and similar laws exist in other states; 2) that it simply provides the mechanism under which people can argue that the government is improperly requiring them to violate their religion; 3) and that it is easy to demonstrate how such laws have aided a whole range of religious beliefs.  Others have done this much better than I can.

What I wish to comment upon is the response that the law has received in the culture.  There, at best, the law is only being described as a “potential means for discrimination against gays.”  More often it is described in ways that are simply false and cast it in the worst possible light.  Businesses are threatening or even taking action to punish the state of Indiana because of the law.

What is striking, and what I could not have imagined twenty years ago, is the manner in which “gay rights” and “discrimination” are controlling the discussion.  Because the law raises the possibility that a person in a specific situation may be able to defend the right not to provide a service to a homosexual individual, the law is declared to be discriminatory.  Underlying this is the belief that there is no situation in which religious belief justifies refusal to service a homosexual individual.  The rights of the homosexual individual trump religious belief every time.

I could not have foreseen this would happen, because I never could have imagined how far and fast the acceptance of homosexuality would progress in our culture.  “Gay marriage” is now the law of my state and many others.  Depending on what the Supreme Court does in the near future, it may soon be the law in every state.  Shaped by the education, entertainment, and media institutions, year by year the belief grows that homosexuality is acceptable, normal and even a good thing.  What is not acceptable, not normal and a bad thing is the belief that homosexuality is wrong.

I very much appreciate the work of those who are making the case for religious freedom.  However, I do not think it is going to prevail.  There is no argument that can sway the person who believes that the homosexual individual never can be refused.  The massive response by the culture that wields media and business as weapons will not allow itself to be defeated. They have the momentum and they are not going to allow anything move in the opposite direction, no matter how small.

Where there used to be freedom of religion, now those who support “gay rights” speak of “freedom of worship.”  The fall back position of the Church in the United States is that we still have the freedom to preach, teach and practice as we wish.  We are assured that we will never be forced to perform homosexual marriages.

The question is how long this will continue.  Those in the homosexual movement are very smart, very motivated and very well funded.  Step by step they have claimed ground. First they said that they just wanted to be “accepted.” Then they said that they wanted to be able to raise children.  Now they are claiming marriage for themselves.  What will be next? 

Christianity and the homosexual movement hold diametrically opposed worldviews.  As a Christian, I believe that homosexuality is a sin, and move on.  It saddens me to see people trapped in sin, but it doesn’t impact me personally.  For many in the homosexual movement, the Church’s position is a personal affront. The very existence of the Church’s view presents an existential attack on their identity and the self-perception of their existence. 

There is nothing about the history of the homosexual movement that indicates they are going to stop until the antithetical view of the Church is exterminated from public discourse everywhere.  The tool for doing this will be “hate speech legislation” that applies to all including the Church.  This can already be found in Europe and Canada.

Twenty years ago I could not have imagined what is happening today.  I want to believe that freedom of religion is so woven into the American psyche that this scenario can never take place.  But if it happens, what we are seeing this week is what it will look like.  When enough people believe that the biblical view of homosexuality is bigoted, hateful and harmful, arguments about the historical position of religious freedom will count for nothing.

Will that happen?  How long will it take for this to happen?  I don’t know.  I do know that my eighth grade son attends a Roman Catholic school, and when he speaks for the biblical view he finds himself alone - opposed by a large majority in class discussions.  For anyone who has eyes to see and ears to hear, the movement of our culture is clear.  While we should work for the best, we should also be realistic and prepare ourselves for the worst.

I write this on Monday in Holy Week.  It is widely recognized that the Gospel of Matthew makes a great pivot at 16:21 which says, “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (ESV).  Following his interaction with Peter in 16:22-23, Jesus goes on to say:

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. (Matthew 16:24-27 ESV)

We must be prepared to take up the cross and follow Jesus.  For our brothers and sisters in Africa and Asia this often means the threat of death.  For us living in the United States it will be a question of whether we are willing to speak the truth of God’s word about how he has ordered his creation and receive the legal consequences that go with this.  I don’t believe I will receive a legal penalty for preaching and teaching that homosexuality is sinful.  I am less sure about what will happen to my sons if any of them becomes a pastor.  I can only pray that all of us will find courage in the crucified and risen Lord to speak the truth.

Monday in Holy Week

Today is Monday in Holy Week as we prepare to observe our Lord’s death and resurrection for us.  The season of Lent will conclude on Maundy Thursday as the Triduum begins – the one service that runs over the course of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday.  On Monday in Holy Week, the Gospel reading is John 12:1-36.

Scripture reading:
            Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”
            When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.
            The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written,
            “Fear not, daughter of Zion;
            behold, your king is coming,
                        sitting on a donkey's colt!”
  His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him. The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”
            Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.
            “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”
            When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them.  (John 12:1-36)

Collect of the Day:
Almighty God, grant that in the midst of our failures and weaknesses we may be restored through the passion and intercession of Your only-begotten Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one  God, now and forever.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Sermon for the Sunday of the Passion - Matt 26:1-27:66

                                                                                                   Sunday of the Passion
                                                                                                   Mt 26:1-27:66

            It is not hard to recognize that Matthew thinks the events which we will remember this week are of central importance.  Our Gospel lesson that recounts the last supper, betrayal, trial, suffering and death of Jesus takes up two full chapters.  If we extend our consideration back to the event we observed at the very beginning of this service – Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem – we find that starting from chapter 21, Matthew uses seven full chapters into order to tell us about what happened during Holy Week.  Fully 25% of the Gospel of Matthew focuses on this one week of time. The focus on Holy Week is even more pronounced in the Gospel of Mark. There, almost 40% of the Gospel deals with events of this one week.
            Based on what we learn from the Gospel of John, we know that Jesus’ ministry lasted about three years.  Matthew spends 25% of his Gospel covering just one week of these three years.  In fact, if you didn’t have John’s Gospel you wouldn’t know that Jesus made multiple trips to Jerusalem as a faithful Jew who went on the pilgrimage to celebrate the religious festivals.  If you only had Matthew’s Gospel, you would think that Jesus only made one trip to Jerusalem – a trip that ended in his death.
            Matthew and all of the Gospel writers focus on the events of this one week.  And yet when we consider the events of this week, it is easy to conclude that Jesus is a failure.  At the beginning of today’s service we heard about how Jesus entered into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.  Like an election event this was carefully choreographed.  Jesus arranged for himself to ride into Jerusalem mounted on a donkey.  It may sound odd to us, but because of the Old Testament background of King David and King Solomon it is a scene that has royal and messianic associations.       Many in the crowds perceived it this way.  Matthew tells us that they went before him and followed him shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
            And yet when he entered Jerusalem and people in the city which was stirred up by his arrival asked, “Who is this?” the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”  They call him a prophet … and that’s all.  It is an answer that we already know from Peter’s confession of Christ, is the wrong answer.
            All during this week Jesus will meet with opposition as the Pharisees and Sadducees take turns attacking him.  One of his own inner circle of apostles will agree to betray him for thirty pieces of silver.  The rest of the apostles will abandon him in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Peter will summon the courage to follow Jesus to his trial, only to deny there that he even knows Jesus.
            At a trial that occurs in several parts, Jesus will be mocked by Jew and Gentile alike.  He will be sentenced to death, tortured and humiliated. And then he will become the picture of powerlessness.  Nailed to a cross he will die a death that in his world is the ultimate proof that you are failure as a Messiah – that you are a false Messiah. Those who pass by will deride him saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” The chief priests, with the scribes and elders will mock him, saying, “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.”
            The Son of God? The Messiah? He will die crying out just before his death, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And then in a hasty burial, Joseph of Arimathea will place him in a sealed tomb.  It will be a rush job, and so women who care about Jesus will feel the need to return after the Sabbath on the first day of the week in order to complete the preparation of the body.
            Three years of ministry, and the Gospel writers choose to focus upon this?  They don’t seem to know much about “spin.”  They present Jesus as the Son of God and Messiah, and yet everything in this account seems to say that he was a fraud and a failure.
            Of course, it takes one to know one.  And you should have no problem recognizing a fraud and a failure, because you are one too.  You claim to love God, and yet often you can’t be inconvenienced with coming to his house or spending time reading and studying his Word.  You claim to love your spouse and children, and yet you speak angry words to them and act in selfish ways that hurt them.  Again and again you show yourself to be anything other than a saint and a child of God.
            And it is because you are a fraud and a failure that Jesus will appear to be one this week.  If you follow the world’s script for what a Messiah – what a Savior – is supposed to look like, then Jesus is a fraud and failure.  But Jesus isn’t doing it that way because he has come to provide the answer to a problem that the world doesn’t recognize.  He has come to provide the answer to sin.
            Jesus’ rejection, betrayal, suffering and death is exactly the plan that he has come to carry out.  Just before he entered Jerusalem, Jesus predicted his passion for the third time in Matthew’s Gospel.  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.”
            Identified as the Servant of the Lord at his baptism, Jesus came to be the suffering Servant. He came to redeem you from your sins.  Just after again predicting his passion, our Lord went on to say, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
            Jesus went to Jerusalem that final time to serve you.  He went to free you from sin – to give you forgiveness for all those times you prove to be a failure and a fraud.  Matthew and the Gospel writers focus on this one week because it is the most important week in the history of the world.  It is in fact the most important week in your life, because through baptism the saving suffering and death of Christ’s passion have become yours. As Paul told the Romans, “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.”
            The events of this week have freed you from sin.  Clothed with Christ in your baptism, when God looks at you he now sees a saint.  He sees not your sin, but instead what Christ has done for you in order to win forgiveness. And so already now you know the verdict of the Last Day.  It will be: innocent, not guilty.
            This is the most important week in the history of the world. This is the most important week in your life. And so this week we pause.  We stop our normal schedule. And we come to church. We come to church for the Triduum – the one service the runs over the course of three days.  We gather on Maundy Thursday to hear about our Lord’s example of loving service as he washed his disciples’ feet.  We hear again about the setting – the night in which he was betrayed - in which Jesus instituted the Sacrament of his true body and blood, given and shed for you.  On Good Friday we gather to hear of our Lord’s death as he was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities and then placed in a tomb.
            And then on the evening of Holy Saturday we gather for the Vigil of Easter.  On Saturday Christ was buried in the tomb, and in this service which has so many ties to baptism, we remember that we were buried with Christ through baptism.  Yet sundown on Saturday is also the beginning of Easter.  As he had told his disciples, Jesus did not remain dead.  Instead he rose from the dead and because of our baptism into Christ we know that we will be raised too.
            Where it is possible, this year make Holy Week a priority.  Make the services of Holy Week a priority. Come to the services of the Triduum.  Come in remembrance of all that your Lord has done for you and receive the forgiveness he gives.  After all, this is the most important week in history of the world. And it is the most important week in your life.