Imagine that today you are one of Jesus’ followers in the first century. You traveled a long way and arrived with several other followers to Jerusalem a few days ago. It is Passover, so the streets are jam packed with over 2 million pilgrims in a city that normally holds only 20,000 (according to the ancient historian Josephus).
You were there as Jesus received a King’s greeting as he entered the city, everyone in the crowd singing, waving their palm leaves along the path with such great enthusiasm and hope. You felt the electricity and overwhelming optimism in the air and you thought to yourself “how appropriate that we are here for Passover, a celebration that commemorates the historical liberation of God’s people from unjust foreign rule, fully expecting with great joy and anticipation that Jesus was going to bring the long held hope of freedom from Roman rule into reality, right now, possibly this weekend, and you were going to be a witness, a key supporter in this new era of peace and justice.
But that was a few days ago. Now it is dark. You and all your fellow travelers and followers of Jesus are walking back to your temporary home, at the inn or house you are renting for your short holiday stay and you’re in a state of complete disillusionment after watching Jesus die on the cross. Many are crying, others just walk in silence amid the dense crowds who continue to celebrate the holiday with laughter, eating and music in the streets. But you and your friends are in a zombie like daze, still trying to wrap your heads around the violence and injustice you witnessed that afternoon, and you are all a little frightened too, as rumors spread that some fellow followers of Jesus have been taken in for questioning.
Never in a million years would have anticipated such a sad and brutal ending to Jesus’ life. This good, loving man with such a beautiful dream of the kingdom of God that you so believed in was convicted, beaten, and put to death as a criminal. What will we do now?
You arrive back at the inn and some of the women begin preparing food, others rest from the long, emotional day in the hot sun. Everyone begins to pack up their belongings in preparation for the long journey home. There is a heavy feeling of helplessness and confusion among your friends. As the sun goes down, you all gather around the table for one last meal together while in Jerusalem. Everyone is eating quietly, practically in silence, pouring wine, passing dishes of food, not sure of what to say.
As we continue to imagine ourselves at that table, on the evening following Jesus’ death, one person stands and says these words “I know we are all deeply shaken and confused and given this terrible situation, I’m not sure that we will be able to have a proper burial for Jesus, with the current climate and all, so I would like to say a few words now in his honor” and we all listen as our friend and fellow disciple offers this Eulogy for Jesus.
Everyone here today could speak very intimately of the relationship they shared with Jesus because he wasn’t the superficial type. Every encounter with him, even the most simple “no fuss” meal of bread and wine shared with him, was a profound and eye-opening experience. What I will remember most is how loved I felt in his presence. When Jesus was with you, you knew you were loved. The way he laughed, and hugged, and simply looked at me told me I was very special to him. He changed people’s lives with the love he offered them – many, if not all of you here probably have stories about how he changed your life.
Jesus accepted everyone he met. The tax collector, the prostitute, the adulteress, many of us right here around this table. All sinners found in him a profound tenderness and understanding that made each of us feel accepted. He found something good in everyone and he condemned no one. No one was too much of a lost cause. He went out of his way to accept people who were oppressed by self-hatred and guilt.
No one was too wicked in his eyes. He never, not once, waivered in his unconditional acceptance. He helped all of us turn our lives around through his boundless love and confidence in our beauty and value as a unique creation of God. He came to people on the margins, meeting them right where they were at. Do you remember how he cared for the lepers? The way he touched them and looked at them with so much love. How he greeted the children? How he found homes for the widows? Truly, he was always most at home among the poor…
And I think we can all agree that he told the very best stories and threw the very best dinner parties. Such meaningful stories! Stories that changed the way we understood our life, our purpose, what we believe about God. He would always be talking about how much our Abba God loved us. I remember in particular his story about the Prodigal Son, so different than the exacting and virtually unappeasable God of the Scribes and Pharisees. The way he lovingly yet firmly challenged the authorities, with such wisdom and courage. I can’t believe that his preaching of such a freeing message of God’s mercy and love has brought us to this sad day.
Even though Jesus has died, I still believe in the kingdom he preached. I still believe in the power of the love he shared and the truth that he taught. I’m amazed at how he faced his death, with such courage, never once lashing out against his torturers, rather he prayed for them and us…remarkable.
I hope we stick together through this tragedy and listen together for God as a family of faith, trusting in all the things Jesus taught us and figuring out what this all means for our future. It was Jesus’ hope that we would be united and one. He said that everyone would know we were his followers by the way we loved one another, so, I say we continue to do just that, trusting that God will give us all we need in the days to come.
Jesus lived as he died. Sadly, he was deeply misunderstood, but this did not stop him from living out his mission to love right to the bitter end. The question I’m left with tonight is, can you do everything you know to be right and still end up suffering tremendously? Can we walk a path of love and integrity and still end up in darkness? I think Jesus would remind us this night that his suffering, and our own suffering and times of darkness are NOT signs that we are somehow out of step with the will of God.
Of course, none of us have done everything right, and we all suffer for our mistakes, but more often than not our suffering is not a sign that we are doing something wrong, but maybe rather, that we are doing something very right in a world that doesn’t not recognize or know how to receive real love. The cross today is our case in point. Jesus was reviled and hated and mocked. He begged for water. What did he do wrong? What sin did he commit? What terrible crime had he done?
Darkness and confusion in our pain is part of life, part of being human, and Jesus lived that humanness to the full today and even as he suffered, he showed us the way. In a very mysterious way this sad night, I still feel his Spirit with us, right here with us as we break bread together. Comforting us. Telling us “Peace be with you”, like he always said. I feel like somehow, even in the wake of such a great failure of our mission, I still believe no love is lost in the universe, and Jesus loved more than anyone I have ever known, and that somehow His love will reverberate through history. His story will live on, in us.
He changed me, I’m a wholly different person than when I first met Him. Transformed. Alive when I was dead, and that is something no Roman soldier or religious authority can ever take away from me. I will always consider myself a follower of Jesus and will do my best to love as bravely as He did today, even in the face of death.
We all followed Jesus as he walked from town to town telling people that God loves them and that God forgives them, that God accepts us as we are not as we think we should be. Just as we are, right now. This is what Jesus did, for all those people, and for me. Jesus saved me. His love healed and saved me. May His Spirit and His great love live on forever in us.
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