Holy Week comes at the end of a season of self-denial, a season of repentance, and a season of renewal in prayer. At least it should be all these things. For you, perhaps, Lent has been a season of disappointment and frustration, six more weeks of bad news and new beginnings turned sour. Perhaps it’s been bad news because you’ve been exposed for who you really are: a fraud, or a traitor, or a pragmatist, going along with the crowd in order to keep your job, your position, your reputation, or what’s left of what’s in the bank. Lent is a time to prepare for the Feast of Feasts, the Resurrection of our Lord, but maybe what you’ve discovered along the way is your capacity for lying, hypocrisy, laziness, and self-pity.
Then comes the Passion of Saint Matthew and you find out you’re not alone. There’s Judas Iscariot, the traitor. There’s Pontius Pilate, the pragmatist. There’s Saint Peter, the coward. There’s the crowd, the happy ones singing Psalms to Christ one day, and a few days later demanding His death and the release of a murderer and insurrectionist.
In this rogue’s gallery of the infamous, you must learn to see yourselves.
I am Judas. I betray my Lord. I am a false disciple. I put money ahead of everything else. I let despair have its way with me. There are times I wish I were dead, and maybe I should just get it over with right now.
I am Pilate.I know what is right but I won’t do it. I shift the blame to someone else. I look the other way at injustice. I worry about what others might think. I worry about what might happen to me if I do the right thing. If I don’t go along with what these people want, I’ll get in trouble. I might lose my job.
I am Peter. I am a failure. I’ve spent all this time with Jesus. I’ve listened to His Word. I’ve learned the ways of God. I’ve even confessed Him the Christ, the very Son of God. However, when push comes to shove, I’m scared to death to say I know Him. I’m afraid of the consequences if I say I am one of His followers. I am scared of a servant. I am even scared of a little girl.
I am in the crowd. Remember when Jesus entered Jerusalem on a colt, the foal of a donkey? Remember when I shouted Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord? I didn’t mean it. My fingers were crossed. When the mob changed course and started to shout Crucify Him! I went along with them. I can’t stand out from the crowd. They might mock me and send me to the cross with Him.
We see one Man today, though, who is different. One Man Who, when faced with despair, cried out to God. When threatened with violence, with laughter, with spitting; when bloodied, lacerated, and pierced did not flinch. He took it like a man. He took it like no man has ever taken punishment. This Man alone is not a fraud, not a coward, not a hypocrite, not a pragmatist, and not fickle. This Man looks over His fallen disciples, the corrupt temple priests, the heartless leaders of His government, and the crowd to which He had given everything He had – He looked out on these people and gave one more thing: His life.
When Jesus Christ gave His life for them, this sinless, perfect, and righteous Man said, in effect, I am Judas Iscariot. I am Pontius Pilate. I am Saint Peter. I am the crowd. I have become what I am not, that they might become what they are not. I have become sin, and they have become righteous. Your treason is Mine. Your faithlessness is Mine. Your heartlessness is Mine. Your lust is Mine. Your greed is Mine. Your cowardice is Mine. Your despair is Mine. Your punishment is Mine. Your death is Mine. Your hell is Mine. My righteousness is yours. My reward is yours. My inheritance is yours. My salvation is yours. My life is yours. All these things are yours in three words: It is finished.
When Jesus has finished it, it is finished. When Jesus has absolved it, it is absolved. When Jesus has atoned for it, it is atoned for. When Jesus has buried it, it is buried. What He has made new is new. It is as if He says to you today, Follow Me, and do not despair. Follow Me, and do not be afraid. Follow Me, and sin no more. Follow Me, for where I go is now opened to you, for what I open no one can close, and I have opened life and heaven and the Father to you.
(adapted from a sermon by Rev. C.S. Esget of Immanuel Church in Alexandria, VA)