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Pastor Rob Rogers was born in Seattle Washington. He has a B.A. in Communication from Concordia University, Austin, TX and a Masters of Divinity from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO. READ MORE >>

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Palm Sunday – April 5, 2020
Text:            Is 50:4-9
Theme:         Life is Full of Passion


      Passion is a strange word.  We call this day "Sunday of the Passion" and I think many people do not understand what we are commemorating.  When it was just called "Palm Sunday," it was easier to understand.  On Palm Sunday, we commemorate the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem to begin what would be the last week of his life.  People laid palms on the road before him as would be done for an arriving king. 

       But what does "Passion Sunday" mean?  To most people passion means being romantically involved.  Or maybe it means being emotionally charged, as in "he did his job with a passion."  These popular connotations draw us away from the earliest definition of passion.  Passion comes from the Latin participle "passus" which means "to suffer."  This is a Sunday when we focus our attention upon suffering, our own suffering and more importantly Christ's suffering.

       Suffering is a topic that is not very popular.  For most people, suffering is personal, individual and very private.  And yet, our Lord's suffering was anything but private.  He was beaten publicly.  His suffering caused others to suffer in that Mary lost a son, Simon of Cyrene was forced to carry his cross, and Joseph of Arimathea gave up his tomb because Jesus didn't even have enough money to bury himself.  He was crucified in front of everyone who loved him and everyone who hated him.  A rare private moment for him was in the Garden of Gethsemane when he prayed to the Father and even that is recorded for all the world to read.

       I wonder why we seem to think that suffering is so individual. Almost every one of us will keep suffering private if we have it our way.  At most we will tell our family and maybe our pastor.  It must be a learned behavior because young children are not encumbered by this idea of keeping suffering a secret.  When a crisis happened in the home, I can still remember my mother telling me that this was private and I shouldn't talk about it at school.  I suspect mine was not the only home where that speech was delivered to the children. 

       For one thing, I think that we associate being fine, upstanding people with non-suffering.  In other words, if you live right and do all the right things, there won't be any suffering in your life, right?  Those of you in the live stream Bible study on Job on Tuesday nights already know that this is untrue.  By God’s own words, Job was a blameless man, and he suffered more than most of us have ever thought about suffering. No one led a purer more holy life than Jesus and yet Isaiah rightly describes him as one mocked and spat upon.  No one suffered more than Jesus, and Jesus did not hide his suffering.  Jesus suffered publicly, both in the sense of suffering openly in front of people and in the sense of suffering on behalf of people.

       Another reason we are so secretive about suffering is because we are prideful.  We like to think that we can handle anything on our own.  Our pride will often not admit that there are things too big for us.  We need the love and support of others, not to fix our suffering, because suffering is not always fixable, but to be the hands of Jesus in our lives, to lift us up and to hold us.  Our pride will push others away as though the body of Christ is not needed, and yet we rationally know that a big toe would be of little good in the world without a foot, a leg, a body and a brain.

       So we sit privately, with our best façade on, smiling through our tears and suffering by ourselves and experiencing two things:  despair and anger.  We despair because we wonder if there is a bottom to the well or if we will keep falling forever.  Just when you think that things could not possibly get worse, they do.  If you are falling down the well this morning, and you have heard nothing else I've said, hear this.  There is a bottom, and I know that there is a bottom.  I know this because Jesus has set limits on our suffering.  This is the Word that sustains the weary.  Jesus walked that path to the cross so that there would be limits to our suffering.  He gave up his soul to purchase ours.  The devil may taunt us, but we are never out of Christ's reach.  God promises us that he will never let suffering overtake us. I know that it requires a huge amount of trust in God to believe that when one is in midair and falling, but he is the God who has kept every promise he ever made. 

       In addition to despairing, we get angry.  How could this be happening to me?  There are at least two things behind our anger over suffering.  One thing is a deep seated self-righteousness.  How could God allow this to happen to me when I have been so good and done all the right things?  The other is a concern that suffering is in vain.  Here we are back to trusting God.  If Jesus had not been divine, he surely would have doubted God's wisdom during that last week of his life.  How could his total humiliation, climaxing with his crucifixion be good?  We certainly would be angry if it were happening to us.  Yet, we see from the Bible how God uses all suffering for ultimate good.  Our suffering is never in vain.  It is always used somehow for good.  God uses our suffering to strengthen faith, to build us up, to stop us from harmful paths and to help others.

       We need to talk about our suffering, not just in support groups or therapist's offices but with one another.  Life is full of passion.  It is as much a part of life as death and disease.  It is part of the human experience.          If we try to privatize it, individualize it, hide it from the sight of the world like an ugly wart, we are buying into modern American secularism that teaches us all the wrong things.  “I have a right to a good life, plenty of money and a carefree existence and by golly if I don't have it, it's someone's fault.”  We have no right to anything.  If we got what we deserved, God would abandon us and let us rot in hell.  Our only right was purchased by the suffering of Christ and that is our right to an eternal relationship with God. 

       Today we begin Holy Week with the Church throughout the world.  As we walk together with Jesus on the path to Golgotha, we feel the heartbreak of betrayal.  We feel the loneliness of death.  We feel the physical agony of spikes tearing through our hands and our feet.  We feel the screaming terror of MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?  And we feel the darkness: that terrible, oppressive, suffocating darkness of absolute despair.  And deep within our souls, where passion is most intense, we know that all of this was done for us.  That is how much our God loves us. The one who suffered the ultimate for us has set his face like flint against Satan and it is the Risen Lord who walks with us. 

       The Lord Christ, who conquered Satan at his own game and doomed him forever, now takes us by the hand and steps us through our passion, sustaining us with his Word.  But remember, Christ’s hand is part of his body, and his body is the Church.  You and I are his hands with which he guides.  You and I are his arms with which he carries.  You and I are his voice with which he comforts.  And there is no such thing as private suffering for we are all one body, the body of the one who humbled himself and became obedient to death on the cross so that we would never suffer alone and never suffer in vain.