Lent always lands us on the road to Jerusalem, a city of deep prayer and terrible violence. And today we’re finally there: here with Jesus in Jerusalem. This year the road to Easter came with its own odd turns. If you’ll remember, we began Lent with Ash Wednesday on Valentine’s Day. Out ahead of us Easter Sunday will arrive on April Fool’s Day. And today the Sunday of the Passion, what we mostly call Palm Sunday, shows up on March 25th, a day customarily set aside to celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation when an Angel said to Mary, Fear Not, the Lord is with you. And for an answer, she said, Let it be.
Mary knew she was down for the hard road. Not the easy one. Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, has it God called Mary “to a role that [marks her] as a failure and an outcast – a woman with an unexplained pregnancy, an embarrassment to her fiancé. [And in accepting] the risk, reproach and scandal [of it all, she aims us always] to her son, whose path [turned out to be] the same road of rejection; and in [accepting] that road, [Jesus] looks back to Mary.”
The Road of Rejection is a powerless selfless road, a turning away from self-protection or self-promotion.
Empire has it all roads lead to Rome: to power and victory, success and riches. On that road the rejected and the selfless are crucified. And even knowing our Lord was among them, we mostly spend our days looking back to the glories of Rome: to the usual human strategies of offense and defense. One up, the other down. I’m right, you must be wrong. Anything to make our lives feel triumphant.
Mary and Jesus knew they were down for the hard road, the one with no room at the inn, no rest for the weary; the one with robbers exploiting the hopeful and ignoring the hopeless; the road full of checkpoints and threats at every turn. It’s the road Lent invites us to revisit every year: the road of surrendering our own use or misuse of power, our own ideas about success, in order to follow Jesus.
Likely, you already know a little something about that road. Life has a way of landing you there now and then: for a stretch on your knees, begging for mercy from someone who won’t give it, powerless before whatever powers overtake you. And yet strangely, and miraculously, even knowing powerlessness for a hard road, some people actually choose it for a lifetime, as if on purpose, as if they can’t wait to join the ranks of the powerless, as if the humble were truly the exalted of God.
Jesus chose that road. And because he did, he made it a holy road: a road sanctified as a living road for whoever came after him, and continues to come, powerless and begging for mercy. It doesn’t lead to Rome. Instead, by way of the cross, it leads to love and sacrifice and life.
If you’ll notice, Jesus makes no effort to hold on to his triumphal entry. He’s not after our good opinion, has no need to manipulate us either. Instead he comes before the powers of our world completely open to whatever happens next. He stands under threat before danger without preparing an offense or a defense.
“Are you the king of the Jews?” Pilate asks.
And for an answer, Jesus says, “You say so.”
For the most part, he stands in silence before Pilate: not a word spoken to explain or justify who he is. It’s terrible, his silence, and it’s the most eloquent witness to who he is: a man who can be silent before the powers of our world. He comes as the prince of peace, to stand before the raw use of oppressive force and dare it to expose itself for the evil it is.
“Have you no answer?” Pilate asks him. “See how many charges they bring against you.”
With those words, Pilate voices our own need for defensive talk. Or offensive talk. Anything, any strategy, is better for us than the awful silence of Jesus.
Make no mistake, though: his silence is not the silence of complicity. He’s not conspiring with anybody’s system, not trying uphold the law of the land or the way we want to organize the world. He’s merely standing in the humble truth of who he is. He is Jesus, Son of Mary and Son of God, here to reveal the love God has for each and every person on earth, no exceptions, no show of qualifications nor strategies for attaining it.
In words from our hymnal, His song is love unknown.
Why? Because no one loves like Jesus loves. No one. And when we receive his love, it feels like nothing we’ve ever known or could have known until he came.
I like to imagine he comes in hope before us again and again, like a would-be suitor silently holding out to us the gift of his love and begging us to share it. In birth, he came to us wordless and full of love in the arms of Mary. And miraculously before Pilate, he is wordless and full of love on his way to the Cross. As if to say, Let it be.
In the end, the extremity of his selfless love breaks out in words from the cross when he cries, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
By those words, he invites us to hear the depth of his love, and to hear within it, the grief and sorrow of our own day and time, where the powerless still cry, My God! My God!
In the words of the centurion, Truly this man was God’s son.