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Sunday, March 20, 2016

Sunday Bonus Blog: Good Friday versus Easter

There's an old saying, "You don't have a right to complain about the government if you don't vote."  One way of looking at that is whether you vote or not, you'll end up with a government of some sort.  You may not vote in the primaries, but the parties will pick candidates without you, and if you don't vote in the general election, the people will choose a president anyway, and she or he will be your president whether you voted for or against that candidate or just stayed home and watched tv.

All of which brings us to Palm Sunday.  On Palm Sunday Jesus rode into Jerusalem and multitudes welcomed him with glad hosannas, strewing his path with palm fronds.  Personally, I doubt any of the New Testament multitudes were quite as multitudinous as the Gospel writers make out.  Really, there may have been only a dozen or so on hand to hail Jesus as the messiah and bid him welcome, but in any case, it was enough to attract the displeased attention of the authorities.

If Palm Sunday had worked out the way the disciples had hoped, Jesus would have been crowned King of the Jews, and that would have been that.  Just like the presidential election, he would have been your king whether you welcomed him with palm fronds or not, whether you believed in him, whether you even knew who he was.  Maybe you would have wanted someone else to be king instead, but it wouldn't have mattered, because if Jesus had been made king on Palm Sunday either because Herod just handed over the throne or because of a violent uprising, the issue would have been settled with no ifs, ands, or buts.

But that's not how it happened.

Instead, Jesus got crucified.  Incidentally, the crucifixion was not at all as it is pictured in the popular imagination.  For openers, Jesus did not - nor did Simon of Cyrene - have to carry the entire cross - rather, just the cross-bar which was affixed to an upright post permanently placed in the ground.  Secondly, the cross was probably shaped like an upper-case T with no projection over the traverse bar.  The sign, "King of the Jews," might have been attached over Jesus' shoulder.   The "stipes," or upright post, was only about seven feet tall, so when Jesus sank under the weight of his body - the pressure of his weight would have dislocated his shoulders - he would have been more or less eye-level to the spectators.  The cause of death from crucifixion was usually a combination of gradual asphyxiation and shock.

The point I want to make is that becoming king through crucifixion rather than the ordinary process of coronation makes all the difference.  If Jesus had been made king on Palm Sunday, your personal decision wouldn't have any bearing on the matter.  As it is, though, you have to decide.  You can say, as Peter did, "I have nothing to do with that man, nor he with me."  But will those words be an act of betrayal to your lord as well as yourself, or are they a simple statement of fact?  Is the sign over Jesus' shoulder, "King of the Jews," ironic because he was about as far from being king as you can get, or ironic because Pilate inscribed the truth without meaning to?

You can decide it either way: that Jesus was an unfortunate who died a wretched death or Jesus was lord who defeated death for all of us.  But you have to decide one way or the other.  You have to decide.

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