Matthew 21:1-9 / Philippians 2:5-11 / Matthew 26:36-75; 27:1-60
And Jesus again crying with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.
As Matthew records the Passion, Jesus at the bitter end remains alone and desolate. The traitor, Judas Iscariot, although repenting of his part in the shedding of innocent blood, nonetheless abandons hope, and went and hanged himself with a halter. Peter, so vigorous in his protests that he would remain with Jesus even to the bitter even, even at the cost of his life, remembered the word of Jesus which He had said ... and going forth, he wept bitterly. Pilate, who found no crime in him nor case against him but more desirous of his own power and fearful of the mob, had long since washed his hand of the whole affair. The chief priests, the scribes, and the elders remained only long enough to mock him: He save others, Himself He cannot save; if He be the king of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him; He trusted in God, let Him now deliver Him if He will have Him; for He said: I am the Son of God. The crowd who remained can listen and watch only in utter misunderstanding: This man calleth Elias and Let be; let us see whether Elias will come to deliver Him. Even the woman who had been loyal to him in his ministry — Mary Magdalen, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee as well as many women unnamed — nonetheless remain afar off, not close by to comfort him in his last hours. Joseph of Arimathea, so brave in facing Pilate afterward in requesting the body for burial, nonethess is not heard earlier in the Sanhedrin. Even God his Father seems curiously and tragically distant — My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?
There is no one who remains faithful to the end in Matthew's Gospel. There is not one faithful disciple who can claim to have stood by Jesus at every step of the way, who was willing, rather than coerced like Simon of Cyrene, to pick up his cross and walk with Jesus every step of the way to Golgotha, there to die forsaken and alone. In this, we know we are no different. We, who face dangers and challenges far less than those faced by Jesus' disciples and his fellow Jews at the time of his Passion, have rejected Jesus or remained afar off nonetheless. We have caved in to threats less pressing, to temptations less compelling than Judas' bag of silver, and we find ourselves far less willing to depart from the fruits of our sin than even the damnable betrayer was with his thirty pieces.
Yet, this is Good News. As desolate as our tragic and terrible denial of Jesus may be, the mystery we celebrate this day is the fact that it is precisely for such as these, for such as us, that Jesus died so painfully upon the cross. Even as there is no one who can claim with any right to have been there with him, all the way through, so there is no one to whom his mercy does not extend. Now is the time to set down, once and for all, this last defense of our sinful self. Now is the time to refuse that part of our heart that urges us to feel especially dark and despondent, as we have failed yet once again to be more fervent disciples of Jesus Christ through our broken and halfhearted embrace of Lent. The death of Jesus, abandoned on his cross, scatters those foolish and deadly excuses. We are forgiven in his blood, and by his death, even we have been called to life eternal.
Stop the excuses. Delay no longer. Christ died once for all that you may live. Embrace him, give thanks, and live!