If Lent is the time of year when we try to put ourselves into Jesus’ shoes, in an attempt to understand his suffering, then Holy Week – the week of the Passion – is that week when we realize just how much Jesus suffered – and that no amount of giving up chocolate will ever help us realize the extent of Jesus’ sacrifice.

But Holy Week is more than just an attempt at understanding Jesus’ suffering.

Holy Week is the week during which we realize that we are not only the recipients of all the benefits of Christ’s death on the cross, but we are also the accusers, the bystanders who did nothing, the soldiers who revelled in the violence, and the crowd that yelled “Crucify him!”

It’s easy for us to look past our own sinfulness and blame those who were there at the time calling for his death, and to see ourselves as innocent.

It’s easy for us to look past our own sinfulness and focus on the resurrection and see only the benefits that Jesus’ death on the cross brings to us.

It’s easy to look past our own sinfulness and see this week of Jesus’ passion as merely an intellectual exercise in theology and the cycles of the church year.

It is much less easy for us to admit that the reason Jesus was on the cross in the first place was because we are the ones who yell, “Crucify him!”

The reason for Holy Week is for us to learn to grapple with the fact that Christ died for me – a sinner – and that each time I seek my own will instead of the will of God, each time I distort my relationship with God, other people, and all creation,1 that I am the one who yells, “Crucify Him!”

Or worse, I am the soldier who condemns him, who beats him, who holds him down and drives the nail into his hands and into his feet.

Palm Sunday especially helps us to understand the wild fluctuations of our human nature. One moment we are joyous and proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah, celebrating him as a king, waving palms and laying them down in his path – and the next we are the angry crowd, the betrayers, the accusers, yelling, “Crucify Him!” 

We see the beauty in what Christ has done, and can do, but we also recognize that what Christ wants of us is not entirely what we want to do. We see the joy of our salvation in the person of Jesus, but we don’t want to hand over the reins to our life just yet, Or maybe not entirely. We see the good that a life of discipleship brings, but still grasp firmly to our own desires, dipping our toes in the river without ever jumping in completely and letting the flow of God’s love take us where we ought to be.

It is when we come to this understanding of the depth of our ability as humans to focus on our own desires over and against the will of God that we realize just how powerful Jesus’ death on the cross really is. It is when we recognize the depth of our sin and understand just how much our sin can keep us from the loving arms of God that we begin to feel the truth of the meaning of this death on the cross:

God loves me because while I was still a sinner, Christ died for me.

The centurion in today’s gospel reading, a soldier who commanded his men to crucify Jesus, who stood by and watched as what was supposed to be just another convicted criminal being put to death for their crimes, this centurion had a moment of true understanding when he saw all that was going on around him, realized that he had a part in it all, and looked up at the broken body of Jesus and said: 

“Truly, this man was the Son of God!”

How much our savior loves us. That while we are still sinners, he dies for us.

  1. Book of Common Prayer, Catechism: Sin and Redemption, p. 848
  2. “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8, NRSV
[This sermon was delivered at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Wickenburg, AZ on March 24, 2024.]

About Michael

Mike was called to be the Vicar of St. Alban's Episcopal Church in Wickenburg, AZ, and started this call on February 1, 2024. Before taking a call as clergy, Mike worked in IT for almost 25 years, variously working as a back- and front-end web developer, database developer and manager, and as a business analyst. If he's not engaged in the work of the church, you can find him on a motorcycle, enjoying the ride, or training for an upcoming BikeMS ride. Mike holds a Bachelor of Arts in Classical History from Seattle Pacific University, and a Masters of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary. He attended Sewanee School of Theology for a year of Anglican Studies in the Fall of 2022, and graduated in May of 2023. Mike was ordained as a Transitional Deacon in the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona on January 20th, 2024, and will be ordained to the priesthood on July 27, 2024.

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