Have you ever taken time to reflect on the pain that your mother passed through in order to give birth to you without using any form of pain relief like epidural anesthesia? The pains that go with labour and delivery cannot be adequately imagined by men and non-mothers. From a notable survey on labour and delivery pain, some randomly sampled mothers made the following revealing statements about their respective excruciating experiences:
- It feels like a deep internal “pulling”; like someone reaching deep inside, grabbing hold of whatever internal organs and trying to tug them out.
- It is like menstrual cramp multiplied by a million, combined with internal twisting and as if one is being stabbed severally in the stomach.
- It feels like the abdomen trying to squeeze out all its content, not just the baby, and the hips radically pulling apart.
If child birth is characterized by such devastating pains (Gen.3:16), why do we still have many pregnant and pregnant-to-be mothers awaiting entry into various pain infested labour and delivery rooms? Why would someone choose to go through such intense pains? The answer could be that they want to have children and at the same time respond to the divine injunction to multiply and fill the earth (Gen. 1:22, 28). From this answer, we can say that the reason for the pain outweighs the pain itself. The joy of having children.
Linking the above situation to the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, we can understand why he chose to suffer (to pass through the passion) which culminated with his death on the cross. He thus suffered and died so that we can have life and have it in abundance (Jn. 10:10b).
Today we begin the actual journey into the way of the passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ with the ceremony of the palms. Today is called Palm Sunday, commemorating the triumphant entry of our Lord Jesus Christ into Jerusalem. It is at the same time called Passion Sunday as it introduces us into the last and painful moments that led to the death of our Lord Jesus Christ.
-THE TRIUMPHANT ENTRY-
In the Gospel Reading we heard before the Passion narrative, (Luke 19:28-40) where we are told that our Lord asked two of his disciples to go into the village facing Bethphage and they would see a donkey tied to a tree and they should untie it and bring it to him. And should anyone question them they should say that the Master needed it urgently. This directive which fulfils the oracle of Zechariah (9:9) unfolds ponderable lessons for us.
The donkey actually represents our souls that is needed urgently by God. The coming of our Lord Jesus Christ into our context is specifically to untie our souls from the tree of sin. The tree around which the donkey was tied reminds us of the tree at the middle of the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:3), where Adam and Eve sinned by disobeying God.
Furthermore, the Village is known as Bethphage and the name means “house of unripe fruits”. We can clearly see from the name that the soul is suffering from deficiency; if you like unripe. Christ our Lord came not only to undo the power of that tree that held the donkey and replace it with the tree of redemption; namely the Cross of Calvary, but also to raise the donkey from being unripe and unfit to being ripe and fit for the divine harvest.
The foregoing is an indication that the Lord has need for your soul that has been tied securely on the stake of sin and damnation. He has come to deliver your soul and mine from the tree at the place of unripe fruit to the tree of life and peace in Jerusalem. Our Lord’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem marks the actual beginning of the triumph over sin and death that have besieged our souls being represented by the Donkey upon which he rode.
-THE TRIUMPHANT PASSION-
Our Lord Jesus Christ rode gallantly and triumphantly into Jerusalem not to occupy an enviable position among the great and noble people of the time, but to suffer and even die on a cross. This simply means that he triumphantly launched into his suffering and death. A biblical event that can be likened to this could be the story of Shedrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Dan.3) marching joyfully into the burning furnace to suffer and die; though in their own case God rescued them.
With the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, suffering is given a new and deeper meaning. First, there must be a reason for suffering and second, the reason must be salvific. Many of us suffer on account of useless things and for the most useless of reasons. The passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, nay his suffering, was for our redemption. In the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 3:18) we are also told that the suffering of Christ is part of the fulfilment of God’s words through the prophets. Hence, the suffering of our Lord Jesus Christ remains inescapably necessary. No wonder Peter got a harsh reply when he advised our Lord not to proceed to Jerusalem to fulfil this mission of suffering and death for our sake (Matt.16:23)
We can appreciate the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ by analysing it from three important passion destinations:
- The Gethsemane Passion Experience:
At the Gethsemane destination our Lord Jesus Christ suffered in the hands of Satan. From the Gospel of Luke (4:13) we are told that the devil left our Lord Jesus Christ after failing to push him to sin and waited for an opportune time. Gethsemane represents another opportune moment for the devil to attempt at stopping the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. The depressing and agonizing monologue our Lord had in the garden showed clearly that he was troubled and deeply distressed (Mark 14:33). In the account of Matthew (26:37) our Lord said that he is sorrowful unto death.
At this most trying moment, our Lord was feeling the impact of the load of our sins and the devil was at hand to discourage him. Often we get “beautiful suggestions” from the devil on our way to do the will of God. Gethsemane actually means “oil press”. It thus appears that the load of our sins was pressed upon him that it seemed to be too much for him to bear. No wonder then he asked if it was possible the cup could pass, but he left all for God and His supreme will (Luke 22:42).
- The Gabbatha Passion Experience
The Gabbatha passion destination was all about us sinners. At Gabbatha our Lord Jesus Christ suffered in the hands of sinners. The gospel of Matthew (26:45) confirms this when Jesus asked the apostles with him: “Are you sleeping? The hour has come and the son of man is being delivered into the hands of sinners”.
At Gabbatha as Isaiah (53:3ff) prophesied he was betrayed, deserted, beaten, rejected, mocked, scourged, crowned with thorns and condemned to die by those for whose sake he came. Our Lord was brought under the inhumane treatment of those whose humanity he came to rescue and revitalize.
Every time we launch ourselves into sin we replay Gabbatha; the place of denial, the place of scourging, the place of unjust condemnation of the innocent; the place of death sentence.
- The Golgotha Passion Experience
The Golgotha Passion tells us about the “suffering” of our Lord Jesus Christ in the hands of God the Father. This is deeply expressed in the outcry of our Lord: “My God my God why has thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34).
This suffering is unlike the two preceding ones. Here the Father allowed the Son to pass through the most excruciating point of the passion; namely death on the cross. At this point, there was a momentary withdrawal of divinity for humanity to pass through the crucible. Hence it was not the divinity of Christ that suffered and died on the cross; it was rather his humanity.
It was not outright abandonment, it was rather a fulfilment of divine plan. Like a mother making her sick child to drink a very bitter medication for the child to get well. Though the medication could be bitter, the result is for health and wellbeing.
As we step into the Holy Week, we are invited to take some meaningful time to reflect on the events that led to the passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. We learn here that Life is generally filled with opposites. At the point of entrance into Jerusalem people shouted: “Hossana to the Son of David!” However at Gabbatha the shout changed into: “Crucify him!” Do not be carried away by praises, always focus on your goal. We learn also that no form of suffering stays forever. We are not stuck in it, we rather pass through.
I wish you the Holiest Week ever.