An Emotional Lent: Injustice
Topic: Biblical Verse: Luke 23:1–23:49
Sunday of the Passion/Palm Sunday
March 27-28, 2010
“An Emotional Lent: Injustice”
In the year 821, Bishop Theodulf of Orleans was sitting in prison – under house arrest in a monastery and locked in a cell there. Originally from Spain, Theodulf left there after the Muslim conquest of the Iberian peninsula. He was one of the most learned men of his age, a gifted writer, preacher and poet. He served as advisor to Charlemagne himself, king of the Holy Roman Empire. But things went against him after the death of Charlemagne in 814. Charlemagne’s son, Louis the Pious (also known as Louis the Debonair) accused Theodulf of treason against the crown by conspiring with Bernard of Italy to overthrow Louis. The accusations were false and without merit, but Theodulf was imprisoned anyway in 818. On Palm Sunday in the year 821, when the king was passing by in procession outside Theodulf’s cell window on his way to the cathedral, the bishop appeared at his window and began to sing a hymn that he had written: All glory laud and honor, to Thee, Redeemer King, to whom the lips of children made sweet hosannas sing… As the story goes, the king was so moved by the hymn that he ordered Theodulf freed on the spot (see www.christianhistorytimeline.com, December 19, 821, “Death of Court Poet Theodulf”). That hymn is one which continues to be sung in Christian churches throughout the world to this day nearly 1200 years later, even as we sang it at the beginning of this service. We, too, welcome Jesus into our midst with shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David!”
On this Palm Sunday – the sixth and final Sunday in the Lenten season – we return to our preaching series, “An Emotional Lent” and focus on “Injustice.” May the Lord’s rich blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word, for Jesus’ sake.
What is it like to be falsely accused of something we didn’t do? What’s it like to find yourself up against the wall, backed into a corner, knowing that forces stronger than you are at work against you to discredit you, even destroy you? We may know from personal experience what this is like. Injustice was certainly something which Bishop Theodulf experienced: trumped up charges which led to imprisonment. But we see an even greater injustice in that lengthy Passion Reading for this Palm Sunday. Bishop Theodulf’s story points us to the story of Jesus, who was also falsely accused and brought to trial on trumped up charges. The shouts of “Hosanna!” on Palm Sunday give way to “Crucify him! Crucify him!” on Good Friday. Even Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, recognizes that there is a great injustice taking place before him: “’I have found in him no ground for the sentence of death; I will therefore have him flogged and then release him.’ But they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified; and their voices prevailed” (Luke 23:22-23). Pontius Pilate did the expedient thing, giving in to the demands of the crowd, and so justice was not done. An innocent man would die a horribly death by crucifixion because of this injustice. All we need to do is watch the news or read the paper to see that such injustice continues to happen among us still. And what do we do about it?
One of the burning questions that must be answered with injustice on any level is this: Who is responsible? Who is the person or persons responsible and accountable for what has happened? Who needs to be brought to justice in order to right the wrong? And so we must ask: Who crucified Jesus? Who betrayed him, treated him with contempt and mocked him? Who flogged him and nailed him to the cross? Who is responsible for this? Was it the religious leaders – the chief priests, the scribes, and Pharisees who brought Jesus to trial? Was it Pontius Pilate who passed sentence on Jesus? Was it the Roman soldiers who carried out the execution order? Who is responsible for this gross miscarriage of justice with Jesus? I am; you are. Each and every one of us is responsible for what happened to Jesus. One of our Lenten hymns puts it this way:
Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee.
‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee;
I crucified thee (Lutheran Book of Worship 123, stanza 2)
This great injustice – Jesus taking on the punishment that was rightfully ours – remains one of the greatest mysteries of all time. Why? Why would Jesus do this? Why would God allow his only Son to die such terrible and painful death? We can only say with Paul: “… he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross (Philippians 2:8). In the grand scope of God’s plan of salvation, even this unbelievable injustice has a purpose. Jesus’ humiliation gives way to exaltation, as Paul writes: “Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11). And so we look to Jesus as we struggle with the injustices of this life. We have no guarantee in this life that these injustices will be rectified, or that these wrongs will be made right, but we entrust ourselves to the One who loves us so much that he offered the life of his only Son. And so we look to Jesus; he alone is our hope. His prayer on the cross is our prayer also: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46, quoting Psalm 31:5).
May the Lord open our hearts and minds to all that He has done for us as we enter into this great and Holy Week. Amen.