Places of the Passion: The Mount of Olives
Topic: Biblical Verse: Matthew 26:30–35
The Second Sunday in Lent
March 13, 2022
“Places of the Passion: The Mount of Olives”
The threat of a nuclear disaster seems nearer now than it has for many years. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has included the takeover of nuclear power plants which has raised safety and security concerns for people in that region as well as around the world. The use of chemical as well as nuclear warfare is in the news, and so we pray for wise counsel and good judgement to prevail. We are not the first generation to face this terrible possibility. In 1962 during the Cuban missile crisis, a Soviet submarine was patrolling along the Florida coast, and the captain made preparations to launch a nuclear torpedo. Had it not been for the intervention of one clear-thinking Soviet officer, history might have taken a very different course. The officer’s name was Vasili Arkhipov. Soviet subs were designed for cold water, not the warm water off the Florida coast. Temperatures reached 120 degrees Fahrenheit inside the Soviet sub, and the men inside were exhausted and on edge. The captain issued the order to launch three nuclear missiles. It was then that Vasili Arkhipov asked the captain to reconsider. The captain listened and the situation cooled down. The Soviet sub went back home and this incredible brush that surely would have led to World War III was kept secret for decades. In 2002, the public finally learned of Vasili Arkhipov’s heroic intervention. Thomas Blanton, then Director of the U.S. National Security Archive, said that Arkhipov “saved the world” (Vasily Arkhipov - Wikipedia). At a time when the threat of war and nuclear disaster once again looms on the horizon, there is something for us to learn from Mr. Arkhipov. When the temperature is up in our own lives, when our defenses are down, and we are tempted to push that button that will lead to disaster, how do we avert this? We walk to the Mount of Olives. Our Lenten series, “Places of the Passion,” takes us today to the Mount of Olives. May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
Today we walk with Jesus to the Mount of Olives, just outside the city of Jerusalem, across the Kidron Valley. “And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives” (Matthew 26:30). The journey begins with song, and not just any song, but the Hallel, Psalms 113-118. At the Passover, Psalms 113-114 were sung before the meal, and Psalms 115-118 afterward. The book of Psalms is the hymnbook of the Bible. All of the Psalms were originally meant to be sung, like hymns and songs, and that’s exactly what Jesus and the disciples were doing. As Jesus prepares to be betrayed, suffer, and die he sings, including these words from Psalm 118: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:22-24). Jesus himself is that cornerstone. Psalm 118 closes out the Hallel, and that word means “praise.” It’s where we get our word “Hallelujah,” meaning “Praise the Lord.” And that’s exactly how Psalm 118, the last of the Hallel, ends – a call to praise: “You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God; I will extol you. Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” (Psalm 118:28-29). Jesus calls us to follow his own example, even when facing adversity, hardship, and suffering. Jesus calls us to sing; to sing of God’s faithfulness and goodness, giving thanks and praise to him.
In today’s Old Testament lesson (2 Chronicles 20:1-2, 14-22), Jehoshaphat gained a great victory over the enemies of God’s people, but in a very unusual way. He appointed people “to sing to the Lord; to praise him… singing: ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for his steadfast love endures forever’” (2 Chronicles 20:21). In our own lives, when we face what look like impossible situations, we would do well to follow Jehoshaphat’s example and sing to the Lord, recounting God’s faithfulness; his grace to help in time of need. As St. Augustine once said, “He who sings prays twice.” When there seems to be little hope, let us sing of God’s power because nothing is too hard for the Lord (Jeremiah 32:17). When we feel let down and discouraged, let us sing of God’s promise, even as we hear from Jesus’ own lips in the Gospel lesson: “Jesus said to them, ‘You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee’” (Matthew 26:-31-32). Betrayal, mock trial, scourging, crucifixion – these are what await Jesus. But then, resurrection and Galilee, where his ministry will continue through his disciples.
We sing of God’s mercy and pardon for our sin. Peter’s prideful assertion, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away” (Matthew 26:33), is followed up by an even bigger boast: “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” (Matthew 26:35). But then we’re told that it wasn’t just Peter; all the disciples said the same thing. Their confidence would soon be put to the test. In just a few hours when Jesus would be arrested, they would all fall away, and Peter himself would deny knowing Jesus three times. And yet, in the midst of our unfaithfulness, we sing of God’s faithfulness. What this means for us is that the end is not the end. When everything looks so bleak and there seems to be no hope, when we are tempted to push that button and go nuclear – we sing of Jesus’ love and enduring faithfulness. With Jesus, the end is not the end. After Jesus had risen from the dead, the angel told the women on that first Easter morning, “Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he said” (Mark 16:7). Peter, who had denied Jesus three times! Peter, who caved in under pressure! Peter the rock who broke in pieces! Yes, we sing of God’s pardon for Peter and for us. When we, like Peter, have denied Jesus, caved in under pressure, or broke in pieces, we sing of God’s forgiveness that is stronger than our sin. We sing of life that is stronger than death. Yes, there is death, but there is also resurrection. There is Golgotha, but there is also Galilee. With Jesus, there is a new beginning – always. And because of this, we sing. We sing of God’s great love shown in Jesus, who shed his blood for us all. We sing of love that triumphs over death and the grave. We sing of life that is safe in Jesus’ nail-pierced hands for all eternity.
Vasili Arkhipov may well be credited with saving the world from nuclear warfare some sixty years ago. But the One who has saved the world from eternal destruction, death and hell is our Lord Jesus Christ, who by his death has destroyed death. To Jesus we sing songs of praise and thanksgiving as he leads us to the Mount of Olives and to all the places of his Passion. “Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things!” (Psalm 98:1). Amen.