Jesus, as John reminds us, knows what is in man. He knows how far our intentions carry us. How quickly our resolve dissolves in the acid of our fears. He knows how hard we find it to turn from our creature comforts to spiritual work; the nap always entices more than prayers because though the spirit is willing (at least sometimes), the flesh is weak (always). He knows how misguided we can be and how easily we misunderstand His ways, and how tempted we are to resort to violence and force when we feel backed into a corner.
So if you look at the Passion story we heard today with attention to the followers of Jesus what you find failure. Big time failure. Peter boasting that he’d die with Him, but then running away with the rest. Peter and James and John, his dearest earthly friends, unable to prop their eyelids open as the full weight of what He was preparing to do began to press on Him with all its terror and He just didn’t want to be alone, but alone they left Him; and He knew how much they needed prayer to get through what was about to happen, yet they kept falling asleep. Judas leading those who would arrest him and then betraying with that kiss, Peter striking out with the sword (oh, Mark is kind and skims over who it was but John spills the beans). And the mysterious neaniskos, the young man, who follows only wrapped in linen and yet also runs away at the end.
Yes the Passion mirrors our lives. We state our intentions. We make our vows. We intend to do better this time. We get the importance of the spiritual warfare now. We are ready. And yet fall we do. Once and again. With Peter and all the others, with Judas, with the nameless young man running away naked, possibly St. Mark. The Passion shows us our nakedness; it strips us of our fig leaves. We recognize the story that happened once in Judea under Pontius Pilate as a story that has not come to an end. The failures that it shows us in the 12 and the naked man are our failures. At least they are mine, and I assume they are yours. If it hangs on our hold on Jesus, we are toast. Just toast.
And we could wallow in that for the whole of chapel, but how pointless that would be. Let us instead turn our attention to what it does hang on. Not OUR faithlessness, but HIS faithfulness. He goes into His passion singing. Images of Jehoshaphat sending the army out with the choir in front. He goes to His passion with a song on His lips. There is a sacrifice to be offered in thanksgiving, after all, but He has no illusions.
He knows what awaits Him, and He receives it as from the hand of His Father. He misquotes the verse from Zechariah to make it plain how He understands it: not some disembodied sword, but a sword in His Father’s hand striking the shepherd. And as He ponders it in prayer, he is sorrowful even to death. This cup. He knows what is in it. He is afraid of it as you and I ought be and yet never are. He knows. And He trembles to sip from it. He asks, He begs, for another way. But His trust in His Father does not fail. “Yet, not what I will but what you will.” And His Father’s will is for Him to drink it. This cup of wrath. Down to the dregs. Every last bitter drop finished as He swallows it down in His Passion. He suffers Himself to be betrayed; He will not allow His friends to defend Him and so they run away themselves. He will do this that the Scripture might be fulfilled. He will go all the way as a willing sacrifice. A Lamb who goes uncomplaining forth, trusting that His Father’s will is right and just and good and holy. And so the Lamb becomes our very salvation.
And He does all of this for those who will fail Him, not just those who have done so, but who will do so. And fail again and again. He does it for those who will go on getting it backwards and wrong and slipping into worldly thinking. He does it for Peter with his sword and Judas with his money bag, and for the nameless one who ran away naked. He does it for love for them all, for love of you and love of me as we find ourselves mirrored in their fear and their sin.
Your sin cannot destroy His love. Let me say that again. Your sin cannot destroy His love. He knows your sin better than you ever will, because He took it into Himself. And just as He knew Peter’s future sin so He knows yours. And your sin – past, present or future – cannot destroy His love. It is exactly reverse. His love destroys your sin. That’s what the cross IS. And that is why you can have the courage of a Peter to come back to the Crucified and Risen One again. And again. And again. And to be restored. You can come back because His Cross really was for sinners, for love of sinners. Like Peter and like you and like me. A love that no sin can ever destroy. And so we fall down before Him and cry: We adore You, O Christ, and we bless You for by the wood of the holy cross You have redeemed the world! Amen.