I have been preaching for a lot of years, which means I have been preaching about Easter for a lot of years. Some years, it gets really hard to find something to say–or maybe it is more precise to say it gets really hard to find some way to say something in a fresh and attention grabbing way. As a preacher, I don’t get to listen to too many sermons but have been bored enough by some of the ones that I have heard to work hard at not boring those who listen to my sermons.
This year, when I began sermon planning for the Easter season, I followed my usual practise of typing the date of each Sunday and then staring at the computer screen, hoping for inspiration. I reviewed what I did last year but that didn’t help whole lot–I began working at one of the pastorates on Easter Sunday and the other the Sunday after Easter. That should have made the whole process easier but it didn’t–I was forced to confront my own boredom when it comes to Easter preaching. I needed to see the story from a different perspective. I needed something that would interest me so that I could have some enthusiasm to communicate to the congregations–and since I am working for two different pastorates with two different set of needs, I really needed two new interesting approaches.
Fortunately, God is merciful and graceful even to aging, bored (and maybe boring) preachers and helped me with some inspiration. For one set of sermons, I have been giving serious thought to the choices that led Jesus to the cross. As I was staring at the blank screen, I began to see how Jesus makes choices at critical points along the way to the cross. At several points, his choice can either stop or continue the process.
I began to think and mediate on the reality of the freedom Jesus had–he wasn’t a robot, pre-programmed to head for the cross, ignoring everything else. Jesus had the freedom to not go to the cross. As God, it is his creation and his plan. He is in charge and therefore has the right and the freedom to change the plan. Even more, since he is God and makes the rules, whatever he decides is right by definition.
While the cross and resurrection are absolutely essential from my perspective as a beneficiary, from Jesus perspective, they were always an option. Not going to the cross was also an option–a good option from Jesus’ perspective, even if it is a terrible option from my perspective. When I look at the choices Jesus made that led him to the cross, I see his love and grace in a whole new light.
He volunteered–and kept volunteering. Right up to his death he kept making choices that would put him on the cross–and he kept making them because of his love towards us. Now, I have been preaching about the unending love of God for us forever (at least it feels like that) but this year, making myself look at how Jesus kept making clear decisions to go to the cross, I have seen anew the depths of God’s love in Jesus Christ.
As I contemplate the choices, I see the depth of fear and pain in the prayer in Gethsemane–this is not some robot following a program; this is not some remote-controlled being dancing to some controller; this is not a drone acting out of instinct and programming. This is the story of Jesus, who has to work hard to get to the cross. He has to make the right decisions at the right time, all the while being able to see the consequences of each decision and each alternative decision and therefore, likely feeling the pain of the nails long before they were actually driven into his wrists.
There are days when I can’t make a non-self focused decision to save myself–but Easter tells us that Jesus’ whole life was a series of non-self focused decisions to save everyone else at the cost of his own safety and life. That is a real love story, one that I will have an eternity to contemplate.
May the peace of God be with you.