03/25/18 – JV – Love and Glory


March 25, 2018
Jazz Vespers – Palm Sunday
Homily: John 19: 15-21
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones


At the 10:00 service this morning, the congregation heard the readings for Palm Sunday, which is the start of Holy Week. For the past few weeks, in this service, we have read the gospel of John’s account of Jesus’ final days in Jerusalem. Today we have a preview of Good Friday.

John’s gospel is significantly different from the other three, known as the Synoptic Gospels. One of the unique features of John’s gospel is that Jesus takes control from the beginning. His first act of ministry was at the wedding at Cana. When his mother pleaded with him to do something about the wedding party’s wine supply, Jesus was reluctant. He explained ‘his time had not yet come.’ Jesus referred to this mysterious “time” as the “hour of his glorification.” For John, glorification is Jesus’ death upon a cross.

“Glorification” is a strange way to describe crucifixion. In this society, we divide people into winners and losers. Better to be a bully than to be the pathetic bullied one. Being forced to endure such a painful and humiliating death as crucifixion is not our idea of a “winner.”

Yet, throughout John’s gospel Jesus keeps referring to his “glorification,” and in the Passion narrative, it is made clear that Jesus is talking about his death on the cross. For John, Good Friday cannot be separated from Easter and The Ascension – each serves a function in one salvation event.

Another characteristic of John’s gospel is Jesus’ control over all the events leading to, and including his crucifixion. Jesus repeatedly tells his disciples that his every move is part of a great plan. “When the Jewish authorities come to arrest Jesus, he walks out to meet them (18:4). When Jesus claims that there is no need to question him because he has taught publicly, a guard strikes and rebukes him. But Jesus simply claims that he has spoken rightly and gives no impression of being intimidated (18:19-24).

In his trial before Pilate, not only does Jesus not answer the ruler directly, he turns the tables and questions Pilate. (18:24). When Pilate, frustrated by Jesus’ refusal to answer his question: “Are you the king of the Jews,” he resorts to intimidation. Pilate reminds Jesus he has the authority to free him or crucify him. Jesus claims the upper hand, responding: “You would have no power over me unless it had been given from above” (19:11).

In the Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Luke, and Mark, Simon the Cyrene carries the cross for Jesus when he stumbles. Only in John does Jesus carry the cross to Golgotha alone. We can relate to that stoic independence. Yet, John does make it clear that Jesus is not alone. God is always with him – especially in his suffering.

Lifted high on a cross Jesus spreads out his arms to bring the whole world to himself. For John, greater love has no man than to give his life for his friends. God sacrificed his only Son for us. Jesus gave up his life for us. This is the glorification of the cross. For John, the cross is as much a symbol of victory as the empty tomb. Love wins.

Pilate and the Temple leaders did not understand the power of love. They also did not understand that Jesus was the king of a kingdom far bigger and more powerful than the Roman Empire. When Pilate asked the chief priests if Jesus was their king, they answered: ‘We have no king but the emperor.’ John tells us “Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, * the King of the Jews.’ Why not, what power does a dead king have? But, the chief priests objected: “‘Do not write, “The King of the Jews”, but, “This man said, I am King of the Jews.”’ — shows that getting in the last word doesn’t make you the winner. The silence of the empty tomb sent a far more powerful message to the world.

I hope you will come back and join us for our Holy Week services. On Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, the music won’t be jazz, but I believe you will find it is good and will lead you into the worship experience well. On Easter Sunday morning we will rejoice in the Resurrection with the whole music gang at Westminster – choir, organ, trumpet, strings, drums – but no harp.  We will rejoice that the cross has been lifted, Christ is risen, and God’s love always wins.



© Rev. Denise Clark-Jones, 2018, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church – Peoria, Illinois