Call to Worship/Psalm 27 (NRSV)
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh— my adversaries and foes—they shall stumble and fall.
Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident.
One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.
For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock.
Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the Lord.
Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me!
“Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!” Your face, Lord, do I seek.
Do not hide your face from me.
Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help.
Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!
If my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up.
Teach me your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies.
Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries, for false witnesses have risen against me, and they are breathing out violence.
I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!
Walk with us, loving God, on the path to Easter. Take us slowly through this season so we may truly feel, clearly see and tenderly know the depths of your love that you shared with us in the life of Jesus. Let us take a step to see our own denials, the way we miss seeing you in the presence of those different from us. Let us face our own fears and angers, our fear of being alone, our anger that erupts like Peter’s sword. Let us face our own betrayals of those who are close to us. Loving God, walk with us through pain and searching, be with us through doubt and despair, and lead us to the joy of Easter. Amen.
Scripture Lesson/ Luke 23:1-12 (NRSV)
1Then the assembly rose as a body and brought Jesus before Pilate. 2They began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor, and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king.” 3Then Pilate asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” He answered, “You say so.” 4Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no basis for an accusation against this man.” 5But they were insistent and said, “He stirs up the people by teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to this place.” 6When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. 7And when he learned that he was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him off to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. 8When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been wanting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some sign. 9He questioned him at some length, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. 11Even Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then he put an elegant robe on him and sent him back to Pilate. 12That same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies.
There were many witnesses to the events which took place on that hill outside Jerusalem two-thousand years ago. An angry crowd gathered to be certain that their verdict of “guilty” be carried out in the sentence of death by crucifixion. A small group of the condemned man’s followers milled about the crowd; still in shock over the injustice being meted out, many of them kept their identity secret to protect themselves from a similar fate. And some had to be there—those responsible for tending to the necessary tasks which went along with an execution.
But there were other “witnesses” as well, ones we don’t usually think about, although they were even closer to the events than the crowd. In fact, they actually participated in those events in unique ways. They are the Silent Witnesses. If only these things could speak! What might they tell us about the events from their viewpoint? Today, we will hear from The Robe.
Oh, hi! I didn’t see you there. I guess I really shouldn’t be surprised that you would come to me for my insight into that sham of a trial that humble man endured. Actually, I’ve stopped being surprised about most things since the events of that day. But let me begin by telling you a bit about myself and then we’ll get into the nitty-gritty of that fateful day. Being a robe, I’m used to speaking off the cuff…so let’s roll up our sleeves and get started. Don’t you just love textile humor?!
As you can see, I’m not a run-of-the-mill piece of fabric. You won’t find me on the racks at TJ Maxx or Kohl’s. I’m only available through those 5th Avenue or Rodeo Drive type stores. Liz Claiborne’s got nothing on me. I’m made of the finest quality materials ever woven into cloth. The greatest care was taken to make sure there wouldn’t be any flaws in me, so that I would be acceptable even to royalty. I was carefully handled, given the finest texture, the softest sheen, the smoothness of delicate skin. After that, I was soaked in the solution that would give the deepest of royal purple color. The dye was obtained from a small mollusk, so rare that it was found in the Mediterranean Sea only off the coast of what is modern day Lebanon. It took 9,000 mollusks to create just one gram of Tyrian purple. After the dyeing process, I was handed over to the best tailors to shape me into a robe fit for a king—or, in my case, a governor.
Life, however, takes some unusual twists. To be sure, I was discovered immediately to be one of the finest garments available in the province. I was picked from scores of others to serve as the “outer skin” for Pontius Pilate, governor of Judea. I was meticulously wrapped and delivered to his palace. Following the careful scrutiny of his servants—and then the governor himself—I was given a position in his palace closet. Man, did I have it made!
Being the finest of my kind, I was chosen to attend all of the fine and fancy functions royalty are privilege to. I went to parties, banquets, affairs of state, and sometimes just worn around the palace because I was both comfortable and stately. I felt sorry for the robes of lesser quality because they were feeling neglected when I was chosen and they weren’t. But, membership has it privileges as you say, and when you’re the best, that’s just the way of the world. Fortunately, my ego protected me from any wrinkle lines due to worry or stress.
I guess you think I’m rather stuffy—completely full of myself—but my life has changed greatly from those halcyon days. It’s easy to get caught up in the glories of the past when you’ve fallen so far from them. Just like any bubble—when the surface tension increases to an intolerable limit, it bursts. My ego suffered a terrible blow when another robe was hung in the royal closet, one that was free of any signs of wear—no stains or fading from washing. It took my place as the governor’s garment of choice. Needless to say, I was devastated. It was like the plotline in the movie Toy Story. I was overlooked like Woody was when Andy received the new Buzz Lightyear toy for his birthday. I seemed to hang there for an eternity. One day, one of the governor’s servants came and did some spring cleaning, so to speak. And guess who got tossed aside?! Me, of all things! I ended up in a pile with all the other discarded clothing. Here I was, the proverbial “fruit of the loom” being tossed out like a common rag. To think I might be given to a lesser person, or even worse, The Goodwill! It was all beneath a robe of my proper standing. And now, I was literally laying beneath all of the other discarded clothes.
In my pensiveness, I began to notice some of some of the stains that I had acquired over the years. The governor wasn’t always the neatest person in the world. I saw the dark spots where wine had been spilled and other stains from the fruit he ate. They had probably been there for a while, but until now, I hadn’t noticed them. Or, maybe I just didn’t want to see them or acknowledge the fact I was stained. Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt, you know. I looked at those spots and stains and they seemed to look mockingly back at me—taunting me and telling me that I wasn’t really as perfect as I thought I was.
Oh, please forgive me; I didn’t realize how much time I was spending on myself. Please let me tell you what happened to me that is far more important than anything I’ve mentioned so far. It has to do with the event you asked me about, the trial and crucifixion of that prophet. Well, the other rags—I mean clothes and I were gossiping in our pile in the storeroom when we all quieted down to listen to the commotion going on outside. We could hear an angry crowd yelling, “Crucify him!” We then heard the familiar voice of the governor saying he could find no reason to execute this man, but the crowd just got riled up even more. The angrier they got, the louder their cries for satisfaction became. I then realized that maybe being piled up in an out-of-the-way corner wasn’t such a bad thing. I wouldn’t want to be out there in the middle of all that commotion. God only knows what might have been splattered on us if the mob got angry enough. Anyway, the noise went on for quite a while. Then, things became eerily silent for a time, and then it all started back up again. During this free-for-all, a soldier came in and began talking to one of the servants. He seemed to be on a mission, purposefully looking for something. The servant to whom he had been speaking walked towards us and began fumbling through the pile of discards. I felt her hand suddenly tighten and lift me from the middle of the pile. I was shaken violently, as if to get out all the wrinkles. She then held me up in the air in front of her, examining me with a discerning eye. I saw the soldier grin as if he had found the prize he had been seeking. He started to laugh—saying something to the servant about not worrying with the wrinkles; that they looked like they belong to this “king.”
King?! I wondered. I had been worn by a governor but never a king. But why in the world would a king want to wear a soiled, wrinkled garment when he probably could afford the latest in Roman fashion? My imagination raced with all the possibilities this moment might portend. Suddenly derailed from my train of thought, I found myself in the courtyard, gripped tightly by the solider in a wad behind his back. Then he leaned over to another soldier and let him catch a glimpse of me. They laughed aloud—a laughter, I sensed, that was tinged severity. Even I can tell the difference between laughing about something, like a good joke, and laughing at something, as if one were directing it as an insult. The other soldiers wanted to see what was so funny and began to huddle around us. They, too, began to grin with mocking laughter. What was so funny, I wondered? It was a rather humiliating moment for me. I couldn’t help that I was wrinkled and stained. The governor did that to me—Pontius Pilate—more like “Pontius Pitiful.” All this was due to his lack of dexterity and decorum, not mine. Clumsy oaf…
As I looked around, my eyes caught a glimpse of the one on trial. He was standing in the center of the courtyard facing the gabbatha, which is often called “the pavement”—an area of intricately placed flagstones upon which Pilate’s judgment seat was located. His head was facing downward as if he was either worn out or praying, Maybe it was both. At any rate, I noticed that he wore simple sandals, a common garment, and the most hideous head covering I had ever seen—a crudely woven crown made of prickly thorns. One could see the puncture wounds the thorns caused to his forehead. His hands were bound and he stood calmly and still. He wasn’t feeding into the crowds frenzy. He didn’t defend himself from their taunts by taunting back. I noticed that the soldiers nearby were even more callous than the crowd, spitting on him, or hitting him with the butt of their short sword or a the back end of a spear. The endless cries of “Crucify him!” were hurled from the crowd as many raised their fists in anger. What this man was going through made the discarded rag pile from which I had just come seem like the Garden of Eden. As the volume and tempo of the crowd’s pulsating ire increased, the soldier holding me took me to the center of the courtyard, unveiling me as if I were some sort of official flag or emblem. The crowd could see that I had once been a garment of great value, that was now wrinkled and stained. Ugh! I was living out my worst nightmare! I looked like I had been put through the wringer!
But, I digress. I’m not here to get you to feel sorry for me. That’s not the message I want you to hear this morning. If you have any feelings of sympathy, any humanity at all, they should be concentrated on the pale figure of a man struggling to remain on his feet before me. Not only was his body being broken from the physical abuse he endured, it seemed that his heart was also broken—which, in that moment, seemed even worse. The jeering laughter was deafening. Indeed he was a king, one who was being degraded in front of and by his royal subjects. I wished I could have shrunk back to storeroom and bury myself in that pile of rags. I could barely stand to watch what was happening to this man—and I’m just a robe, an inanimate object that has to be acted upon to do anything. And here he was, a human being who had been stripped of every shred of dignity and freedom—a freely animate person capable of thought and speech and movement and choice who, in that moment—was reduced to an object of scorn—an “un”person, if you will.
The soldier took me to him, draping my folds about the man’s shoulders. You’ve heard of someone being dressed to kill. This man was being dressed to be killed. After all these years of adorning the high governor of Judea, I thought I had felt important before. Even in that arduous moment, I felt that I was clothing someone of even higher status than the governor. A benevolent regent, one who seeks to lift up the humble and marginalized. A monarch who surprisingly revealed his power in being vulnerable before others. And let’s face it, being vulnerable takes a great deal of strength, faith, character, and endurance. He was a king who chose to play the role of a servant, giving up power rather than having his power go to his head or using his power to build an army for the conquest of the nations, or to construct magnificent edifices to his own glory.
Draped around his shoulders, in some odd, unusual way, made me feel brand new. Here I was wrapped around his bruised body and I felt as if I had just come off the loom. The stains and worn places I had seemed to fade away. My embarrassment, my shame, my feelings of humiliation all faded into the ether as if I had been made of tissue, and skin, and bone that placed in the compassionate and capable hands of a healer, begin to repair themselves, with the scars left behind reminding us not only of what we learned from that painful experience, but also how far, in the healing power of God, we have moved on from them. The wrinkles and worry lines we carry tell us of a God who has seen us through and beyond the valley of suffering and are evidence to others that we have a story to tell and wisdom to share. I have learned the important lesson that life isn’t about one’s color or one’s pedigree. Being in that pile of discards taught me that I wasn’t all that different from the other clothes and cloths that were worn or used for various and sundry purposes around the household. We were all made from the same cloth.
Needless to say, I’m a different robe after that experience. After being stripped off that man’s shoulders as he was led away under the weight of that heavy cross, I was thrown to the side and picked up by someone who found me alongside the dusty street, who realized that, even though I had been used, worn, and soiled, I could still provide them with some degree of warmth and, being the rare purple color I was, a real conversation starter. Now that’s a good thing, by the way. Because of the healing and joy I experienced after being placed on that man’s shoulders, I am eager to tell others about what God was doing through him. Why, it’s so exciting, I’m just bursting at the seams!
Gracious and merciful God, the season of Lent is a time in which we journey with Jesus made to the cross.
It is also a season in which we take the time when we reflect on the deeper meanings of life and faith—
to examine our mistakes that we might learn from them;
to lay aside things, feelings, or attitudes that encumber us and keep us from living more fully into community with others;
to consider the meaning of the cross and reflect upon the depth and width of God’s mercy.
As Jesus walked the way of suffering, we pray this day for all who find themselves walking a hard journey—
for those who regularly cross paths with violence and abuse;
for those who did not want to leave home but were forced to;
for those who set out today in search of food and water;
for those whose journey is shattered by economic hardship;
for those whose journey is marred by pain, grief, or despair, and for those who faithfully journey alongside them;
for those who are making a move and beginning again;
for those who are still clinging on to something that has ended;
for those who are being bullied, and for those who are bullying;
for those who have just taken their first breath, and for those who today will take their last.
May the life and example of Jesus give courage and strength to all whose journey is far from easy. And may it inspire us to risk Christ’s Way of love as we share this journey with others. We offer this prayer in the name of the One whose journey leads us to abundant life in this world and eternal life in the next, Jesus the Christ who prayed:
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
May you know hope in the midst of doubts, assurance in times of questioning, and peace in the presence of conflict.
May your journey through Lent lead you ever closer to the heart of God, and may God walk with you along the way.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, go in peace to love and serve the Lord. Amen.