One of my dad's favorite things to say is, "When it's your time to go, it's your time to go." He says this phrase anytime someone dies, whether we knew them or not, it could be someone on TV, a celebrity, politician, whatever. He also says it whenever the subject of death comes up. So despite the fact that even though to this day, my siblings and I have had very little experience with the people in our lives dying, we all grew up with morbid personalities. We think about death, a lot!
I remember these conversations that I used to have with my sister. We would talk about how if our parents ever had to fly anywhere, we would have to make sure that they flew on two different planes, just in case one of the planes went down. That way, we'd only lose one of them. I mean, we'd kind of say it in joking a way, because we never actually thought our parents would die in a plane crash, but jokes almost always have a kernel of truth. Death is part of the world. It has a way of creeping in, and reminding us that it is there.
Which may be appropriate, given today's text. We're coming up on Good Friday and Easter, so our text today is setting the stage. Jesus has just been whipped, tortured, and despite the fact that he's innocent and has already been punished for his alleged crimes, the crowd continues to demand his execution, and so Pilate decides he has no choice, and sends the soldiers away with Jesus to crucify him.
As they made their way to the hill, a large crowd of people was following, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. Jesus was their teacher. He was kind and wise and took care of them. They loved him. And now, he was gonna die. But, Jesus doesn't turn to them to offer words of comfort. Instead, he says this is just beginning. It only gets worse from here. What he says, as written in the gospel is this: "For the days are surely coming when they will say, 'Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.' … For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?"
Here, Jesus is referring to himself as the "green wood," as a living tree that is healthy and capable of producing fruit. He's not dry, seasoned wood that's dead and ready for the fire. He's the last piece of wood that you would reach for to stoke your hearth, and yet he had been marked for death. How much worse for those of us who are dry, dead, not as perfectly good as Jesus is?
We live in a world where death happens every day. Here in good old the 21st century US of A, a lot of us have actually managed to push that fact out of our minds. We have Microsoft and Apple, The Food Network (don't get me wrong, I LOVE The Food Network!), Jersey Shore, all glittering lights and glossy photo spreads telling us that if we just have this, we'll be happy, if we could just look like this, we will be fulfilled, and we believe it! Because, if we can just focus enough on something else, then we won't have to think about the real problems in this world. These are the false promises that tell us that the only consequences of our actions are our own happiness or sadness. The false promises that tell us that we don't have to think about how our actions and our greed have warped the planet into something that God never intended it to be.
Romans 6:23a "For the wages of sin is death." This isn't because God has decreed it arbitrarily, or because God is vindictive, but because it's the nature of sin. We see it every day: pride, greed, envy, sloth, sin is killing us! And we, in our sin, are killing each other. "For the days are surely coming when they will say, "Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.'" How bad would things have to be for mothers to wish that their children had never been born? We can ask the mothers of the Native Peoples who were here when the Europeans first colonized this land, and disease and war obliterated their numbers and destroyed their way of life. We can ask mothers had to watch their children being born into slavery, into a life where they would be treated as less than human. We can ask the mothers who experienced the holocaust and had to watch their people being rounded up like animals, starved to death and slaughtered by the millions. We can ask the mothers of wartime and genocide, things that should not be, but are still happening today. We can ask the mothers of famine and plague, injustice, and inequality. The world is filled with sin, and the wages of sin is death.
But, there is good news! God is stronger than sin. Jesus came down to dwell among us, to become one of us so that he could divert those wages onto himself. He saw us standing on the train tracks and he shoved us out of the way before the train could hit, but the only way to save us was to be hit himself, because that train was gonna hit something. Jesus died an unjust death, so that we wouldn't have to die a just one. Jesus died so that when he was lifted up, when he was brought back to life, we would be brought back with him. God is a God of love, and Jesus has thrown in his lot with ours, because the wages of love is life.
We no longer have to fear death, because in Christ Jesus, we have love, and we have life. And, with the Holy Spirit inside of us, we are empowered drop the false promises of this world, to take action, to be the people of God and be a force for good. We don't need to listen to the lies anymore, because Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. Praise God, and Amen.