This reflection was offered at Lee Memorial United Methodist Church on Palm/Passion Sunday, March 29, 2015. Throughout the Lenten Season, we will be reading through the Gospel of Mark. To find our 40 day reading plan, click here.
Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear that together, we might be inspired to not only speak but to live your Word in the world starting today. It’s in that most holy Word’s name—Jesus the Christ—we pray. Amen.
I think it was probably Peter who said it. He had been with Jesus the longest. He—known as Simon at the time—and his brother Andrew were the first two people Jesus invited with him along The Way (see Mark 1:16-18). It had been a challenging few years, but he’d seen more in that few years than he ever would have seen if he’d stayed in that boat and sold his fish in the market. He witnessed Jesus cast out demons and heal the sick. He had helped serve a hungry crowd of five thousand with just five loaves of bread and two fish; and, he had helped pick up the leftovers that filled nearly 12 baskets (see Mark 6:30-44). He was with the disciples that night Jesus walked on the water and calmed the storm (see Mark 6:45-52). He was the first of the twelve to profess faith in Jesus as the Christ (see Mark 8:27-29). He was with Jesus on the mountaintop (see Mark 9:2-13) and he had followed Jesus into Jerusalem as the crowd cheered his arrival (see Mark 11:1-11)
I think it was probably Peter who said it. He was often over-confident in his understanding like the day he professed his faith in Jesus as the Messiah. On that day, he tried to correct Jesus when he mentioned his eminent suffering and death at the hands of the religious leaders (see Mark 8:29-33). Peter was often over-confident. The last time was the worst. It was during the Passover Meal. Jesus had mentioned that one of the disciples would betray him. They all denied it. Peter assured Jesus that he would never stumble in his devotion. Boy was he wrong. Before the night was up, all his friends had scattered, and he had denied his friendship with Jesus three times.
Jesus had predicted that his disciples would falter in their devotion. But, he never imagined that the people, those who had joyously welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem with shouts of “Hosanna!” would turn so quickly. As Peter stood in Pilate’s court, he could hardly believe his ears. They were all shouting, “Crucify him.” As he wept, too afraid to say anything, he thought to himself, “what the…”
Where were the thousands who were fed and the hundreds whose faith had healed them? Where were the other disciples? Why had Judas turned Jesus in? Why hadn’t God saved his son?!? Peter had traveled with Jesus the longest. He said he was willing to die alongside Christ (see Mark 14:31) and now he was hiding in the shadows so as not to be seen. Where was his confidence now? What the…
Fill-in the blank as you may, as I consider the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, the abandonment by his friends, his arrest and trial, “what the…” seems like the best and most honest response. I mean truthfully, what the [insert your favorite swear word] happened?
Throughout the Gospel of Mark, the writer has tried to get us to identify with his depiction of the disciples. And, I don’t know about you, but I find that portrayal quite convincing. The disciples are far from perfect.
Sometimes they misunderstand Jesus’ teaching (Mark 4:13). At other times they fail to appreciate his power (Mark 4:40; 6:52). They also seek status instead of service (Mark 9:34-37; 10:35-40). They sleep when [Jesus has] asked them to remain awake (Mark 14:32-42); they scatter when he’s arrested (Mark 14:50); and Peter denies [Jesus] not once but three times (Mark 14:66-72). Despite these faults, Jesus never gives up on his followers. He remains with them, nudging them toward faithfulness.
What the [ding] happened? Judas who betrayed Jesus, Peter who denied Jesus, the other disciples who scatter in fear, the crowd who starts the week by shouting “Hosanna!” (Lord save us!) and by the end of the week is shouting “Crucify him!” What the [ding] happened? Their faith faltered; and, I don’t know about you, but at times mine does too.
When Jesus doesn’t meet my expectations… When living my faith becomes too risky… When identifying with Jesus costs me my ego and my reputation… When the demands simply outweigh the perceived benefits (as if faith is about what I receive)… When Jesus demands everything, and I think I can only give him a small portion, my faith falters. I stumble. It’s as true in the twenty-first century as it was in the first, we all stumble in our faithfulness to Christ and in so doing an unbelieving world puts him on trial because of his followers’ lack of faith.
But, hear the good news: Jesus never gives up on those who dare follow him. When our lack of faith puts Christ on trial; when our blatant rejection of him pushes him away and seals him in a borrowed tomb, Christ never gives up on us. For we find that even our deepest blunders cannot keep us from the unfailing love of God found in Jesus Christ.
What the [ding] happened? The disciples’, our faithfulness to Christ faltered. But, thanks be to God that that wasn’t the end of the story. How does the story end? Join us this Holy Week to find out: Maundy Thursday Experience at 6pm, Good Friday Tenebrae at 7pm, and Easter Sunday morning at 10:30am.
God of us all, your love never ends.
When all else fails, you still are God.
[As we prepare to walk with you in the next week]
We pray to you for one another in our need…
to those who doubt, give light;
to those who are weak, strength;
to all who have sinned, mercy;
to all who sorrow, your peace.
[To all who falter, courage to face the future unafraid.]
Keep true in us
the love with which we hold one another.
in all our ways we trust you.
And to you,
with your Church on earth and in heaven,
we offer honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen. 
 From the Introduction to the Gospel of Mark in the uncorrected proof of The Common English Study Bible, page 22.
 Adapted from a prayer of commendation in “A Service of Death and Resurrection” in The United Methodist Book of Worship Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1985, 1989, 1992 UMPH <http://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/a-service-of-death-and-resurrection> Accessed March 29, 2015.