(This is the text of a sermon I wrote on Holy Saturday 2011, one of the ways I coped with not leading a congregation through Triduum and Easter for the first time in 10 years. In typing it up, I left in grammatical or logical errors.)
Resurrection Before Death
Barabbas gets a bad rap. He didn’t make the decision that Jesus would die instead of him. [Summarize story from Scripture – one man released each Passover, Pilate’s decision, people’s cries]
How do you suppose it would feel to be free after condemned to death? Imagine – he’s in a cell, the bottom of a pit [describe conditions]. And he gets the shout, “Barabbas! Get up – you’re getting out!” What?!? The chains being removed to the sound of “Crucify him! Crucify him!” But before he could identify the intended recipient of the shouts, shock and relief overtook him. He was free! Free to go!
Any second he expected to be pushed back into the pit. He skulked along the walls to freedom. Then he caught a glimpse of the man being crucified instead. He knew this one, this Jesus, and he was no criminal. He was a revolutionary like himself, but as nonviolent as they come. He wasn’t guilty of crimes against the state. Maybe words against the state or against religious authorities. They agreed on much … except murder. That was why Barabbas was arrested in the first place – murder of a Roman soldier – something Jesus would never condone.
Yet here he was on the chopping block, innocent according to Pilate, yet condemned to die while he, Barabbas, went free for murder. What would you do? Insist that you should die because you were the guilty one? Take the free pass, the free ride, and run? Do you think Barabbas felt guilty for doing what everyone would do – go free if given the chance?
We might know how he felt if we knew what he did with his new life. Perhaps he returned to his old haunts, old ways, old friends, continuing sedition and revolution, even if murder was required. Perhaps he tried to find his old haunts and old friends, but – betrayed – they left him and changed headquarters. He had to hide out himself, without the supports and people who helped him before.
Or perhaps … this was a moment of rebirth, a do-over, a new life and an opportunity to start again. A man he knew was innocent willingly let the crowd and the authorities perjure themselves as they asked for him – Barabbas – to go free. And free he went! Free to live as well as Jesus, one who gave up his life. Free to live in the footsteps of one who gives up his life for his friends (John 15) and speaks of freedom that indicts political and religious leaders – just as Barabbas used to do too. Free to live.
We know that Jesus’ death opened the way of new life and resurrection for him and all of us. In the future and the here and now as we experience rebirth, do-overs, start overs, new paths. Jesus didn’t just die because the crowd yelled, “Crucify him!” and Pilate consented. He didn’t die only to save Barabbas from death. But he did offer Barabbas abundant, abundant, over-flowing grace. As much grace as the resurrection brings – the opportunity of new life. And Barabbas (whose name in Hebrew means “Son of Papa”) was one of the first to receive this rebirth. [Jesus raised Lazarus from the tomb, and those Jesus healed of sight and orthopedic issues come to mind!] On the cross, from the grave, and risen, Jesus offered this same abundant, extravagant grace to the thieves (Luke 23:39-43).
Where does your life need this abundant grace to start over? Where do you need resurrection power and the love of a savior who would give his life to save another? I need abundant grace to start my life over as a bipolar woman who works in the Presbyterian church. I haven’t completely accepted either the bipolar, or the need to move away from congregational pastor. But abundant grace is on the way. I can feel it.