What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus Christ? What does it really mean? What does it really mean to walk with Him? Do we really want to do it? Do we want to follow in His footsteps and ask Him to walk with us every day and all the way? Or might we choose our moments and keep others to ourselves?
Holy Week gives us a test of our sincerity. It stretches us in uncomfortable ways. It makes uncommon and perhaps unacceptable demands on us to do some things differently, to rearrange our priorities, to see how committed we really are to the Way, to the One Who alone is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Holy Week gives us the most vivid and realistic glimpse of what it might look like to be a follower of Jesus. Yet too few of those persons who name the Name of Jesus have truly walked His path this week or any week. Jesus had only three years in which to do the work the Father had given Him to do. Most of us have had at least 10 times that long, some 20 times or more.
In Holy Week those who have walked with Jesus have left the comforts of relaxed fellowship with dear friends in Bethany and have entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, an entrance tinged with apprehension, triggered by Jesus’ awareness of what would come next. Then, on Maundy Thursday, we withdrew into the Upper Room with the rest of His disciples, anticipating with joy the Passover Seder that recalls and celebrates God’s deliverance from bondage. But it turned into a night of surprises in which Jesus washed our feet and commanded us to love one another as He loves us. He predicted His betrayal by Judas, His denials by Peter, His own brutal death, and the sending of the Holy Spirit. Most of all, this was the night when He instituted the Holy Meal we call the Eucharist, our perpetual remembrance of His sacrifice and of our place of intimate fellowship with Him. Then last evening, in moments of unequaled poignancy, we walked with Him along what we call “the Way of the Cross,” or “the Way of Sorrows.” We left the Upper Room and followed Him to the Garden of Gethsemane, hearing His agonized prayer of anticipation. Then we followed Him to the place called Golgotha, hearing His anguished cry of “It is finished.”
Tonight we join His disciples, His followers, once again, resuming where we left off last night. Not everything has gone as we expected. Our walk with Jesus left us fearful, bewildered, wanting to run and hide somewhere, anywhere, to escape the harshness of an ending we never would have scripted. We try to recall His words to us and their deeper meaning, and we quake in the realization of all that we missed, that only now is beginning to be starkly clear. We think about the implication of those words and these events for us personally. We shudder.
But now, on this Holy Night, the dim light of Christ, the Light of the World, the Light that came into the world, the Light that the world rejected yet could not extinguish (John 1:3ff), that Light is shining before us, in us and through us. His light has become our light and has made us to be lights, bearers of His light in a world of darkness, the world we entered tonight carrying “the Light of Christ” and saying, “Thanks be to God.”
Now we remember His saying in the Upper Room, “Greater works than these will you do, because I am going to My Father” (John 14:12). By His grace He has given us time to do them. Time. It is among our most precious possessions; yet with it comes heavy responsibility. What will we do with it? Will we use it for Him Whose name we bear, Whose path we have trod, Whose Body was broken and Whose Blood was shed for each one of us? Will we try to come to terms with “sacrifice” and what sacrificial living really entails? We have looked at what sacrifice meant to our Lord and Savior. We have stared it in His face. What does it mean for us? How do we measure His pain and suffering against our discomforts? What are we willing to sacrifice in order to be His servants, as He commanded us to be?
“This is the night.” This is the night of deliverance, of restoration, of victory, of holiness. “How blessed is this night, when earth and heaven are joined, and we are reconciled with God.”
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? We have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. Our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, for he who has died is freed from sin. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6).
In the next moments we will do something profound, something of deepest significance in our walk with Christ. It will take us back to our first entrance into a personal relationship with Him. It will be new to some of you and very familiar to others. It is called “the Renewal of our Baptismal Vows,” vows that were said by us or for us. For those to whom this is new, you may offer these same vows in recognition that everything contained in them, you have said before in some other context. You have pledged your life, the obedience of your faith, in most of these same words.
And tonight you simply have the opportunity to affirm afresh your determination to be a follower of Jesus, Whose paths we have walked this week. Think deeply about every word you will say, every pledge, every vow, every commitment. Think about how each one might change something in your life. These are far more than good intentions. We will say, “I believe, I will continue, I will persevere, I will proclaim, I will seek and serve, I will strive.” All of these are active concepts, serious pledges, life-altering vows. Nothing about them is pro forma, something followers of Jesus just say together from time to time. They are your re-commitment. They are your personal profession of your identification with the Crucified One, of your new life in the Resurrected One, and of your decision to follow and serve Jesus, the Lord of your life.
What does it really mean to be a follower of Jesus Christ? You are about to proclaim it.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen