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Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Lectionary Scriptures: Liturgy of the Palms—Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29; Luke 19:28-40
Liturgy of the Passion—Isaiah 50:4-9a, Psalm 31:9-16, Philippians 2:5-11, Luke 22:14-23:56

This week there are two lectionary listings—one for Palm Sunday and one for Passion Sunday—celebrating the so-called Triumphal Entry and the crucifixion (the “Passion”). Palm Sunday comes but once a year and many like a big celebration, but neither has any other Sunday in the church year specifically been set aside for a focus on the crucifixion, central to Christian theology and experience. The two occasions represent a sharp contrast in moods. The enthusiastic crowd thought they were welcoming a kind of king who never materialized—one who was going to overthrow the present Roman dominance and set up a new earthly realm of immediate peace and justice. Later in the week, when things began to get tough, the mood of the crowd changed and the king they hoped for ended up on a cross.

Let’s try to take a quick look at the scriptures for each of the emphases—Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday—although I don’t recommend that anyone try to preach on all of them on the same Sunday.

Psalm 118 depicts entry into the temple for worship. It contains references to a “festal procession with branches” (vs. 27) and includes the words used by the crowd as they cheer Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem—“Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” (vs. 26) It is filled with the same kind of joy expressed on that first Palm Sunday, including the verse familiar to many: “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (vs. 24)

On special feast days it was not uncommon for worship to begin outside with a procession into the temple, through the “gates of righteousness,” “the gate of the Lord.” (Psalm 118:19-20) Is Luke trying to draw a parallel? Jesus is part of a procession into the holy of holies (what we call “Holy Week”) of the Gospel story. Some Psalms were used to celebrate the coronation of a new king. It is not clear that this is one of them, but Luke may be trying to portray the entry into Jerusalem as part of that coronation tradition. The people think they are on their way to a coronation.

The first part of the reading from Luke 18 includes the commandeering of a donkey, because “the Lord needs it.” (vs. 30-34) We could talk about Jesus’ riding in on a donkey as an act of humility, but it also reminded the people of a king (the hoped-for Messiah?) described as follows in Zechariah 9:9—“Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Is it any wonder the crowd thought their highest hopes were being fulfilled?

The story ends with the Pharisees begging Jesus to order his disciples to stop their shouting of praises, to which Jesus replies, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” (Luke 19:39-40) Whatever is happening is so momentous that it can’t be silenced, covered up. Perhaps that’s the “triumphal” part of all this. History (and the people who make history) have tried to squelch, avoid, the stories of Jesus, the subversive truth in them, the defeat on a cross that couldn’t kill the truth—and they haven’t been able to do it. The reality to which Jesus pointed is still alive!

Do we believe it? The rejoicing on that first “Palm Sunday” was short-lived. What about the rejoicing—or self-examination or insight or commitment—that is present in our midst during any given Sunday of worship? Is it still there on Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday and even on a dark Friday? May such questions be part of our Holy Week meditations.

The readings from Isaiah 50 and Psalm 31 for “Passion Sunday” both foreshadow attitudes attributed to Jesus on the cross, attitudes of one who is under siege. In Isaiah one who has been struck and maligned (vs. 6) remains obedient (vss. 5 & 7) and trusting (vss. 8-9). In the Psalm one who feels abandoned, wasting away in grief (vss. 9-13), declares trust and seeks deliverance because God is a God of “steadfast love.” (Vss. 14-16).

The instruction of the epistle reading from Philippians 2:5-11 is to follow the example of Jesus, who emptied himself, took on human form, even faced death, in the service of Love. The events of Holy Week are about “incarnation,” Love becoming flesh and dwelling among us. None of it makes any sense unless Love finds life in us and is expressed in our living and our dying, our serving and relating.

The lengthy reading from Luke for Passion Sunday retells the story of deeply human moments for Jesus and for his disciples. They share a meal together. (Luke 22:14-20) There is talk of betrayal and denial, and arguments about who is most important among the disciples (vss. 21-34). Jesus goes out to pray, seeking another way out, his friends not able to stay awake with him through these dark moments. (vss. 39-46) Jesus knew the human experience of being abandoned by those closest to him.

He is arrested, mocked, tried, insulted. Like those in power everywhere, those accusing him try to pass the buck. “He belongs in your jurisdiction, not mine.” (Luke 22:63-23:16) The workings of justice in all ages can be brutal. The innocent suffer for the crimes of the powerful. The media stir up the populace so that they demand blood. And so Jesus is crucified. Often those in a position to make a difference wash their hands of responsibility. (Luke 23:18-25)

Other words and actions in the story catch our attention: “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for you children.” (Luke 23:28) “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23: 34) “Certainly this man was innocent.” (Luke 23:47) There is great grief and Jesus is buried. Humanity has done its worst, yet there are those who show compassion (including some women) even at the tomb.

We are called during Holy Week to go to the tomb and ponder. Is the story over? Is there a resurrection to come? The answer will come in a variety of ways—through scripture, in our worship, etc. Words on a page, acts in a church sanctuary, though, are finally empty unless the story continues in us. Do we believe that can happen? If we do, perhaps that is as great a miracle as the first Easter morning.

1 comments:

Jones said...

GREAT BLOG, JIM. JUST GREAT! THANKS. I LOOK FORWARD.....TO FOLLOWING THE REST OF THE STORY AS IT CONTINUES TO UNFOLD.

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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