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Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Lectionary Scriptures:
Liturgy of the Palms---Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
Liturgy of the Passion---Isaiah 50:4-9a, Psalm 31:9-16, Philippians 2:5-11, Luke 22:14-23:56

Here we are again with that seeming conflict between Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday.  Who doesn’t get into a Sunday which is often celebrative, maybe some waving of palm branches?  One participant in our weekly lectionary discussion said he thought we were supposed to use the palms to tickle the back of the neck of the person sitting in front of us!  We all love his sense of humor.

The focus on The Passion, though, seems much more somber, having the potential of being a downer with its attention to Jesus’ movement toward crucifixion.  The word “passion” as we use it in daily conversation (which we don’t do all that much) usually refers to intense emotion or enthusiasm, including sexual desire.   The word comes to us from the Greek “paskho” which means to suffer.  It is related to Passover and Paschal (as in Paschal Lamb).  In religious and theological conversation The Passion refers to the sufferings of Jesus in the period following the Last Supper and including the Crucifixion, certainly a time filled with emotion, a time eliciting emotional response as we reflect on the oppressive use of power and the voluntary sacrificial response of Love.

The Gospel reading for Palm Sunday is Luke’s report of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on a donkey.  (Luke 19:28-35)  As he rode in “people kept spreading their cloaks on the road” and the crowd broke into praise, singing words from Psalm 118 (the only other lectionary reading for the “Liturgy of the Palms”):  “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”  (Luke 19:36-38 and Psalm 118:26)

Rereading the story set me to thinking about parades, for it was a parade of sorts.  Who doesn’t love a parade?  I admit that I don’t stand on the curb for long periods of time any more, nor do I march in many parades, but my memory of parades is rich.  I was one of those crazy kids who wore his religion on his sleeve.  I remember marching in a parade dressed as a knight with the portions of my costume labeled to represent “the full armor of God.”  (See Ephesians 6:11-17)  Quite a contrast with the image of Jesus sitting vulnerably on a donkey.  As a high school band parent supporting my saxophonist son, I remember walking many parades (long and short in all weather from snow to stifling heat).  I went alongside the marching band pulling a wagon filled with water bottles, running in and out of the instrumentalists letting them take quick swigs---perhaps a little better “servant” image than that of the armored knight.  One of my first memories of a “big city” parade was driving up from Linfield College to see the Rose Festival Parade here in Portland.

All this remembering got me to reflecting on the various occasions for parades.  They are part of holiday celebrations, just as this march into Jerusalem was occasioned by Passover.  Parades sometimes honor a celebrity.  Maybe there’s a bit of that in the story Luke records.

Some of the parades I’ve been in have been protest marches---both in civil rights settings and anti-war demonstrations.  Perhaps Jesus and his supporters were performing a bit of street theater.  It’s almost certain those shouting along the way saw him as one who represented a challenge to the power of Rome.  Perhaps Palm Sunday is a time to think about the ways in which Jesus’ life and teaching still challenge those who abuse power in our day.

If we want to tie the parade in with a focus on The Passion, perhaps we can view Jesus’ willingness to go to a cross as another way in which he challenges earthly power and identifies with those who are unjustly “crucified.”  Jesus is calling into being a “protest” movement.

In thinking about parades I began to reflect on another connection between the foci of Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday.  As a pastor I have ridden in many funeral processions.  The customs vary from place to place.  Having ministered for a number of years just across the border from Ontario, Canada, I am aware that there all traffic stops (even on multilane superhighways---both ways) when a funeral procession passes.  In New Orleans the funeral procession may be a celebrative jazz parade that walks up the street to the cemetery. 

On a related note, Margie and I just attended an event featuring Louise Rose and her jazz piano and vocals.  (I knew her years ago and could not miss this chance to reconnect.)  She sat at the piano and talked about, among other things, how she goes to hospital rooms where people are dying and sings them through that experience.  One of the better ways to finish life on this earth I would think!

If we focus on the lengthy Passion narrative, could we not perhaps think of it as a funeral procession?  What are the passions we feel when we face the reality of Jesus’ death?  There are certainly moments for somber consideration of one who lays down his life for another.  The Liturgy of the Passion includes a passage from Isaiah that portrays a sacrificial servant.  “I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.”  (Isaiah 50:6)  The reading from Philippians pictures one “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, . . . humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death---even death on a cross.”  (Philippians 2:6-8)  It calls us to “let the same mind” be in us.  (vs. 5)  Though the sacrificial element is less prominent in the Passion Sunday reading from Psalm 31, it is still a suffering spirit which cries out in despair:  “For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my misery, and my bones waste away . . . I have passed out of mind like one who is dead . . .”  (Psalm 31:10-12)

A focus on sacrifice can remind us that life only works when we are all willing to take risks---perhaps even risk our very being---for one another.  Passion Sunday calls us to live such lives, having the same mind in us that was in Christ Jesus.

On the other hand, if Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is a funeral procession of sorts, maybe we need to consider the celebrative style of a New Orleans jazz parade.  Maybe the people didn’t grasp that the parade was going toward a cross, but they sensed that here was one who was willing to give his all challenging the powers that were.  He was their hope of liberation and that is worth shouting and singing about---even today.  The passage from Philippians goes on from the cross to celebrate one before whom all bow in awe, tongues singing the praises to the glory of God the Father.  (Philippians 2:9-11)

In those protest marches I remember, there was lots of singing---songs of hope.  We shall overcome.   Let’s participate in parades where we laugh and cry and sing because we are a people of hope.

Some postscripts:

1.       I can’t let pass the way Luke’s account of the entry into Jerusalem ends.  The Pharisees tell Jesus to keep his disciples quiet.  Jesus responds, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”  (Luke 19:39-40)  Even the stones get passionate. Whatever name we give the Sunday, however we interpret the stories, we are in the presence of a time filled with Passion!

2.      Luke’s Passion narrative ends with the women returning from the tomb where Jesus’ body is awaiting preparation for burial.  They get spices and ointments to do just that.  We are in a time of preparation, just as Mary was preparing for a burial with the ointment she poured on Jesus’ feet in last Sunday’s Gospel reading.  But---is there a hint of surprise when Luke notes that the women rested on the Sabbath before going out with the ointment?  (Luke 23:55-56)

3.      Many eyes this week have turned to the Rome of today where a new Pope has made a debut.  He seems full of promise, humble like the one in whose name he serves.  One could pick at many little things, but we all continue to wonder how he will finally deal with the temptations of realities of a powerful, rich, worldwide bureaucracy.  How will and do we deal with such powers, religious and secular, Catholic, Protestant, or other?  Such questions continue to challenge us across the centuries as the march through Jerusalem and other cities unfolds.



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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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