Year A — Palm/Passion Sunday

Commentary for April 17, 2011

Click here for today’s texts (Passion) or here for today’s texts (Palm)

Liturgy of the Passion

Isaiah 50:4-9a
As we enter Holy Week and reflect on the suffering of the Lord, vv. 7-8 perhaps give us a glance at the source of Christ’s determination and strength in the face of scorn and abuse. “The Lord God helps me…I know I shall not be put to shame…he who vindicates me is near.”

Good words with which to pray for these, or any days.

Psalm 31:9-16
In a similar vein, the first half of the psalm reading reminds us vividly of the separation and sorrow experienced by the Lord; this is one of the places we point to when we hold forth the claim that Christ experienced the full depth of what it means to be human. Life is filled with pain!

However, the closing sentences once again point to a different and deeper reality in the midst of the pain — “I trust in you, O Lord…let you face shine upon your servant. Save me in your steadfast love.”

Like Christ as he prepared to face the cross, unless God saves us, we are lost!

Philippians 2:5-11
The ancient “Christ Hymn” lays out for us the cycle of submission, suffering, salvation and exaltation that Jesus has undergone “for us.” Remember, though, that this is not just the work of the Savior: we are invited to have “the same mind” that was in Christ Jesus. 

God’s work in the world — which requires these same qualities of submission and suffering in order to see these same results of salvation and exaltation — is OUR work.

In what ways is God calling us to submit and to suffer?

Matthew 26:14-27:66
The lengthy (and weighty) reading of Matthew’s text hardly needs commentary; the story speaks for itself, as it were. One thought that occurs to me is that we often peg Judas Iscariot for “selling out” in his betrayal of Christ. “How could he do that for 30 pieces of silver?” we often ask.

But, Judas is not the only one who “sells out” in this story: Peter, who boldly promises what no disciple had ever promised before (“I’ll die for you!”) sells out and denies Christ three times; James and John “sell out”– they can’t even pay the price of a little lost sleep!

The high priest and the Jewish council “sell out;” when they can’t find any real evidence against Jesus, they just rent some testimony. Pilate “sells out” when he tries to dodge his decision by releasing Barabbas; the “angry crowds” sold out by first screaming for Christ’s crucifixion and then by deriding him and shaking their heads.

The brave Roman soldiers even “sold out” in their job performance, bringing the whole cohort* (probably 500-600 men) in to observe the brutal beating of this single, solitary “criminal.”

Only a couple of characters manage to stand up for Jesus in this story: Simon of Cyrene, who may or may not have had a choice, but nevertheless bears the cross of Jesus; and a Roman centurion who is the only person in the story who seems to “get it.” His commentary stands in stark contrast to the rest of the scene: “This man was God’s son!”

Bottom line: there’s plenty of blame to go around here — it’s not all on Judas. We might want to consider that as we gather with the crowds in our own lives this week. Will we “sell out” or will we “stand up?”


Liturgy of the Palms

Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
Psalm 118 gives the background of the “festal procession” (v. 27) witnessed in the gospel account of the Palm Sunday parade.

Matthew 21:1-11
There is perhaps no greater irony in all of the Bible than the crowds gathered on Sunday, shouting “Hosanna!” and assembling again on Friday, screaming “Crucify him!”

by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

At a preaching seminar a few years ago I heard Dr. Lloyd John Ogilvie, former chaplain to the US Senate and longtime pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Hollywood, CA. tell about a time he was in a jewelry store in LA, picking up a new watch battery. 
While he was there a young woman came in and asked to see some crosses. The clerk took her to a display case and proceeded to show her a selection of large, expensive crosses;  like the fashion accessory crosses worn by hot actresses and hip rap stars.

The young woman said, “Oh, I don’t want anything like that. I want an everyday cross.”

AN EVERYDAY CROSS, she said. And when Dr. Ogilvie told that story, I began to wonder, “What is an everyday cross?” And more importantly, I thought, “Does she, do I, do any of us, really want one?”

All of us want, I suppose, the Cross of Christ in our lives. We want the salvation that Cross promises, we want to know that our sins are forgiven, our failures are forgotten, our souls rescued from the pit of Hell by Jesus’ death there on that awful instrument of torture and execution. That Cross and its benefits we know we want in our lives.

But what about an everyday cross? What about a cross that is uniquely ours? A cross that we pick up in obedience to our Lord’s invitation to take up a cross and follow Him? Is that a cross we want?

I remember a time back in the sixties, back in the days before cable TV and state lottery, back when we were all more easily entertained, when they had the Super Market Races on TV. 

They were sponsored by a supermarket chain and worked something like this: they showed taped races from New York and California horse tracks and the stores ran specials and gave out prizes depending on which horse won.

My late father-in-law used to tell a joke about two farms boys (we’ll call them Bill and Jack) watching the Supermarket race after supper one night.

Bill said, “I bet you $5 horse #3 wins.” And Jack said, “you’re on!” Sure enough, #3 won. 
Bill grinned and said, “Aw, I can’t take your money. I saw it last night on the other channel and knew #3 won.” 
Jack replied, “Go ahead and take it. I saw it too, but I didn’t think he could do it again.”

Those of us here today, hearing again the story of Jesus’ crucifixion are like those two farm boys; we have already heard this story and we know how it comes out, we already know about the Resurrection, we already know who wins.

And the issue of FAITH comes down to this, either we believe he can do it again, or we don’t!

You see, it is one thing to sit in a lovely, well-appointed, air-conditioned room and look back at the Cross of Christ as an historic event, over and done with; and to profess our faith that Jesus died there and three days later rose again.

It is quite another thing to hang on the other side of the cross, to hang where the Cross is still a present event, and to profess faith in Jesus.

That is where the question of whether or not we truly want an everyday cross is a real question. That is where the two thieves are, hanging with Jesus on the other side of the cross, where the end of the story is still in doubt.

We are mistaken if we see the Cross of Christ as a past event, over and done.  Each of us, in one way or another, hangs upon a cross with Christ.

It may be a personal cross, a cross of suffering and illness, or a cross of shame and embarrassment, or a cross of loss and confusion, or a cross of fear and frustration.

It may be a cultural cross, a cross of rejection and alienation, a cross of being an outsider in an insider’s world, of being the wrong gender or color or nationality or orientation.

It may be a cross of caring, a cross of being aware of the suffering and pain of others, of being concerned for those who are poor or oppressed or hungry or unjustly imprisoned.

Whatever it is, somehow, someway, each of us hangs there on our everyday cross with Jesus, and the question of faith is: We have seen this race before. We know God brought Jesus forth from the grave; do we really and truly believe God can and will DO IT AGAIN?

That is the essence of faith; that is truly what Martin Luther meant when he said that a true Christian theology was a Theology of the Cross.

Do we indeed believe that there is Hope in our hardship, Salvation in our suffering, Redemption in our rejection, Everlasting life in OUR everyday cross?

Can we look from our cross to the Cross of Christ and cry out from the bottom of our hearts: JESUS, REMEMBER ME WHEN YOU COME INTO YOUR KINGDOM!?


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