Year C — Palm/Passion Sunday

Commentary for March 24, 2013
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

Click here for Liturgy of the Palms
Click here for Liturgy of the Passion

Click HERE for the Lectionary Lab Live podcast with guest preacher The Rev. Eric Corbin!

Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29 (Palms)
Psalm 118 is the final hymn in the sequence known as “Hallel” (or, “Praise of G-d”) in Jewish prayer. Aside from its reference to entering the gates of righteousness (very appropriate for the Liturgy of the Palms,) it is also significant for its attachment to the celebration of Passover.

There is a nice overview of the Hallel psalms available here from the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations in America.

Luke 19:28-40 (Palms)
“The Lord needs it.”

I love the brevity of this explanation given for the two disciples to use when asked why they were purloining a colt to take to Jesus. The coolest thing is — it worked! The owner of the colt obviously didn’t need any further explanation for loaning it out on Palm Sunday.

Oh, that we might be so flexible in turning loose of our possessions when it becomes obvious that “the Lord needs it!”

Isaiah 50:4-9a (Passion)
The prophet may be read poignantly during this week of the Passion; our Christian ears are “opened” to hear the sound of the whip cutting the back of Christ. Our eyes see Jesus as his beard is pulled and as the spittle of the soldiers runs down his face.

Ultimately, the statement of faith for Christ and all who would follow the way of trust in God is found in v.9: “It is the Lord GOD who helps me; who will declare me guilty?”

Psalm 31:9-16 (Passion)
Whispering, betrayal, plotting to take one’s life. The psalm adds to the background as we consider the Passion of our Lord. There is also the continuing theme of absolute trust in God. (v.14)

Philippians 2:5-11 (Passion)
To have the mind of Christ!

Most likely, Philippians 2:6-11 is a hymn of the early church, recorded and incorporated here by Paul to make a theological point. (Our hymns and songs teach us more theology than our sermons and lessons, for the most part, despite what most pastors want to believe. All the more reason to be sure we are using good hymns!!)

This Holy Week, let us lean into the vision of every knee bending and every tongue confessing. Lord, make it so!

Luke 22:14-23:56 (Passion — alternatively, Luke 23:1-49)
There is very little point in offering commentary for the gospel reading on this Sunday. It is designed simply to be read and heard. The story IS the commentary.

In my pulpit, I end the reading each week with, “May God bless the reading and hearing of God’s holy word.” That is my prayer for each of you and in each of your churches on this Sunday. 

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

A few years ago one of my parishioners, a young woman who had recently moved to Nashville from somewhere in the Midwest, dropped by my office for a chat about her love life, or rather about the lack thereof. She brought along a personal ad she had seen in the Nashville Scene, a free weekly newspaper.

She wanted to know what I thought. She was planning to write one like it. Why she asked me, I don’t know. The last time I had a date with someone I was not married to, I was still too young to buy beer. I got married when I was 20 years old. Anyway, the ad read like this:
VERY WANTED: 30-ish drummer in rockabilly band like the Billygoats, with a romantic spirit, professional career, blue eyes, Episcopal. 

Is it just me, or does that seem a bit too specific?

As I was meditating on the events of Palm Sunday and Holy week, I began to think about how much those folks who welcomed Jesus with shouts of Hosanna resemble folk who place overly specific and optimistic ads in the personals.

They are setting themselves up for a fall. The romantic ones because their dreamed of “knight in shining armor” (or rockabilly Episcopal drummer with blue eyes) is unlikely to exist; and the religious ones because the messiah they’re looking for isn’t the messiah they are likely to get.

When the folk welcomed Jesus that long ago morning, they gave him a hero’s welcome, they cheered him in the same way they would a military leader. They saw him as someone who could remove the heavy Roman boot from the backs of their necks, they applauded him as someone who could lead a revolt against the Evil Empire, someone who would lead them to freedom.

And Jesus disappointed them. He was not 6 feet plus, with abs of steel. He rode into town on a baby donkey, not a warhorse. He went to pray at the temple; not to protest at the palace. Jesus did not turn out to be their idea of a savior.

And by Friday, the joyous shouts of “Hosanna, Hosanna,” had turned into derisive and blood thirsty cries of “Crucify Him, Crucify Him!” What happened? As the week wore on and Jesus taught day after day in the temple, it became more and more clear, first to Judas, and then to many others, that Jesus was not the messiah they had been looking for. They failed to realize that he was the messiah they needed. In their expectation of a messiah, I think the people of Jesus’ time were a bit like the folk in a small Danish village a man at a retreat told me about a few years ago.

It seems an American was vacationing in a small fishing village. On Sunday, he attended services in the ancient church, which dated back almost a thousand years. He went early so as to see everything. There was one thing that stood out. During the prelude, everyone who came in stopped halfway down the aisle and, turning to the right, bowed in the direction of the blank wall. Everybody, no exceptions. When the choir and the pastor came in, they too stopped and bowed to the blank wall. After the service, the visitor stood outside and talked to a few folks who knew English and eventually he asked them about the practice of bowing to the blank wall.
And they all said, “We don’t know, we’ve always done that.’’ he asked the pastor. He said, “I don’t know. They were doing that when I came and I saw no reason to stop them” The pastor did promise to find out and write the visitor.

A few months later he received a letter from the Danish pastor. When the church was built, around the year 1150 AD, there had been a mural of the Madonna and Child painted on that spot on the wall. At the time of the Reformation, when the Danish church went from Catholic to Lutheran, the mural was painted over and the people were instructed to stop bowing to the wall. But the people of the village ignored a long line of ministers telling them to stop bowing to the wall, until the clergy gave up, and eventually the people and the pastors all bowed to the wall and all forgot why.

As I said, the people of Jesus’ time were a lot like those villagers. They believed in and hoped for a messiah. They also were bowing to a blank wall, not sure what they were waiting for or worshiping.

We modern Christians are sometimes like that too. The image of the real Jesus has been obscured by time and cultural shifts and preacherly reinterpretation. Over the years we’ve been told Jesus is this, Jesus is that, Jesus is the other thing, until the real Jesus is hard to see and almost impossible to know.

Sometimes, we’re not sure who this Jesus really is, but there is something about his life and teaching and witness and death and promise of life again that keeps drawing us back to the wall of worship, back to the place where we bow and pray and hope and look hard to see God in our lives.

That is what Holy Week is all about. It is a time to look for Jesus. To look for Jesus in the Scriptures, to look for Jesus in the events of the last week of his life, to look and see what he was all about. To get shed of our preconceived notions of what a messiah, a savior, a Christ, is supposed to be like so that we can see and receive Jesus as he is.

It is a time to look for Jesus in prayer. To meditate upon his call to follow him in giving up self to serve the needs of others, especially the least and the most despised.

It is a time to look for Jesus in worship, to join the community on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, to receive again his command that we love one another, to witness once again his death upon the cross.

Most of all, Holy Week is a time for us to look for Jesus in our lives. To see the real Jesus, Luther said, we must look to the Cross. For there, Jesus died for us. There Jesus revealed what God is really like. There we discover the God who suffers and dies for a sinful but beloved humanity. There on the Cross, Christ calls us to follow, Calls us to take up our cross and serve and suffer for the world, Calls us to trust God’s love now and forever.

Amen and amen.

2 thoughts on “Year C — Palm/Passion Sunday

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