28 April 2011

The Second Sunday of Easter - 1 May 2011

Acts 2:14a, 22-32
Psalm 16
I Peter 1:3-9
St. John 20:19-31

El Greco - Saint Luke

The first reading through all of Eastertide is from the Book of Acts.  I thought a bit of background might be helpful.  Acts is a continuation of the Gospel of Luke, and as such describes two great missions: 1. The Mission in Palestine, and 2. The Greater Mission to all the Earth.  The author, surmised to be Luke of Antioch, was a some-time companion of Paul, and as such he pictures the Pauline mission (or at least a part of it) from the viewpoint of a companion, but also that of an “outsider”, not a part of the Pauline entourage.  His devices are effective.  First he positions Peter in a series of acts that recall the ministry of Jesus.  Having established Peter as primus he then affords Paul the same opportunity.  The stage then is Paul’s.  The other device is a series of discourses both by Peter and Paul that announce the early Christian kerygma (preaching).  In this manner, Luke serves neither as historian, nor as apologist, but rather as an observer and reporter.  He also documents the quickly changing worldview of the nascent church as it deals with what were formerly “outsiders” and “gentiles”.  Especially helpful in this regard is Ivoni Richter Reimer’s Women in the Acts of the Apostles, in which the role of women, and Luke’s reporting are looked at from a feminist perspective.

Acts 2:14a, 22-32

Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed the multitude, "You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know-- this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. For David says concerning him,

`I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken;
therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
moreover my flesh will live in hope.
For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One experience corruption.
You have made known to me the ways of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.'

"Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying,

`He was not abandoned to Hades,
nor did his flesh experience corruption.'
This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses."

Fra Angelico - Peter Preaching
This is the first of several missionary discourses in the book of Acts, this one called the Pentecost Discourse.  We should not read this as reportage on the part of Luke, offering us the words of Peter, but rather the words of Luke, put into the mouth of Peter, and offering a glimpse of the ancient tradition, and an ample illustration of the early Christian kerygma or proclamation.  Luke will have Peter quote many sources from the Hebrew Scriptures, among them Joel, and here Psalm 16:8-11 and Psalm 132:11 and later Psalm 110.  There are several parallels, for it is God who both seats David as king, and raises Jesus.  The formula of Luke’s writing encompasses a resurrection statement followed by a witness, “and of that all of us are witnesses.”  In such a way Luke binds the old prophecies to the present faith of the church.

Breaking open Acts:
  1. Describe the audience to which Peter is preaching
  2. Why is it important for Peter to attach Jesus to the tradition of David?
  3. What are the essential points of the apostle’s kerygma or proclamation?

Psalm 16 Conserva me, Domine

Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you;
I have said to the LORD, "You are my Lord,
my good above all other."

All my delight is upon the godly that are in the land, *
upon those who are noble among the people.

But those who run after other gods *
shall have their troubles multiplied.

Their libations of blood I will not offer, *
nor take the names of their gods upon my lips.

O LORD, YOU are my portion and my cup; *
it is you who uphold my lot.

My boundaries enclose a pleasant land; *
indeed, I have a goodly heritage.

I will bless the LORD who gives me counsel; *
my heart teaches me, night after night.

I have set the LORD always before me; *
because he is at my right hand I shall not fall.

My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices; *
my body also shall rest in hope.

For you will not abandon me to the grave, *
nor let your holy one see the Pit.

You will show me the path of life; *
in your presence there is fullness of joy,
and in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.

Fra Angelico - The Conversion of Saint Augustine
This is a very unusual and unique psalm.  In the text it is called a michtam, an unknown phrase, although the Septuagint labels it as a psalm inscribed on stone.  What the psalm does speak about is a conversion, although the BCP translation does not make that apparent to the reader.  Robert Alter translates verses 3 and 4 as:
            “As to holy ones in the land and the mighty who were my desire.
            let their desires abound – another did they betroth.
            I will not pour their libations of blood,
            I will not bear their names on my lips”

The phrase “holy ones” most likely refers to other gods, probably gods of the neighboring Canaanites.  “Another did they betroth”, may indicate some kind of covenant with another god. From verse 5 on, the intention is clear.  The psalmist is casting his lot with the Lord, and his relationship with YHWH is described as a “pleasant land.”  The remainder of the psalm associates the emotions of conversion with various seats of self-awareness in the body.  “My heart teaches me night after night” actually uses the word for “kidney” (conscience).  The following verses speak of other seats: the heart, “my pulse beats with joy” may have actually used the word for “liver.”  The psalm preaches the joy of God’s presence, and the rightness of living under God’s care.

Breaking open Psalm 16:
1.     Have you been a Christian all of your life?
2.     When did you convert, or when did you publicly confess your faith?
3.     What did it feel like to confess your faith in God?

I Peter 1:3-9

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith-- being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire-- may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

El Greco - Saint Peter
Modern commentators advance several arguments against the Petrine authorship of this letter.  Their arguments tend toward the excellence of the Greek (Peter did not speak Greek), the Pauline phraseology, and the quotations from the Septuagint.  However, I Peter 5:12 comments on the “help of Silvanus,” a companion of Paul.  Perhaps it is he who phrased the book as he took dictation from Peter.  The main focus of the letter is Baptism, and here the author argues that Baptism is not just initiation, but regeneration as well.  From this vantage point, the author sets out a pattern of Christian behavior that flows from Baptism’s granting of new life.  In this reading, the author also wrestles with the fact that his readers have not witnessed either the resurrection or Jesus.  Their primary experience is faith, and from that faith flows salvation and life itself. 
and celebrate the Eucharist’s institution.

Breaking open I Peter:
  1. How important is it to you for a witness to be an eye witness
  2. Who was a witness to the resurrection for you?
  3. What aspect does suffering share with your faith?

Saint John 20:19-31

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe."
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Caravaggio - The Incredulity of Saint Thomas
The usual attention in this Gospel is shown toward the Thomas story, but there is much that precedes it, and much to be learned from it.  What is clear is that in John, the Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost events are all the product of one day, Easter Day.  It is the mysteries that are important here, not the chronology.  The glorified (and by implication) ascended Christ instructs the disciples on mission, and anoints them with the Spirit (“he breathed on them”).  Life in the Spirit involves the forgiveness of sins, a forgiveness that is demonstrated to others as well. 

The “Thomas Story” then follows this important event, but one week later.  It would seem that when this Gospel had been written, Sunday had become the day of worship for Christians.  In several other respects, this story incorporates the realities of a later time.  It wrestles with the experience of many who did not witness the resurrection, but who relied on the witness of others.  John wants to demonstrate that believing can come from this witness, that anyone could through the apostolic proclamation come to believe that Jesus was Lord and God.  Unlike Mary Magdalene, who was forbidden by Jesus from being touched by her, Jesus bids Thomas to touch, to experience, and to drink deeply of the experience.  In this way John wraps up his telling of the Gospel (the following chapter is most likely a later appendix).  Thomas becomes the model for all those who would experience Jesus at a distance, and who would yet come to believe.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. What is the importance of the ministry that Jesus imparts to the disciples in the first part of this reading?
  2. How does the Spirit work with such a ministry?
  3. How are you like Thomas?  How are you not alike?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:

Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ's Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

13 April 2011

Maundy Thursday - 21 April 2011

Exodus 12:1-14
Psalm 116:1, 10-17
I Corinthians 11:23-26
St. John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Watanabe - Jesus washes Peter's feet

BACKGROUND: Maundy Thursday
With this day we enter the Triduum (the Three Great Days – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter).  The liturgies on these days are not three separate liturgies but rather a single service that extends from Thursday to the Great Vigil of Easter.  The services before the Vigil will not end in a blessing, but rather silence; the blessing being deferred until the Great Vigil.  The name, Maundy Thursday, comes either from the Latin mandatum (command) in which Jesus asks his followers to “love one another”.  The name also might come from an old English word maund, which means to beg.  The tradition in England is that on this day the sovereign hands out bags of money to poor, perhaps as an example of loving one another.

Maundy Thursday, or Holy Thursday as it is sometimes named, is full of several symbols and intentions.  Primarily it commemorates the institution of the Holy Eucharist, and for that reason the Gloria is sung, and the color is white.  It is a brief respite from the privations of Holy Week.  Recently, other ceremonies have been added or restored to the liturgy.  The most noticeable is the Washing of Feet, which comes from the Gospel for the day.  Other ceremonies include the stripping and cleansing of the Altar, the removal of the reserved Sacrament to an Altar of Repose, and a vigil before the Sacrament.  This liturgy quite literally sets the stage for the liturgies that follow it, setting a tone and atmosphere of meditation, subdued joy in the Eucharist, and a feeling of anticipation.

Exodus 12:1-14

The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. [Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn.] This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the Passover of the LORD. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.

This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.

Marc Chagall - The Passover
The ties of the Passover Meal to the Eucharist are quite clearly implied in the selection of this reading for this day.  If we follow the chain of development back, we shall see that this practice of the Paschal Feast goes back well before its association with the Exodus.  Some aspects of the Passover are seen in other earlier ceremonies, such as the use of blood and unleavened bread.  The spattering or painting with blood is an old nomadic custom that spoke to the wished for fecundity of the tribes flocks.  The unleavened bread comes from the Canaanite barley harvest during which, for seven days, the people ate unleavened bread. 

These early feasts are then attached to a historic day of some significance: the Exodus from Egypt, and each level of the older feasts comments on or enhances the Exodus Story.  The very name Pesach may derive from a Hebrew verb that means “to jump”, or from an Akkadian verb which means “to appease”.  Both roots seem appropriate to the theological intentions of the Passover Feast – that God looked over the Jews in Egypt and punished the Egyptians.  The blood was the actuality of the slaughtering of the paschal lamb, and was a sign to all around them.  The bread, likewise, takes on a new meaning, as being the bread of haste.  All of these elements combine to comment on the saving and memorial nature of the day, an association that is not lost on the early Christians.

Breaking open Exodus:
  1. What festive meals does your family celebrate, or celebrated in the past?
  2. What did they commemorate?
  3. What other ceremonies accompanied the meal?

Psalm 116:1, 10-17 Dilexi, quoniam

I love the LORD, because he has heard the voice of my supplication, *
because he has inclined his ear to me whenever I called upon him.

How shall I repay the LORD *
for all the good things he has done for me?

I will lift up the cup of salvation *
and call upon the Name of the LORD.

I will fulfill my vows to the LORD *
in the presence of all his people.

Precious in the sight of the LORD *
is the death of his servants.

O LORD, I am your servant; *
I am your servant and the child of your handmaid;
you have freed me from my bonds.

I will offer you the sacrifice of thanksgiving *
and call upon the Name of the LORD.

I will fulfill my vows to the LORD *
in the presence of all his people,

In the courts of the LORD'S house, *
in the midst of you, O Jerusalem.

Master of Giles - The Mass of Saint Giles
The setting of this thanksgiving psalm is clearly the Temple in Jerusalem, where the psalmist gives thanks for delivery from some type of affliction or evil.  He rejoices in the fact that God listens and acts.  The final verses of the psalm serve as a record of the psalmist’s response to this delivery.  The references to the lifted cup of salvation, the vows made, the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and to the Temple itself, all find associations to the Christian Eucharist.  In addition there are the theological associations with “freedom” and “forgiveness.”  All of this is done in the assembly, not as a private act, but rather the act of an individual amongst those and with those gathered to worship. 

Breaking open Psalm 116:
1.     What might you do to offer to God a “sacrifice of thanksgiving”?
2.     What vows have you made to God?  How have you fulfilled them.
3.     What are your emotions when you enter a church?

I Corinthians 11:23-26

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.

Giotto - The First Eucharist
In this letter to the Corinthians, we have some of the earliest traditions of the Christian Community, especially of Easter, and of the institution of the Eucharist.  Paul rehearses those traditions here as a way of countering abuses that were seen in the Church at Corinth.  He characterizes them as ancient, having received them from others.  These traditions Paul passes on to the Corinthians.  It is important for us to understand the abuses that Paul hopes to counter with a rehearsal of the old traditions.  The Eucharist was celebrated in the midst of a community meal, although community may over state it, for it seems that all the factions in the Corinthian Church ate separately and did not exhibit the ties with which the community is bound in the Eucharist.  Thus he reminds them of the point of the exercise, and gives to us the so-called “words of institution”.  These words are at the heart of the Eucharistic Prayer – a means to remind us why we have gathered to celebrate.  Thus this reading is important on this night when we remember and celebrate the Eucharist’s institution.

Breaking open I Corinthians:
  1. How was the faith transmitted to you?  Who did the sharing?
  2. What was the faith that was shared with you?
  3. Is it a treasure to you – how do you make use of it?

Saint John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" Jesus answered, "You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand." Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me." Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" Jesus said to him, "One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you." For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, "Not all of you are clean."

After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord--and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

Jesus said, "Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, `Where I am going, you cannot come.' I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

In the previous chapter of John, the Book of the Signs comes to an end, and in this chapter begins the Book of Exaltation.  This book envelops the Passion Narrative, and as such shares a great deal more with the so-called synoptic Gospels (literally, “with one eye”, the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke).  The book begins with Jesus’ instruction.  The disciples need to know the meaning of what will follow, and Jesus intends for them to understand.  The scene of this reading is a meal with Jesus and the disciples.  Unlike the synoptic gospels it is not a Passover Meal, but merely a communal meal, but one with significant acts.  John will not rehearse an institution narrative for us, such as we just read in I Corinthians.  Instead, there are other points of teaching, namely the foot washing, in which Jesus wishes to help the disciples understand that the old order is changing.  It is this point that Peter doesn’t understand, and thus he rejects Jesus’ proposal.  Jesus takes on humility (see the Epistle Lesson) and now expects it of any who would follow him.  To make the point clear, Jesus repeats the expectation in the mandatum “love one another.” 

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. Have you ever employed a servant?
  2. Have you ever been a servant?
  3. How are servant hood and love related?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:

Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life; and who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

12 April 2011

The Sunday of the Passion (Palm Sunday), 17 April 2011

The Liturgy of the Palms
St. Matthew 21:1-11

The Liturgy of the Passion
Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 31:9-16
Philippians 2:5-11
Saint Matthew 26:14 – 27:66

Rouault - The Crucifixion

BACKGROUND: The Sunday of the Passion
Within our lifetimes there has been a great deal of movement and change regarding this Sunday.  Prior to the liturgical changes coming out of Vatican II (which influenced Anglican and Lutheran usage), the whole of Lent seemed to focus on the Passion of Jesus, and the penitential nature of the season.  With the renewal of liturgies in the 60s, churches began to see Lent as a time of introspection and catechesis, preparing both church and candidates for the baptisms at the Great Vigil.  Old Palm Sunday soon became The Sunday of the Passion, and the color of vestments changed to the Crimson of Sarum Usage.  These reforms focus the remembrance of the Passion into a single week, which ends with the Triduum (The Three Days) Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter. 

This has granted this day with a bit of a split personality, with the hymns and palms that accompany our Lord into Jerusalem giving way to a solemn reading of the Passion, and quietness as we enter Holy Week.  The palms, which were strewn on the pathway, were in the Ancient Near East a way of bestowing honor on an individual entering the city, and so it is with Jesus as well.  Other cultures in other climes have substituted other green branches, but we are fortunate to have palms at our disposal.  These same palms become a sign of time, being saved up after the festivities so that they can be burned for the ashes of Ash Wednesday in the following year.  There is another physical aspect as well.  The procession allows us to embody the entrance, and to experience the movement from joy to sorrow.

At the Liturgy of the Palms

St. Matthew 21:1-11
When Jesus and his disciples had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethpage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, "Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, `The Lord needs them.' And he will send them immediately." This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,

"Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey."

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,

"Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!"

When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
There is a healing that immediately precedes this Gospel reading, in which Jesus heals two blind men in Jericho.  This follows the third passion prediction, the request of the mother of the sons of Zebedee, and a teaching on leadership.  It is almost as if Matthew is setting a stage, or at least an audience for the great events that will follow in the week to come, and the blind men (representing those who could or would not see) now have the advantage of sight so as to perceive the one who comes. 

Matthew pictures Jesus with a certain amount of humility, and not in the guise of king, but rather that of a prophet.  To underscore this, Matthew quotes passages from both Isaiah (62:11) and Zechariah (9:9h), and although the Zechariah passage mentions kingship, the final verse, “This is the prophet…” makes clear Matthew’s intent.  Of some interest is Matthew’s literalism.  Zechariah uses a poetic parallelism (“mounted on a donkey, and on a colt”) that Matthew takes literally when he has Jesus ask the two disciples to find and take the two beasts.  The crowd greets the prophet/king by preparing the way (see Isaiah 40:1-4) and in doing so signal the entrance of the messiah/prophet into the holy city.  Matthew wants this event to be the re-enactment of the messianic entrance prophesied by Zechariah and others.  Jesus, however, will put a different twist onto all of it.

The cry of the crowd is a restatement of Psalm 118:25-26.  It’s cry of “Hosanna”, means “Rescue us!”  As a liturgical cry, it’s meaning may have been forgotten, since this may have been a sort of Introit sung by the temple choir, as the priests entered the Sanctuary – “Blessed is he who comes…” Of course all of this takes on a different shade of meaning in Matthew’s scene, for now Christ is not only prophet, and king, but priest as well. 

Breaking open Matthew:
  1. If you need to be rescued from something, what might it be?
  2. How do you enter Holy Week?  What do you anticipate?

At the Liturgy of the Word

Isaiah 50:4-9a

The Lord GOD has given me
the tongue of a teacher,
that I may know how to sustain
the weary with a word.
Morning by morning he wakens--
wakens my ear
to listen as those who are taught.
The Lord GOD has opened my ear,
and I was not rebellious,
I did not turn backward.
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.

The Lord GOD helps me;
therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like flint,
and I know that I shall not be put to shame;
he who vindicates me is near.
Who will contend with me?
Let us stand up together.
Who are my adversaries?
Let them confront me.
It is the Lord GOD who helps me;
who will declare me guilty?

The second of the Isaiahs begins his third song of the Suffering Servant with these verses.  Unlike the former two, the tone is much darker here, providing an appropriate context to the Liturgy of the Passion that follows the Liturgy of the Palms.  These readings thrust us deeply into the reality of this day and the reading of the Passion.  There are two main thrusts in the poem.  The first describes the personality and mission of the Servant.  If we meet the prophet, priest, and king in Jesus, in the suffering servant we meet a fourth attribute, that of being the disciple – a disciple open to the living Word.  Such attendance to the Word does not come without cost, however.  In verse 6 we learn the fate of the disciple who would be a prophet – a spokesperson for the Most High.  The difficulties that the Servant suffers foreshadow Jesus’ suffering at the hands of Pilate.  Such is the fate of prophets who dare to go up to Jerusalem.

The second thrust of the poem takes us into the courtroom, where the Servant is put on trial.  The sins of Israel are rehearsed before the great God.  Whatever wrath is anticipated is mitigated by the graciousness of the God, whom the Servant sees as “he who vindicates”, “God helps me”, and “the Lord God helps me.”  The accusations of the crowd no longer matter, for the prophet stands with God to face the crowd.

Breaking open Isaiah:
  1. How would you describe suffering in our world?
  2. Is there an example of suffering for others in our present time?
  3. What do you do to alleviate suffering?

Psalm 31:9-16 In te, Domine, speravi

Have mercy on me, O LORD, for I am in trouble; *
my eye is consumed with sorrow,
and also my throat and my belly.

For my life is wasted with grief,
and my years with sighing; *
my strength fails me because of affliction,
and my bones are consumed.

I have become a reproach to all my enemies and even to my neighbors,
a dismay to those of my acquaintance; *
when they see me in the street they avoid me.

I am forgotten like a dead man, out of mind; *
I am as useless as a broken pot.

For I have heard the whispering of the crowd;
fear is all around; *
they put their heads together against me;
they plot to take my life.

But as for me, I have trusted in you, O LORD. *
I have said, "You are my God.

My times are in your hand; *
rescue me from the hand of my enemies,
and from those who persecute me.

Make your face to shine upon your servant, *
and in your loving-kindness save me."

The psalmist has borrowed from the writings of others (Jeremiah and Jonah) to construct a psalm that directly confronts the problem of death.  The psalmist is at an existential point of wondering about how one confronts the end of things.  The middle part of the psalm (verse 9 – 16) is used as a response to the readings for this day.  Although the psalmist may be reflection on the story and fate of Job, we as Christians on this Palm Sunday may substitute the sufferings of Jesus.  As the Suffering Servant is made to face an accusing crowd, so the psalmist faces a crowd that whispers and gossips about his fate.  The biggest fear in death that the psalmist sees is that his name will be forgotten, “I am forgotten…out of mind”.  Against this the psalmist positions a God who rescues, and operates with loving kindness to save.  In a way, this psalm might represent the mindset of Jesus, who on the cross cries, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me!”

Breaking open Psalm 31:
1.     Take some time and read the first two chapters of Job.
2.     How does Job compare to the Suffering Servant?
3.     How is the Psalmist like the Suffering Servant?

Philippians 2:5-11

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,

did not regard equality with God

as something to be exploited,

but emptied himself,

taking the form of a slave,

being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form, 

he humbled himself

and became obedient to the point of death--
even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him

and gave him the name
 that is above every name, 

so that at the name of Jesus

every knee should bend,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue should confess
Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.

In a series of instruction to the Philippians on the virtues of steadfastness, harmony, humility, and obedience, Paul writes a compelling example of humility in the person of Jesus Christ.   In 1:17, Paul mentions problems with jealousy, and so inserts an ancient Christian hymn, with Christ serving as the penultimate example of humility.  The hymn is interesting in that it represents an early representation of the Christian Gospel, a “creed”, if you will.  A series of three strophes celebrate Christ, and a final three celebrate God.  Another typing of the verses shows verse 6 as speaking to Christ’s pre-existence, verse 7 – the Humiliation of the Incarnation, verse 8 – the Humiliation of death, verse 9 – God exalts Jesus, verse 10 – The cosmic exaltation, and verse 11 – Jesus as kyrios (Lord).

Breaking open Philippians:
  1. Who in our present time have allowed themselves to be humiliated for the sake of others?
  2. Have you ever taken “the back seat” for the sake of someone else?
  3. Is humility a Christian virtue, and if so, how?

Saint Matthew 26:14 – 27:66

One of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, "What will you give me if I betray Jesus to you?" They paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.

On the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?" He said, "Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, `The Teacher says, My time is near; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.'" So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover meal.

When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve; and while they were eating, he said, "Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me." And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, "Surely not I, Lord?" He answered, "The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born." Judas, who betrayed him, said, "Surely not I, Rabbi?" He replied, "You have said so."

While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is my body." Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom."

When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. Then Jesus said to them, "You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written,

`I will strike the shepherd, 
and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.'
But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee." Peter said to him, "Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you." Jesus said to him, "Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times." Peter said to him, "Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you." And so said all the disciples.

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, "Sit here while I go over there and pray." He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. Then he said to them, "I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me." And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want." Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, "So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." Again he went away for the second time and prayed, "My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done." Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand."

While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; with him was a large crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, "The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him." At once he came up to Jesus and said, "Greetings, Rabbi!" and kissed him. Jesus said to him, "Friend, do what you are here to do." Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and arrested him. Suddenly, one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, "Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen in this way?" At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, "Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. But all this has taken place, so that the scriptures of the prophets may be fulfilled." Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.

Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas the high priest, in whose house the scribes and the elders had gathered. But Peter was following him at a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest; and going inside, he sat with the guards in order to see how this would end. Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for false testimony against Jesus so that they might put him to death, but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward and said, "This fellow said, `I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.'" The high priest stood up and said, "Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?" But Jesus was silent. Then the high priest said to him, "I put you under oath before the living God, tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God." Jesus said to him, "You have said so. But I tell you, From now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven."

Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, "He has blasphemed! Why do we still need witnesses? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your verdict?" They answered, "He deserves death." Then they spat in his face and struck him; and some slapped him, saying, "Prophesy to us, you Messiah! Who is it that struck you?"

Caravaggio - Peter's Denial

Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant-girl came to him and said, "You also were with Jesus the Galilean." But he denied it before all of them, saying, "I do not know what you are talking about." When he went out to the porch, another servant-girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, "This man was with Jesus of Nazareth." Again he denied it with an oath, "I do not know the man." After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, "Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you." Then he began to curse, and he swore an oath, "I do not know the man!" At that moment the cock crowed. Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said: "Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times." And he went out and wept bitterly.

When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people conferred together against Jesus in order to bring about his death. They bound him, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate the governor.

When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. He said, "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood." But they said, "What is that to us? See to it yourself." Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, "It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since they are blood money." After conferring together, they used them to buy the potter's field as a place to bury foreigners. For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, "And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of the one on whom a price had been set, on whom some of the people of Israel had set a price, and they gave them for the potter's field, as the Lord commanded me."

Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus said, "You say so." But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer. Then Pilate said to him, "Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you?" But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.

Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted. At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus Barabbas. So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, "Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?" For he realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over. While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, "Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him." Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed. The governor again said to them, "Which of the two do you want me to release for you?" And they said, "Barabbas." Pilate said to them, "Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?" All of them said, "Let him be crucified!" Then he asked, "Why, what evil has he done?" But they shouted all the more, "Let him be crucified!"

So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, "I am innocent of this man's blood; see to it yourselves." Then the people as a whole answered, "His blood be on us and on our children!" So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.
Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor's headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.

As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross. And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; then they sat down there and kept watch over him. Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, "This is Jesus, the King of the Jews."

Then two bandits were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, "You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross." In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, "He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, `I am God's Son.'" The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him in the same way.

From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o'clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" that is, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, "This man is calling for Elijah." At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, "Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him." Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, "Truly this man was God's Son!

Many women were also there, looking on from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for him. Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, "Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, `After three days I will rise again.' Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, `He has been raised from the dead,' and the last deception would be worse than the first." Pilate said to them, "You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can." So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.

Caravaggio - Jesus is taken down from the cross

In the Passion Narratives we are at the heart of Christian liturgy and of Christian proclamation.  Each of these narratives constitutes the bulk of their content, and each represent the earliest proclamations that the church made in apostolic preaching and in liturgical recitation.  In Matthew’s narrative, Jesus remains largely silent.  It is the prophets and the Hebrew Scriptures that comment on the acts of the Passion, the acts themselves serving as fulfillment of the prophetic promises.  Much as the miracle of the Red Sea defines salvation history for the Jewish people, it is the saving act of Calvary that makes a similar point for Christians.  The narrative makes no theological comments on what is happening, that was the task of the apostolic preacher.  The acts, rather, speak for themselves, which is why there will be no sermon or homily at the liturgy today.  The Passion Narrative speaks with its own eloquence. 

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. What emotions come upon you when your read the Passion?
  2. Which segment is most moving to you?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:

Almighty and everliving God, in your tender love for the human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.