27 March 2012

The Sunday of the Passion - Palm Sunday, 1 April 2012



Liturgy of the Palms:
St. Mark 11:1-11
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29

Liturgy of the Passion
Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 31:9-16
Philippians 2:5-11
St. Mark 14:1-15:47


                                                                                   
Background: Palm Sunday – Passion Sunday
This is the last Sunday in Lent, and has been changed both in its character and focus in the years following Vatican II.  There are witnesses to a Palm celebration in Jerusalem in the fourth century.  Here, before the Great Week (Holy Week) pilgrims processed to the Mt. of Olives to procure olive or palm branches.  The Gospel was read and a procession was made back into the city.  The practice was slow to spread.  It was unknown in Rome even in the next century.  In time the heavy procession of Sundays from Pre-Lent, Lent, Passiontide, Holy Week, and the Triduum developed in the West.  In the late 60’s, the liturgical program of Lent and Holy Week was simplified.  Pre-Lent was no longer observed, and Passiontide and Palm Sunday were combined into the last Sunday in Lent.  The focus of the day and the week following is announced by the reading of the Passion in the liturgy that follows the Palm Sunday Liturgy where palms are blessed, and a procession is made.

At the Liturgy of the Palms

St. Mark 11:1-11
When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples and said to them, "Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, `Why are you doing this?' just say this, `The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.'" They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, "What are you doing, untying the colt?" They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

"Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!"

Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.


Each of the synoptic (Mark, Matthew, and Luke) Gospel writers have their own take on this action of Jesus entering Jerusalem.  Following the several passion predictions that precede this narrative, we can only see it as a natural progression.  The question, however, is more complex.  Did Jesus just enter Jerusalem as a destination, or is the entry itself sign and symbol of something else?  In what guise does Jesus enter?  Does he enter as a king, or something else?  There are royal aspects, the scattering of garments and palms on the roadway, the entry on a donkey, the Mount of Olives, and the quotation from Psalm 118.  The real clue that seems to inform us of Jesus’ intent, at least in Mark, is the quotation, “the coming kingdom of our ancestor David.”  Jesus appears to usher into Jerusalem not a kingship, but rather the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven, about which he has preached, most of the Gospel.

Breaking open Mark
  1. What do you think Jesus’ status is as he enters Jerusalem?
  2. Check your Bible and see what comes before and after this reading
  3. What does “the Kingdom of Heaven” mean to you.

Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29 Confitemini Domino

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; *
his mercy endures for ever.

Let Israel now proclaim, *
"His mercy endures for ever."

Open for me the gates of righteousness; *
I will enter them;
I will offer thanks to the LORD.

"This is the gate of the LORD; *
he who is righteous may enter."

I will give thanks to you, for you answered me *
and have become my salvation.

The same stone which the builders rejected *
has become the chief cornerstone.

This is the LORD'S doing, *
and it is marvelous in our eyes.

On this day the LORD has acted; *
we will rejoice and be glad in it.

Hosannah, LORD, hosannah! *
LORD, send us now success.

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; *
we bless you from the house of the LORD.

God is the LORD; he has shined upon us; *
form a procession with branches up to the horns of the altar.

"You are my God, and I will thank you; *
you are my God, and I will exalt you."

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; *
his mercy endures for ever.



The choice of this psalm seems natural for the day, since it is quoted in the Gospel for the Liturgy of the Palms.  It is a thanksgiving psalm, and in all of its parts seems to have disparate sections.  Some commentators have divided up the text into as many as 5 separate psalms.  The reading for today is the material from the introductory verses, whose “Let Israel now say,” indicates a liturgical piece.  The remaining verses, 19-29, are on theme with the image of entry and acclamation.  The verse related to the cornerstone (verse 22) is often tied in Christian theology to Jesus himself.  In the context of the psalm, however, it indicates that the author, though abject (read verses 7-14) has become “the chief cornerstone” because “the Lord’s right hand has raised (him).”   Verse 26, “Blessed who comes in the name of the Lord.” is familiar to us as the concluding verse, Benedictus qui venit,  that follows the Sanctus in the Eucharistic Liturgy.  Unlike the Palm Sunday entrance, where the focus is Jesus, in this psalm the focus is on the unseen yet present One, the Lord.  The scene is God’s entry into the Temple where a sacrificial offering is made.  Christians imply another sacrifice and another victim as they read this psalm on this day.

Breaking open Psalm 118
  1. What are the parallels between this psalm and the Palm Sunday Gospel?
  2. How is this psalm comforting to you?
  3. For what is the author giving thanks?

The Liturgy of the Passion

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 mood changes in the Passion Sunday Liturgy, and it is a pronounced change in this reading from second Isaiah.  Gone is the triumphalism of the Palm Sunday readings.  The text is third song of the Suffering Servant.  The preceding verses provide a stunning setting for this poem in which God longs for his spouse, Israel.  God calls for the estranged spouse, hoping for a return, draping the heavens with the darkness of grief.  What is to save this situation?  The initial words of verse 4 give us clues – for God’s word is a saving word that wakes us from the nightmare of our estrangement.  The suffering of the servant is the suffering of Israel in this state of abandonment.  Christians assign this suffering to Jesus, the one who suffers for us.  However, for the people of Isaiah’s time and circumstance the suffering is theirs.  The servant (Israel) wonders about redemption and salvation of the real sort.  Who will save them?

Breaking open Isaiah:
  1. When you hear the title “Suffering Servant” what do you think of?
  2. What do you think that the readers or hearers of Isaiah thought of?
  3. How does God deal with the sufferings of the servant?

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."



Psalm 31 is a “cut and paste” psalm, using phrases, themes, and ideas from other psalms and even the Book of Jonah.  The theme is consistent, however as the editor paints a scene of supplication and prayer on the part of a penitent who beseeches God for mercy and kindness.  Verse 8 is interesting in its contrast to Psalm 23.  Here the author sees God placing him in a “wide open place,” as opposed to the narrow constraints of suffering and doom.  As the psalm continues, however, the psalmist guises the sufferer in the situation that beset Job, even friends regard him as something to be avoided.  The final verse is reminiscent of the Aaronic Benediction: “The Lord make his face shine upon you” – “Make your face to shine upon your servant.”

Breaking open Psalm 31
  1. What are the sufferings in this psalm?
  2. What are the saving acts in this psalm?
  3. Does the author give thanks?

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
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.



Into a section on humility, Paul inserts an ancient hymn constructed of six strophes, which illustrate the humiliation and exaltation of Jesus.  It is thought to be a hymn because of its rhythms, its un-Pauline vocabulary at points, especially the verb “to empty”, and its use of parallelism (especially prevalent in the Old Testament and in the Psalms).  There is one insertion, and that is the insertion of “even death on a cross” in the third strophe.  The hymn is stark and simple and represents, in a matter of speaking, an early creed of the Church.

Breaking open Philippians
  1. What are the stages of Jesus’ humiliation?
  2. What are the stages of Jesus’ exultation?
  3. What does the name of Jesus mean to you?

Mark 14:1-15:47

It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him; for they said, "Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people."

While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. But some were there who said to one another in anger, "Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor." And they scolded her. But Jesus said, "Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her."



Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. When they heard it, they were greatly pleased, and promised to give him money. So he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.

On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to him, "Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?" So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, "Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, `The Teacher asks, Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?' He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there." So the disciples set out and went to the city, and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.

When it was evening, he came with the twelve. And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me." They began to be distressed and to say to him one after another, "Surely, not I?" He said to them, "It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me. For 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."



While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, "Take; this is my body." Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God."

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

`I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep will be scattered.'

But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee." Peter said to him, "Even though all become deserters, I will not." Jesus said to him, "Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times." But he said vehemently, "Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you." And all of them said the same.

They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, "Sit here while I pray." He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. And said to them, "I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake." And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, "Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want." He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, "Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. He came a third time and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand."



Immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; and with him there was a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, "The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard." So when he came, he went up to him at once and said, "Rabbi!" and kissed him. Then they laid hands on him and arrested him. But one of those who stood near drew his sword and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to them, "Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. But let the scriptures be fulfilled." All of them deserted him and fled.

A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked.

They took Jesus to the high priest; and all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes were assembled. Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest; and he was sitting with the guards, warming himself at the fire. Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none. For many gave false testimony against him, and their testimony did not agree. Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, saying, "We heard him say, `I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.'" But even on this point their testimony did not agree. Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, "Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?" But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, "Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?" Jesus said, "I am; and

`you will see the Son of Man
seated at the right hand of the Power,'
and `coming with the clouds of heaven.'"

Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, "Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy! What is your decision?" All of them condemned him as deserving death. Some began to spit on him, to blindfold him, and to strike him, saying to him, "Prophesy!" The guards also took him over and beat him.



While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant-girls of the high priest came by. When she saw Peter warming himself, she stared at him and said, "You also were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth." But he denied it, saying, "I do not know or understand what you are talking about." And he went out into the forecourt. Then the cock crowed. And the servant-girl, on seeing him, began again to say to the bystanders, "This man is one of them." But again he denied it. Then after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, "Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean." But he began to curse, and he swore an oath, "I do not know this man you are talking about." At that moment the cock crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered that Jesus had said to him, "Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times." And he broke down and wept.

As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. Pilate asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" He answered him, "You say so." Then the chief priests accused him of many things. Pilate asked him again, "Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you." But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.
Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked. Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom. Then he answered them, "Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?" For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. Pilate spoke to them again, "Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?" They shouted back, "Crucify him!" Pilate asked them, "Why, what evil has he done?" But they shouted all the more, "Crucify him!" So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.



Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor's headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort. And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. And they began saluting him, "Hail, King of the Jews!" They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take.

It was nine o'clock in the morning when they crucified him. The inscription of the charge against him read, "The King of the Jews." And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, "Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!" In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, "He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe." Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.



When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o'clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, "Listen, he is calling for Elijah." And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, "Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down." Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, "Truly this man was God's Son!"

There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.
When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate wondered if he were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he had been dead for some time. When he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph. Then Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was laid.

Early on we begin to see a kernel of the passion narrative develop in the early Church.  One of the earliest is in I Corinthians 11:23ff.

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, 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 death of the Lord until he comes.

There are other early examples that predate Mark’s recounting of the passion.  In Matthew and Luke we have a passion narrative into which other ancillary themes and traditions are inserted, but in Mark we have something stark and primitive.  This narrative is the final comment on the life of Jesus, as he is shown and recognized as the Messiah.  Mark sees these events as the fulfillment of what God had promised and that is made manifest in the life of Jesus.  Jesus cannot be seen in glory, until he goes through his own “valley of the shadow of death.”  There is glory to come, but it is a stark glory that brings a sense of fear, as we shall hear in the Easter Gospel.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. What do you think Mark is attempting to tell us about Jesus?
  2. Is this a history of Jesus or theology about Jesus?
  3. What do you think about the cross?

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

Almighty and ever living 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.