30 March 2015

The Resurrection of Our Lord, Easter Day - 5 April 2015

Acts 10:34-43 or Isaiah 25:6-9
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
Acts 10:34-43 or I Corinthians 15:1-11
St. John 20:1-18
St. Mark 16:1-8

Background: Resurrection Appearances
I may have made reference to this wonderful resource in the past, and if so please forgive me for referring to it again. I think that it behooves us as people interested in what the lectionary is attempting to teach us to anticipate all the readings during the Sundays of Easter. Reginald Fuller’s book, The Formation of the Resurrection Narratives[1], gives a grand overview of the development of these texts, tracing them through the writings of Paul, the synoptics, and John. He begins with the earliest Easter Traditions in the First Letter to the Corinthians, and does a wonderful analysis of Paul’s account. He follows with the narrative of Mark, then Matthew, then Luke-Acts, and finally the Gospel of John and the so-called Johannine Appendix. What follows, in addition, are an analysis of Pseudo Mark, Transposed Resurrection Narratives (proposed), and finally, Resurrection Narratives in apocryphal Gospels. His tracing of the growing complexity of these accounts is helpful in determaining the core of the tradition, and then how to form a sense of devotion or proclamation around these texts.

Acts 10:34-43

Peter began to speak to the gentiles: "I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ--he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."

In this chapter, Luke weaves a series of visions, conversions, and proclamations that enable his goal of proclaiming God’s intentions of salvation for anyone who would desire it. We meet Peter on the cusp of understanding what Paul has been urging, and we meet Cornelius whose own vision, request, and baptism cement the entire enterprise into a whole. It would be good for you, if you wish to understand the context of Peter’s remarks, which form our liturgical reading for this Easter Morning, to see the remarks in the context of these activities. The almost creedal remarks that Peter makes to the messengers from Cornelius form what it is that we need to know about God’s invitation to the world in the person of Jesus Christ. These words seem to pop out at us and form a response we might make to the Easter Gospel: “We are witnesses,” “commanded us to preach…and to testify”, “we were chosen by God as witnesses.” It is not an individual that responds to this message but rather an entire household. Such is the grasp and suasion of God’s message of salvation.

Breaking open Acts:
  1. For you, what are Peter’s main points?
  2. Who might appear in your sheet of “unclean things?”
  3. What would be your “kerygma” (your proclamation) about Jesus?


Isaiah 25:6-9
On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.
And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.
Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces,
and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the LORD has spoken.
It will be said on that day,
Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
This is the LORD for whom we have waited;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

This reading from Isaiah telegraphs us beyond to the tomb and its absent body to present a vision of the banquet at the end of time. Here the prophet uses a model present in other Hebrew writings, and used in other ancient near eastern writings, of the celestial banquet that Jesus himself refers to as he gathers with the disciples at the last supper.  Isaiah’s vision goes a bit further in his comments in that he declares that God will be the arbiter about the role of death, “he will swallow up death forever.” Of special interest is that the judgment is done for the benefit of “all peoples”, and “all nations.” The concept of time here is complicated – a future vision for which we have waited seems to be a completed fact, “This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” In this way God is with us – now. The Easter message is in one sense hopeful, and in another sense present.

Breaking open Isaiah:
  1. Who will sit at your banquet at the end of time?
  2. Whom do you not expect to see?
  3. Whom will you be surprised to see?

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 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."

The LORD is my strength and my song, *
and he has become my salvation.

There is a sound of exultation and victory *
in the tents of the righteous:

"The right hand of the LORD has triumphed! *
the right hand of the LORD is exalted!
the right hand of the LORD has triumphed!"

I shall not die, but live, *
and declare the works of the LORD.

The LORD has punished me sorely, *
but he did not hand me over to death.

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.

In a way this psalm is a closing parenthesis to Holy Week and to the Triduum. It is appointed in part for reading during the Liturgy of the Palms on Passion Sunday, and then again at the festival services on Easter Day.  Let us, however, remove ourselves from that particular celebration to first hear how it might have sounded to ancient Israel, where the speaker, especially in verses 5 through 21, is the king. The personal anguish and threat which beset the speaker and for which salvation he now gives thanks, gives us an intimate understanding of the individual and God. The enemies are not metaphors, and the threat of death is not an undefined thing. The king enters the Temple with not only a sense of triumph but of thanksgiving for the God who has saved him.

So we enter this joyous day, perfect in the knowledge that Christ has won a similar victory over the enemies – death and the grave. Now all who follow in the procession of pilgrims (for whom this psalm/liturgy was written) are full of the thanksgivings that once only belonged to the king, and that now accrue to us as well. The last two stanzas of the liturgical reading are an adequate summary of what we do this day, “This is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes. On this day the Lord has acted; and we will rejoice and be glad in it.”

Breaking open Psalm 118:
  1. Where do you see justice in our world?
  2. Where do you see righteousness in our world?
  3. How are you a part of such righteousness and justice?

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you--unless you have come to believe in vain.

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them--though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.

Reginald Fuller in his book on the Resurrection Narratives (noted above) sees this as one of the earliest witnesses to the resurrection.  He characterizes this reading, and others, as “the disclosure of the eschatological within history.”[2] Paul lays out for us two distinct hierarchies that become witnesses to the resurrection. First there is the sequence of Cephas, the Twelve and the five hundred brothers and sisters. Then there is the sequence of James, the apostles, and Paul. What purposes do these appearances take on? Fuller maintains that with the appearance to “Cephas” (one may want to quickly refer to the context of this name in Matthew 16) and to the Twelve the Risen One establishes the eschatological community. Thus he maintains that these appearances are “church building.”[3] Those who experience the later appearances (James, apostles, and Paul) are called to be sent out from this founding community to spread the witness. The closing passage makes clear the intent and purpose, “so we proclaim, and so you have come to believe.”

Breaking open I Corinthians:
  1. What is Paul saying about the importance of these appearances?
  2. In what ways has Jesus appeared to you?
  3. What was his message?

Or Acts (see above)

St. John 20:1-18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him." Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, `I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

In this reading we see present two different traditions regarding the Easter Appearance. The first is that of the Magdalene who runs and tells the Peter and the disciples, whose story is the second of the traditions present in this reading. She becomes the primary witness, and the others follow in her train.  In Mark, the angel points out the absence in the tomb, but in John Mary already knows it and perceives it. The belief, however comes with the other disciple who enters the tomb who then sees and then believes. This layering of tradition and reaction should be natural to John’s Gospel which comes after so many versions of tradition and witness. It is, I think, important for us to follow the example and to not only tell the story in our own words, but to hear and listen to the story from others’ lips. In Paul, we move from individuals to larger groups, from leaders to the whole community. Here, we watch as individuals see, take in, and then make a response.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. With which of the characters do you identify the most?
  2. Why?
  3. What is convincing to you in this story?  What is not?  Why?


St. Mark 16:1-8

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint Jesus. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, "Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?" When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, "Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you." So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Fuller makes two observations on this text. The first is that in its initial rendering, this text was an appearance to Mary Magdalene alone, and the second is that verse seven was a later addition. Already stark in its presentation, the subtraction of these elements (the other women, and the angel’s direction of the women to Galilee) leaves a scene which focuses largely on the appearance of the angel which raises in them a sense of trembling and fear (compare St. Luke 1:22). In a sense their reaction to the vision of the angel underscores the profound truth that they had witnessed, “he is not here.” Mark leaves us to understand what that might mean and to plumb the depths of Jesus’ absence, but also his eschatological presence among us. In Mark we have a Jesus who dies, is buried, and ascends, affording a transition that give us wonder at what might happen next.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. How would this story be different if it were only Mary Magdalene?
  2. What are her actions after seeing the empty tomb?
  3. What might an empty tomb mean to you?

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

O God, who for our redemption gave your only-begotten Son to the death of the cross, and by his glorious resurrection delivered us from the power of our enemy: Grant us so to die daily to sin, that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his resurrection; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

or this

O God, who made this most holy night to shine with the glory of the Lord's resurrection: Stir up in your Church that Spirit of adoption which is given to us in Baptism, that we, being renewed both in body and mind, may worship you in sincerity and truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

or this

Almighty God, who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord's resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by your life-giving Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2015, Michael T. Hiller

[1]   Fuller, R., (1971), The Formationof the Resurrection Narratives, Philadelphia, Fortress Press, 225 pages.
[2]   Fuller, page 33
[3]   Fuller, page 35

23 March 2015

Palm Sunday/The Sunday of the Passion, 29 March 2015

Liturgy of the Palms
Mark 11:1-11 or John 12:12-16
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: Kingship
The events of Palm Sunday bring into sharp focus the role of kingship not only at the time of Jesus, but earlier. It is those prior notions of kingship that inform the theology and semiology that attaches itself to the Jesus Story, and helps to define him as a religious character and symbol. The kingship of Mesopotamian region and of Egypt as well contributed to Israel’s understanding of the kingship that developed during their time in Canaan. Prior to the period of Samuel, the life in Israel was rural and tribal, with leaders emerging from time to time to deal with issues larger than tribe and family. It is the order that kingship brought (economic, religious, agricultural, and military) that made it so attractive to these rural peoples. It brought sense to both marketplace and battlefield. But these were not the only advantages of which the people were aware. In the ancient near east, kingship was considered a sacred order. This idea lasts until our own time, when monarchs were ordained into their own sacred order. Kingship functioned in ancient times as a sacred responsibility alongside and often times combined with priestly service. The kings of Sumer and Babylon, among others, had a sacred role in the New Year Festival that assured the fertility of the earth – thus economic success.

Israel moves from a theocracy, a society “governed” by God, to a divine monarchy that is appointed and blessed by God. Thus, when we talk about Jesus as being one of “David’s Line” we are talking about a royal succession that includes the both of them. For instruction in this, take up the book of Hebrews where you will see Jesus’ portrayal as both priest and king. Others added the role of prophet to this list of characteristics. Marcus Borg in his book The Last Week pictures Jesus entering Jerusalem as an anti-king, as Pilate enters the city from another direction as the imperium. Jesus own teaching includes the notion of kingship when he proclaims the Kingdom of Heaven, or the Kingdom of God. All of this comes to bear as we see Jesus enter the city in triumph. He will, however, as Luke will teach us, rule from the cross.

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,

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.

Mark has Jesus move slowly but deliberately to Jerusalem, for it is there that he will meet his fate. Thus we begin this reading, “approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany.” We are not quite there yet – other arrangements have to be made. The Mount of Olives is mentioned as well, which calls to mind the reading from Zechariah 14:4, “On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives…one half of the mount shall withdraw northward, and the other half southward.” Thus this is a place of decision-making, and of taking a stand, for it is here in this place that the prophet saw YHWH making the nations aware of his power and might against them. Here Jesus arranges for either a donkey or even a horse – it doesn’t matter – what does matter is the purity of the animal, “that has never been ridden.”

Many talk of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem as a “triumph”. In reality it is probably more like an action, such as the prophets took, that symbolized a higher religious truth. Jesus goes to the temple and “looks around” in a way similar to those reconnoitering at a battlefield. Here is where the action will happen. Then he returns to Bethany. The beauty of the moment is just that – momentary, and soon we are back in the real politik of the events of the week. Jesus comes, observes, and then takes strength with his supporters just outside the city.

Breaking open St. Mark:
1.     What does Palm Sunday mean to you?
2.     How is it a triumph?
3.     What else might it be?


St. John 12:12-16

The great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, "Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord-- the King of Israel!" Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written: "Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey's colt!" His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him.

The alternate gospel is slimming down of the account in John. The actual pericope lasts from 12:9-19.  You may want to give the entirety of it a glance. What Mark hints at in the locations at Bethany and Bethphage, John brings to the forefront, “The chief priests, however, planned to kill Lazarus too, because on his account many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him.” These details enrich the setting in which the entry into Jerusalem happens. Many view this entry as a scene of triumph and joy, and so it is. However, the background of plots and dark ideas make clearer Jesus’ fate and the importance of all of his acts in the Passion. What is seen in the other Gospels as an act independent of and set apart from the Roman imperium, is here seen in a more universal character. The closing line of the pericope sums it all up, “At that the Pharisees remarked to one another, ‘you see, you are getting nowhere. Look the world has run off after him.’”

Breaking open St. John:
1.     Why does John place Lazarus so prominently in his Palm Sunday Gospel?
2.     In what ways is Jesus a political victim? Or wasn’t he?
3.     How has the world “run off after” Jesus?

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.

It is too bad that this psalm is not used in most parish celebrations of the Liturgy of the Palms. It goes out of its way in providing a theological context for Jesus’ prophetic act of entering the City of Jerusalem. We are drawn to the notion of the gates of justice that are opened up to the one who enters the city. In ancient times it was here that the judges sat and heard the cases that people brought to them. It was here that justice was rendered, and that gave meaning to the verse, “Open for me the gates of righteousness.” Implicit righteousness is seen in those who enter by these gates. This righteousness, however, is to be expanded and will be seen in a larger context. The author hints at that with the verse about the stone “that the builders rejected.” Some aspect of righteousness was unseen and ignored. To the many who entered the gates seeing themselves as unrighteous, God has seen differently.  In the Marcan account of the entry into Jerusalem, Jesus goes immediately to the Temple “and looks around.” That is the action that is implied here – all stones, some fashioned in an elegant manner, and some rude and rustic, are all gathered together in the glory of the building – the Temple. Here all gather, and all are seen as just. Did Elizabeth the First quote this psalm when she heard that she was now Queen, “This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.” I hope so, and I hope that every man and woman sees in this righteous procession their place and part as well.

Breaking open Psalm 118:
1.     Where have you found justice where you least expected it?
2.     Is justice valued in our society? Why or why not?
3.     What does it mean to be “the cornerstone”?

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?

Some have characterized the Jewish religion as a religion of words. Thus in this “psalm” from the second of the Isaiahs we meet the speaker in this Song of the Suffering Servant who knows what forms the relationship of God and the author – “The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher (or some say “learner”).” Here we note the similarity of what this Isaiah says to what Jeremiah taught us in last Sunday’s first reading – that everyone should know God, and that this knowledge was internal and not external.  That is the intimacy, which God desires, and it is a vocational call read out to each of us. “The Lord God has opened my ear.” The speaker prepares for the conflict that is to come by concentrating on the lessons that God teaches. What are dismissed are the lessons of violence, and insult. These have no place, when God is the one who helps. There is a stubborn steadfastness here, “I have set my face like flint.” Perhaps this reading serves as a prayer with which both Jesus and we greet the coming harrowing events. Set like flint, we face them, and realize that it is “God who helps me; who will declare me guilty?”

Breaking open Isaiah:
4.     What other “suffering servants” are in the Bible?
5.     In what ways is discipleship difficult or harsh?
6.     In what ways do you discipline your faith?

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."

In Psalm 23 we hear the phrase, “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” Here we are in a different place as the verse prior to this reading declares, “And you did not yield me to my enemy’s hand, you set my feet in a wide-open place.” The one who follows God is set in a defensible place and place where there is an awareness of God. What we are met with in these verses of the psalm are all the straits and narrows that the author sees in his life. We recognize the human condition in “sorrow”, “grief”, “affliction”, “reproach”, “forgotten”. The focus is clearly on this one human being and “the affliction” that follows. There is loneliness and singularity such as we read of in Job. Neighbors and others “avoid” and “whisper”. The images are clearly focused on the “apartness” of this human. To make this perfectly clear the text compares this situation with that of the dead; “I am forgotten like a dead man, out of mind.” Into the midst of this lonely despair God is invited in, “my times are in your hand; rescue me from the hand of my enemies.” Like the Suffering Servant above, the psalmist knows God as one who vindicates, rescues, and remembers.

Breaking open Psalm 31:
1.     For what do you grieve? Why?
2.     How does God stand beside you in your troubles?
3.     In what ways is your life like that of 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
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

On this Sunday we are invited to share in both the humiliation and exultation of Jesus. Some see this combination as a burden, being able to wrestle with only one emotion at a time. Here, however, Paul wrestles with both – A Jesus who “emptied himself,” and a Jesus “that is above every name.” We have a Jesus who was “in the form of God.” And yet he empties himself. Why? We might wonder. What should be God’s objective here? The beginning of the verse gives us a clue in that it invites us to share in this “mind” that Jesus has, namely to be obedient, even to death. Jesus is not only lifted up as something for whom we ought to give thanks, but Jesus is also lifted up here as an example and model. Jesus becomes someone who life might serve as a model for our own. The implicit reward that might come with the behavior is demonstrated after the word “Therefore.” There are consequences. For Jesus it is exaltation and being named with The Name. (Remember the importance of words to the Hebrews?) Here it is the importance of the Name. Silent in ages past, now it can be said, “Jesus!”  Thus in this person, Jesus, we see not only God’s intentions of salvation for us, and the possibilities for our life, but also the veritable vision of God purpose – seen in Jesus.

Breaking open Philippians:
1.     What emotions do you have when you read that “Jesus emptied himself”?
2.     What does that mean to you?
3.     Jesus was exalted, how have you been exalted in your life?

St. 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.

In Mark’s Passion Narrative we see Jesus as the righteous suffering one, known in Isaiah, the psalms, other prophets, and in Wisdom Literature as well. Wisdom 2:12-20 says it best, “Let us lie in wait for the righteous man.” Jesus is prepared for this by anointing, which is proper, but especially interesting is that he is prepared for this by anointing by a woman. This should give us clues as to what the Passion Narrative is really all about, and who will be involved. Under this text lies a subtext of plots and collaborations to do Jesus in. Thus even at the meal that is shared, we see what and who lies in wait for the Righteous One. In the midst of this unrighteous community bent on violence, Jesus institutes a new community and binds them with bread and wine, Body and Blood.

We are tempted to think of the plotting and prevarication as lying outside of the inner circle. Judas proves us wrong once, and Peter (“You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God”) proves us wrong again, as he denies even knowing the one he had earlier acknowledge as the Christ. This is all very human, from the sleepiness of the disciples to Judas’ kiss. The Jewish leaders attempt to preserve their position and wisdom, and Pilate is at odds to know what to do with this “righteous man.”  Others are drawn into the circle, Simon of Cyrene, the woman, John, the Roman cohort; all serve as witnesses to the act. Not all of them will understand, at least not in the same way. Places are important in Mark. We travel from Jerusalem to Bethany, and then back, thence to the Mount of Olives and back. Finally it is Golgotha and the Tomb. We are sent traveling from one point of eschatological importance to another. An in each place Jesus suffers as the righteous one. What shall we proclaim on this day, other than Peter’s tears, and Mary’s steadfast presence?

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.     Do you ever meditate on the Passion of Jesus?
2.     What images come to your mind when you hear the Passion read?
3.     How do you, like Joseph of Arimathea, take down and receive the body of Christ?

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.

Questions and comments copyright © 2015, Michael T. Hiller