The Sunday of the Passion/Palm Sunday, 20 March 2016

The Liturgy of the Palms
St. Luke 19:28-40
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29

The Liturgy of the Passion
Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 31:9-16
Philippians 2:5-11
St. Luke 22:14 – 23:56

Background: The Sunday of the Passion/Palm Sunday:

There is no small amount of confusion when it comes to the nomenclature of this day, and its place within Lent or within Holy Week. In some senses it is the sixth Sunday in Lent, with the accompanying ceremonies and processions associated with Palm Sunday.  It is called “The Sunday of the Passion” because the Passion according to the Gospel being read in the three-year lectionary is read on this day. Some churches have abandoned the reading of the passion altogether, reserving it for its traditional place on Good Friday – which is in my opinion a sad development. In the Roman calendar, the day has enjoyed various names: The Sixth Sunday of Lent (until 1954), The Second Sunday of the Passion or Palm Sunday (from 1955 non, and then in 1970, Palm Sunday the Passion of the Lord. Originally the Gospel readings were from the Passion according to Matthew, but with the promulgation of the Three Year Lectionary, those readings were reserved to Mark and Luke in addition to the readings from Matthew. In the Sarum Use (Anglican) crimson vestments were used on this day, the previous Sundays having used the Lenten array. With the introductions of liturgical reforms in the late 70s and early 80s, the color for the day became crimson (or an optional purple) for this Sunday and the days within Holy Week. The color of the Days during the Triduum is another matter.

The Liturgy of the Palms

St. Luke 19:28-40


After telling a parable to the crowd at Jericho, Jesus went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, "Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, 'Why are you untying it?' just say this, 'The Lord needs it.'" So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, "Why are you untying the colt?" They said, "The Lord needs it." Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,

"Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!"

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, order your disciples to stop." He answered, "I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out."

Jesus comes to Jerusalem by way of Jericho and pauses at the Mount of Olives. It is a significant pause, not only because he sends two disciples to prepare the way, but also because of its eschatological significance. You may wish to pursue this by reading the 14th chapter of Zechariah. Here the disciples do not question Jesus’ intent, scrupulously following his orders. The new colt also fulfills the prophecies and images of Zechariah (9:9). The use of garments and textiles to cover the animal and the roadway make for a festive image – one that bespeaks kingship, and here the entrance of the Messiah. This drama even has a chorus of voices who repeat the refrain from Psalm 118:26. The voices are not only those of praise, however, for the Pharisees have their own criticisms to offer, and Jesus in reply, opines that creation itself is bound to offer praise. It isn’t clear whether their objections are theological or political in nature. There is the possibility that they are attempting to advert some kind of military or Roman response. Jesus is clear that such thoughts are no longer possible or convenient – for the Messiah is entering the city, as he has been moved to do over the many chapters and passages of this Gospel.

Breaking open Luke:

  1. What kinds of people would have entered Jerusalem along with Jesus?
  2. Is this a victory parade?
  3. What will the crowd be thinking in a matter of hours?

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


1      Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; *
his mercy endures for ever.
2      Let Israel now proclaim, *
"His mercy endures for ever."
19    Open for me the gates of righteousness; *
I will enter them;
I will offer thanks to the Lord.
20    "This is the gate of the Lord; *
he who is righteous may enter."
21    I will give thanks to you, for you answered me *
and have become my salvation.
22    The same stone which the builders rejected *
has become the chief cornerstone.
23    This is the Lord's doing, *
and it is marvelous in our eyes.
24    On this day the Lord has acted; *
we will rejoice and be glad in it.
25    Hosannah, Lord, hosannah! *
Lord, send us now success.
26    Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; *
we bless you from the house of the Lord.
27    God is the Lord; he has shined upon us; *
form a procession with branches up to the horns of the altar.
28    "You are my God, and I will thank you; *
you are my God, and I will exalt you."
29    Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; *
his mercy endures for ever.

This is a thanksgiving psalm replete with liturgical directions for repetition by the House of Israel, the House of Aaron, and those who believe. Beyond that, the psalm may seem a bit disjointed at points. Some manuscripts divide the psalm into as many as five separate sections. In the liturgical section for this day, we have an introductory section that moves on to a larger pericope at verse 19. Here we enter the city by the magnificent gates, and the psalmist makes a casual observance of rejection and subsequent acceptance, “the same stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” It’s use here in the Christian Liturgy underscores a theme born out in Luke of Jesus’ rejection by his own people, and his acceptance in a larger Gentile world. The quotation of verse 26 as a response by the crowds in Luke’s account of the entry into Jerusalem, may have originally words of blessing that were given the celebrants as they entered the Temple for the sacred services there. This translation glides over the tying of the victim to the horns of the altar by using the word “Branches” for “victim”, and one wonders whether the subsequent use of this psalm on Palm Sunday has affected the translation of the text. The closing verses again reflect the themes of thanksgiving and liturgical prayer.

Breaking open Psalm 118:
  1. Have you ever been in a celebratory parade?
  2. What was it like?
  3. How is this Sunday a celebratory parade? Why?

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?

In this Third of the Suffering Servant Songs we have a lament that can be understood better by looking at the laments of a fellow prophet, Jeremiah.  Especially notable is the heart of the reading, verses 5b-6, “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.” Jeremiah gives witness to similar emotions, “they devised schemes against me” (Jeremiah 11:19). It is in these two lights that we both see and hear of the difficulties that accompany the call to be a prophet, and these are circumstances that certainly surround Jesus as well. There is a difference here, however. The words of the suffering servant, “Behold the Lord YHWH helps me” are in contrast to Jesus’ own words on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” That comment, however, is but a moment in a resolute journey that Jesus takes to Jerusalem and Calvary – similar to the intent of the servant, “Who will contend with me?” This wonderful passage provides a context for understanding the Passion, and the history that precedes it. The song is full of references to the courtroom, and the judgments that will be rendered there. The final verse, however, anticipates the verdict, “It is the Lord God who helps me; who will declare me guilty?”

Breaking open Isaiah:
  1. What does suffering have to do with servanthood?
  2. What qualities of the servant do you identify in Jesus?
  3. What is the word of hope in this psalm?

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


9      Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am in trouble; *
my eye is consumed with sorrow,
and also my throat and my belly.
10    For my life is wasted with grief,
and my years with sighing; *
my strength fails me because of affliction,
and my bones are consumed.
11    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.
12    I am forgotten like a dead man, out of mind; *
I am as useless as a broken pot.
13    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.
14    But as for me, I have trusted in you, O Lord. *
I have said, "You are my God.
15    My times are in your hand; *
rescue me from the hand of my enemies,
and from those who persecute me.
16    Make your face to shine upon your servant, *
and in your loving-kindness save me."

This is more than rejection, this is repulsion, and we need to ask why this is the case. It does not involve just one aspect of the speaker, but rather the whole person, “my eye is consumed with sorrow, and also my throat and my belly,” a line drawn to encompass the entirety. And it is not just the physicality of the speaker that is compromised here, but the memory of their existence, “I am forgotten like a dead man, out of mind.” There is one relationship, however, that transcends this dire situation, and that is the relationship with God. The speaker is held, indeed rescued, from the difficulties that surround him.

Breaking open Psalm 31:
  1. What do you understand by the word “mercy”?
  2. Who are your enemies?
  3. How does God save you from them?

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.


The author would teach us how to be Christ-like, and this is the first of several examples. Paul prepares us to hear the story of Jesus in subsequent verses, and these verses form a paradigm of understanding – a scrim through which we can observe Jesus’ intentions. The stunning phrase and idea that animates this hymn is that Jesus “emptied himself.” It is an example of giving up everything so that in this action others might see the example of his selflessness. There is directionality in this hymn, a beginning downward motion in which Christ humbles himself. What follows after the word “therefore” is the exact opposite, with exaltation and naming following an upward arc back to the Father. What is important here is that this is not served up to us as a hymn, which celebrates Christ’s action, but rather as an example meant for our edification.

Breaking open Philippians:
  1. What do you understand in the words “emptied himself”?
  2. Is humiliation a bad thing? Why?
  3. When have you been “lifted up” in your life?

St. Luke 22:14-23:56


When the hour for the Passover meal came, Jesus took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said to them, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God." Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, "Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes." Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table. For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!" Then they began to ask one another, which one of them it could be who would do this.

A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. But he said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

"You are those who have stood by me in my trials; and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
"Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers." And he said to him, "Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!" Jesus said, "I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me."

He said to them, "When I sent you out without a purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?" They said, "No, not a thing." He said to them, "But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, `And he was counted among the lawless'; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled." They said, "Lord, look, here are two swords." He replied, "It is enough."

He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. When he reached the place, he said to them, "Pray that you may not come into the time of trial." Then he withdrew from them about a stone's throw, knelt down, and prayed, "Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done." Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground. When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, and he said to them, "Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial."

While he was still speaking, suddenly a crowd came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him; but Jesus said to him, "Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?" When those who were around him saw what was coming, they asked, "Lord, should we strike with the sword?" Then one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, "No more of this!" And he touched his ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple police, and the elders who had come for him, "Have you come out with swords and clubs as if I were a bandit? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness!"

Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest's house. But Peter was following at a distance. When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. Then a servant-girl, seeing him in the firelight, stared at him and said, "This man also was with him." But he denied it, saying, "Woman, I do not know him." A little later someone else, on seeing him, said, "You also are one of them." But Peter said, "Man, I am not!" Then about an hour later still another kept insisting, "Surely this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean." But Peter said, "Man, I do not know what you are talking about!" At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, "Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times." And he went out and wept bitterly.

Now the men who were holding Jesus began to mock him and beat him; they also blindfolded him and kept asking him, "Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?" They kept heaping many other insults on him.

When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people, both chief priests and scribes, gathered together, and they brought him to their council. They said, "If you are the Messiah, tell us." He replied, "If I tell you, you will not believe; and if I question you, you will not answer. But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God." All of them asked, "Are you, then, the Son of God?" He said to them, "You say that I am." Then they said, "What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips!"

Then the assembly rose as a body and brought Jesus before Pilate. They began to accuse him, saying, "We found this man perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor, and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king." Then Pilate asked him, "Are you the king of the Jews?" He answered, "You say so." Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, "I find no basis for an accusation against this man." But they were insistent and said, "He stirs up the people by teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to this place."

When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he was under Herod's jurisdiction, he sent him off to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been wanting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some sign. He questioned him at some length, but Jesus gave him no answer. The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. Even Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then he put an elegant robe on him, and sent him back to Pilate. That same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies.

Pilate then called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people, and said to them, "You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and here I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. Indeed, he has done nothing to deserve death. I will therefore have him flogged and release him."

Then they all shouted out together, "Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas for us!" (This was a man who had been put in prison for an insurrection that had taken place in the city, and for murder.) Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again; but they kept shouting, "Crucify, crucify him!" A third time he said to them, "Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no ground for the sentence of death; I will therefore have him flogged and then release him." But they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified; and their voices prevailed. So Pilate gave his verdict that their demand should be granted. He released the man they asked for, the one who had been put in prison for insurrection and murder, and he handed Jesus over as they wished.

As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus. A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. But Jesus turned to them and said, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are surely coming when they will say, 'Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.' Then they will begin to say to the mountains, 'Fall on us'; and to the hills, 'Cover us.' For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?"

Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, "He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!" The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!" There was also an inscription over him, "This is the King of the Jews."

One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!" But the other rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong." Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." He replied, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun's light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit." Having said this, he breathed his last. When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, "Certainly this man was innocent." And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.

Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph, who, though a member of the council, had not agreed to their plan and action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea, and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments.

On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

Luke does not surprise us with Jesus’ passion, and has prepared us for the eventuality. You may wish to review those points in which Luke has laid out the path, 5:35, 9:22, 44, 13:31-33, 17:25, and 18:31-33. Two opposing forces are set for a collision in this passion, the crowd (which we last saw at the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem) and the religious elites, and Jesus and those who follow him. It falls well within Luke’s agenda of focusing on the “little ones”, but here they are in direct opposition to those have so much. The other theme that is evident in Luke is the long journey that is interspersed with healings, parables, and other wonders. Luke sees these events that will come quickly following the entry into Jerusalem as divisive and provocative. Salvation is offered to more than the traditional recipients, and there is a response to these acts but the responses are not all positive. Jesus is the Messiah in Luke, but he is the Messiah who is anointed for death. Even in the midst of all of this difficulty, Jesus is still the healer (the High Priest’s slave) and the innocent (Pilate’s opinion).  Jesus delivers good news to the condemned, and even impresses the Roman Military with his righteousness. The silence and misunderstanding with which Jesus’ followers met most of his passion predictions, is met again with a distance and silence at the crucifixion. They, like we, are called to observe, and sense will only be made of the spectacle following Jesus’ death and the coming of the Spirit.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. Who are the “little ones” in Luke’s passion narrative?
  2. Who are those of privilege?
  3. How is Jesus “good news” at the crucifixion?

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.

Questions and comments copyright © 2016, Michael T. Hiller


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