The Sunday of the Passion - Palm Sunday, 14 April 2019

TheSunday of the Passion – Palm Sunday, 14 April 2019

The Liturgy of the Palms

Luke 19:28-40
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29

The Liturgy of the Word

Isaiah 50:4-9a
Philippians 2:5-11
Luke 22:14-23:56
or Luke 23:1-49
Psalm 31:9-16


Background: Grief

Recently I’ve become aware of clergy and lay people who prefer to leave the Passion part of The Sunday of the Passion/Palm Sunday out. They argue that the liturgy of the Triduum will suffice, and that we can rightfully focus on the joy of Palm Sunday and forget the difficulties of the Passion. From a practical point of view, and from a theological point of view I find this argument wanting. First of all, a growing number of people absent themselves from the liturgy of the Triduum, so they go from the “joy” of Palm Sunday to the joy of Easter without a pause to grieve. Theologically, how can we make sense of Easter if we have not had our feet washed, and stand at the cross? There is a need for liturgical grieving – the liturgy provides us with the means to celebrate and participate in all the aspects of living, even the difficult parts.

People are familiar with grief in their lives. It is an important component to the experience of loss, not just in the death of someone, but to loss in general. If we are attuned to our emotions as the Passion Narrative is read, we should recognize a grief that recognizes the losses named there. It is a part of our being a human being, and it is a part of our living a spiritual life. In real life, social scientists and psychologists have recognized some stages of grieving, some of which apply when we walk the Stations of the Cross, or when we hear the Passion Narrative read. In his book, The Other Side of Sadness: What the New Science of Bereavement Tells Us About Life After a LossGeorge Bonanno, professor of clinical psychology at Columbia University, recognizes four trajectories of grieving: a) Resilience (grieving is part of a healthy response to losses in life), b) Recovery (grieving gives way, in time, to normal functioning in life, c) Chronic Dysfunction (prolonged suffering and inability to function), and d) Delayed Grief or Trauma (on-going distress at the loss). Another model of grieving can be found in Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s On Death and Dying

What I am extolling here is not only the health of having emotional reactions to the Passion of Jesus, but also the necessity of recognizing such responses. For example, in the text when Peter hears the cock crow and goes out and “weeps bitterly,” I usually tear up. It gives me pause as I reflect on my own denials and grief that are a part of my religious life. If Lent (and Holy Week) are a time for introspection and reflection, then understanding our bodily and mental responses might be a good thing. Avoiding the difficult places in the story is not the answer, but rather a walking away from a human opportunity for self-knowledge.

The Liturgy of the Palms

 

The Gospel: Saint 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."



The destination that Jesus has mapped out for himself is now at hand – Jerusalem. What we saw earlier in his life, his conversations with the teachers of the law in the temple, now is at a different point. There is enmity and disagreement, difficulties follow his entry into the city. It is not an entry of joy, but rather a fulfillment of his desire to confront the erring leaders of the community, and to cleanse the temple. First, however, we need to enter.

Jesus comes up to Jerusalem from Jericho, and we wonder if he didn’t chant or remember any of the Psalm of Assents as he did so. He must have been aware as he looked over the city of the prophetic importance of both stance and view. The prophet Zechariah, saw the importance of this prospect, “On that day God’s feet will stand.” Here is where the conflict will be finally solved. Here it is Jesus who is leading the procession and anticipating what will happen. There is no humility that is connected with the donkey – it was the transport of kings in former times. The scattered garments and flora were meant to honor the king – but what kind of king, and king of whom? What are the hopes of those who sang from Psalm 118? The kingship that Jesus will accept will be different than that anticipated by those who sing him into the city. The reaction of the Pharisees gives us a clue as to what the leaders and elites want: silence.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. What does Jerusalem mean to Jesus?
  2. What will his confrontations there be?
  3. How is Jesus a prophet?

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 thanksgiving psalm has several disparate parts. Some medieval texts divide it up into as many as five different poems. We see some of that in the editing that the framers of the lectionary have done here, giving us the introductory verses (1-2), and then a section (19-29) that talks about the entry of a king (anointed of God) into the city. The second verse hints at a liturgical use, with Israel invited to respond, “His mercy endures for ever.” Some commentators see the verses 19 – 20 as an Entrance Liturgy, and verses 26 – 27 as a description of the sacred procession. 

 

Interspersed are verses that deal with the psalmist voicing the thanksgiving. His or her abject state, “the stone with the builders rejected”, is changed into one of magnificence, “has become the chief cornerstone.” God is the one who rescues the psalmist and thanksgiving is due. When encountering verse 24, one recalls that Elizabeth I supposedly quoted this passage when she ascended to the throne of England. Verse 27 is a shadow of the Aaronic blessing (Numbers 6:24ff.). The final verse of thanks and praise repeats the refrain from verse 2.


Breaking open the Psalm 118:
  1. When have you been really down?
  2. What allowed you to come up again?
  3. What did you pray about both before and after?


at The Liturgy of the Word


First Reading: 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 reading from Second Isaiah we have an opportunity to see what was expected of the prophet. There is a job description, of sorts, “that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word”, followed by training from the very mouth of God, and finally anticipation of how the prophet will be greeted by the people. These descriptions we see in the lives of other prophets who spoke against the civic and religious leaders of their time. Prophecy, God’s word to the present moment, always makes those with power uncomfortable. To be prophetic one needs to be able to speak difficult truths. 

 

A prophet is resolute, “therefore I have set my face like flint,” an attitude and resolution that Jesus takes in Luke. There is contention here, that the prophet recognizes and accepts There is also anticipation that God will stand with the prophet, as he confronts his adversaries.


Breaking open Isaiah:
  1. In what ways are you a prophet?
  2. What are you called to announce?
  3. And to whom?



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."


 

 

In this psalm we have a bit of a mishmash, with borrowings from other psalms, from Jonah, and from Jeremiah. Our section of the psalm deals with someone in deep distress. The author uses his own body to describe the depth of his trouble, from his eye, to his throat, and finally to his belly (the seat of emotion). When read in the context of the Isaiah text, one can almost see these words as a psychological reaction that a prophet might have to the difficulty of his calling. The author is in despair, and the crowd is speaking against him. Like Isaiah, the author wants to have God on his side as a rescuer. Again, the Aaronic benediction is hinted at in verse 16.


Breaking open Psalm 31:
  1. What is behind your sighs?
  2. Do you hear the sighs of others?
  3. From where is your help to come?

 

Second Reading: 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.


 

Here we have an appeal to follow Christ’s example – the purpose of our liturgy today. The notion to share Jesus’ mindset is stated earlier in the chapter at verse 2. Now, in this pericope Paul recommends it to the Philippians. As he exalts Jesus, Paul encourages the Philippians to lift up themselves as well. Many view this a hymn that is quoted by Paul, but it has a narrative quality as well. We move from the pre-existence of Christ, to the incarnation, death on the cross, and his ascension into heaven. In some sense it is almost creedal in nature.

 

The pericope has two parts, verses 6-8, which describes Jesus’ humiliation, and verses 9-11, which describe his exaltation. In the first verses Jesus acts, “emptied himself,” “being born,” “humbled himself.” The second collection relies on the actions of God, “exalted him,” “gave him”.The first collection serves as a model for the second, in which Paul (or the hymn) argues for the unique exaltation of Jesus following his self-effacement.

 

What follows the actions that God performs, are deeds that are expected of Christians, “every knee should bow,” “every tongue confess.” It is a call to the Philippians to be known for their obedience in following Christ. 


Breaking open Philippians:
  1. What humiliations have you known?
  2. How were they like Jesus’?
  3. What brought you up out of them?

The Gospel: 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.

or

 

St. Luke 23:1-49 (see italic text above)


It is always a bit daunting, especially when writing brief commentary on the readings of the lectionary, to confront the Passion Narratives in any of the Gospels. It’s always satisfying when you can find a fresh viewpoint in looking at the narrative. In this case it is from a review[1]of Peter J. Scaer’s book, The Lukan Passion and the Praiseworthy Death[2], published in the Catholic Biblical Quarterly. Scaer makes a case for Luke’s casting Jesus’ death in an old Greco-Roman model, that of the noble death. Examples of this writing can be seen in Cicero, Athenian funeral speeches, and Plutarch’s lives. Scaer notes the following items in Luke’s narrative that seem to match the ancient models: 1) virtue, 2) will, 3) the benefit to others, 4) victor not victim, 5) distinctive, and 6) posthumous honors. Scaer argues that Luke, in his narrative, seeks not to report a death, but to honor Jesus’ death, as others had honored notable people in the past. I report this because I think it gives us a fresh and valuable insight and lens through which to look at an all-too-familiar text. Our acquaintanceship with these words often leads to our dismissal of them.

 

The question that the lector, preacher, or person sitting in the pew must ask is “What does this account mean for me?” The third of the six aspects of ancient honors, benefit, needs to be thought through by each of us. For those who will narrow the focus of this day to a supposedly joyful entry (into the enemies’ territory) will have missed a great benefit to the faithful. Look at the aspects that Luke greets us with:

 

1.    The Common Meal and the Community in engenders.

2.    How to lead.

3.    Warnings that follow good intentions (Peter).

4.    The Economy of ministry.

5.    Finding a wilderness within the city (Gethsemane)

6.    Confrontation (Judas)

7.    Trial

8.    Denial (Peter)

9.    The true nature of kingship. (Pilate)

10.  Condemnation

11.  Forgiveness for those who condemn

12.  Understanding the signs (the Centurion)

13.  Accepting death (Joseph of Arimathea)

14.  Resting.

 

Each of these is an entrée into an aspect of what it means to follow and be led by Jesus. It’s appropriate that as we approach the Triduum, we might use Luke’s “praiseworthy death” as a guide to appreciate and understand what the Great Three Days will offer us. 


Breaking open the Gospel: 
  1. Is Jesus’ death an embarrassment?
  2. How is praiseworthy or noble?
  3. What is its benefit to you?








Don’t preach today – let the narrative teach and direct. Rest and contemplate.



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 © 2019, Michael T. Hiller
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[1]       Doran, R. Peter J. Scaer, The Lukan Passion and the Praiseworthy Death, The Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Volume 68, No. 4, October 2006, pp. 779-780.
[2]       Scaer, P. (2005), The Lukan Passion and the Praiseworthy Death, Sheffield Phoenix Press Ltd, Doncaster, UK, 164 pages.

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