Readings for Palm/Passion Sunday, 4/1/12:
Mark 11:1-11 (Palms), Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29 (Palms), Isaiah 50:4-9a (Passion), Psalm 31:9-16 (Passion), Philippians 2:5-11 (Passion), Mark 14:1-15:47 (Passion)
** A Special Note: Some churches choose to focus on one or other set of texts on this Sunday that begins Holy Week: either Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday texts. Personally, I combine both passages into one service: Palm/Passion Sunday. My homiletics professor at Drew, Charles Rice, suggested reading the Palm Sunday gospel text very early in the service, and placing the sermon very early as well. Then, toward the very end of the service, the Passion gospel is read, without comment/preaching, dramatically or otherwise. I have found this very moving and effective. **
- This is a passage that aches to be visually depicted in our congregations. That's why, I think, we wave the palms, or have processions on Palm Sunday. We need to see it, experience it, and be part of it. In our church, the choir and the children process in the opening hymn, waving branches. Do you have some visual marking of this text?
- "Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there . . . " Not necessarily Jesus prophesying, as some have interpreted. Just Jesus telling them of the plans he has made ahead of time. We never seem satisfied with things just happening in the realm of the natural - we always seem to want to add a supernatural element to scripture, as if it is not powerful enough otherwise.
- Make sure to compare Mark's text with Matthew's and Luke's account of events. What do you notice that is different? What's the same? Significance?
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29:
- Gate/entry imagery - This is good Palm Sunday imagery - entering in to give thanks to God.
- "The stone that the builders reject has become the chief cornerstone." Such a powerful verse, used to describe Christ by the prophets. But good for us too: when others reject us, God accepts us. In God, we can become the cornerstone, not a rejected scrap. Hope!
- "This is the Lord's doing." Giving credit where credit is due. We're not so good at that many times.
- "This is the day that the Lord has made." This is such a popular opening to worship. Why do we like this verse so much? I think it does a good job of truly reminding us of the fact that each day is God's precious gift to us.
- "The tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word." Sustaining the weary with a word. That's a gift; that's power. Who can accomplish this feat? Isaiah, apparently! :) But seriously - perhaps this is the gift we're called to live into as preachers. With God's Word, we can sustain the weary.
- "I gave my back . . . and my cheeks . . . I did not hide the face." Let us not think that there is nothing of Jesus' 'turn the other cheek' teaching in the Old Testament, that the OT only speaks of 'an eye for an eye' - this passage show us its just not so!
- "I have set my face like flint." Nice image.
- "My eye wastes away from grief, my soul and body also. For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing." This verse jumped out to me personally one year when our congregation had lost 5 dear parishioners all close together in time. The congregation as a whole seemed to be 'wasting away from grief' in body and soul. I think grief often comes in groups like that, so much all it once that it seems difficult to bear. I have to notice, though, that this psalmist is speaking about very individual grief that comes not from loss of others, but from a seeming rejection by others. This reads almost like a school kid who is being picked on by everyone. I don't mean to make it less important because it is such a personal pleading. God knows we all have personal pleading. But an observation...
- This psalm comes in all three years of the Passion Sunday readings. How come?
- "I have become like a broken vessel." Nice imagery, given all the biblical language about potter/clay/jars/vessels. Last year I attended the Northeastern Jurisdictional UMW quadrennial meeting in Baltimore, where the theme was 'vessels for mission.' We talked about empty vessels and full vessels. Refilled vessels and pouring out our vessels. And cracked vessels. What shape is your vessel in right now?
- "My times are in your hand." Giving God our times. That simply, that completely.
- "Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus."
- "did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited" I find this such a unique statement. Imagine if Christ had used his equality to exploit? What would that look like? Perhaps this is what the devil was tempting Christ to do - to exploit his equality.
- "emptied himself" Emptying ourselves.
- "every knee should bend . . . every tongue should confess." Hm. This is one of those passages often used by people who are seeking to convert non-Christians and those of other faith traditions as proof or encouragement about the task at hand. Frankly, it makes me a bit uncomfortable. If the idea is that people will ultimately be moved to worship Jesus even against their will, I'm not sure I'd want to see that display...
- I guess you have to ask: why this huge, all encompassing text, when much of this material will be included later in Holy Week? The answer, on the practical side, is that the sad fact is many in our congregations won't be back again until Easter Sunday - won't be at Maundy Thursday or Good Friday. They need to know how we get from Palm Sunday to Easter Morning. But on a deeper level, for me at least, nothing beats the contrast of starting a sermon with the joy of the Palms and ending with the reality of the cross.
- This text as a whole is almost too huge to comment on, hence my note at the top of this page on my practice of just reading/hearing the text. It is the story. How can we elaborate? I guess I'm not going to try!