March 25, 2018

The passion, or suffering, of the Lord calls forth a song of the people known as “lament.” In a day that begins with seeming triumph, events take a dramatic turn toward danger.

 

Liturgy of the Palms

Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29 – Chosen perhaps because it is a “processional” psalm (e.g., “bind the festal procession with branches”), it accompanies the reading of Jesus’ own triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The phrase, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone,” perhaps foreshadows that Jesus will be rejected, even as he ultimately will become the ultimate foundation of all that is. The preacher might examine that tension in the modern context.

Mark 11:1-11 – The familiarity of the scene may risk missing the danger it produced. The echo of the prophet Zechariah, palm branches that could have connected Jesus with the Maccabean revolt, the naming of the kingly line of David, shouts of “Hosanna” (save now), all combine to stir a violent opposition. The preacher might examine the power of symbols, history, and personal involvement in such a moment.

Liturgy of the Passion

Isaiah 50:4-9a – One of Isaiah’s “suffering servant songs,” there is a poetic and prophetic connection with the life of Jesus. In times of societal turmoil, the preacher might reclaim the prophet’s voice: “Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me.”

Psalm 31:9-16 – The passion, or suffering, of the Lord calls forth a song of the people known as “lament.” In such psalms, the “singer” sings strains of stark reality: grief, sighing, wasting, failing. The preacher might examine how such psalms provide a platform for people to face “lamentable” times and events, and also to pray together for deliverance, and at last, “Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love.” As Holy Week arrives, there is in this psalm strength for the journey.

Philippians 2:5-11 – St. Paul frames for us a great hymn of the early church. The theology reflected in the hymn is filled with humility, “self-emptying,” naming the One who did not grasp power. The preacher might contrast the approach of the Savior of the whole world with those who indeed see power as a thing to be grasped, with an only an insincere nod in the direction of humility. Much encouragement is available here for those descending into the depths of Holy Week.

Mark 14:1-15:47 – Where does one connect in so rich (and long) a passage? The political machinations of Jerusalem’s leadership? The humble act of a nameless woman? The Last Supper? Betrayal? Jesus’ promises to the disciples? Arrest? The fleeing of the disciples? The so-called trial? Violence? Denial? Pilate? Barabbas? The riotous crowd? Mockery? Crucifixion? A most violent death? The ignominious end? The constant throughout is Jesus: obedient, faithful, loving. The preacher may find alignment in congregational context for a wide variety of approaches.