2 April 2023: Palm/Passion Sunday

Faithful Conversations #7

John 12: 12-19 (Procession with Palms)
Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 31:9-16
Philippians 2:5-11
Matthew 27:11-54 (Passion Story)

Update on our Process
We are up to 61 members, and as my ancestors liked to say, “mange tak!” Our goal is to promote the spiritual practice of Bible reading through the Revised Common Lectionary — the series of readings for the church year followed by multiple Christian denominations. This statement is from the ELCA website:  “This lectionary provides a three-year series of readings for Sunday . . . three readings and a psalm are suggested and include: a Gospel reading, an Old Testament reading, and a New Testament reading.”  Note that the Lectionary is “suggested,” and therefore not mandated. There is flexibility for those leading worship regarding its use. For example, another option promoted by Luther Seminary is called the “Narrative Lectionary,” a four-year cycle of readings. Various “Preaching Series” are also offered as options for churches. If you want more information on these other approaches, you can visit the Luther Seminary website and go to the “Working Preacher” area (https://www.luthersem.edu/). In conversations with both Pastor Jen and Jerry Humphrey on Sunday, we agreed that reading the Lectionary texts PRIOR to Sunday worship ENHANCES the worship experience, and that really is the whole point! The readings provide context and details for the grand story that we are exploring together! 

And a special note about Sunday’s readings . . . 
Take a moment and look at the list of readings for Sunday (again), and note there are two passages from the Gospels listed. The first one (John 12:12-19) focuses on Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem (more on that in a minute). The second one (Matthew 27: 11-54) is the Passion Story and is repeated on Good Friday, starting with Pilate’s questioning of Jesus and ending with his death. Interestingly, if we traveled back to a Lutheran Church at some point before roughly 1970, the Passion Story would NOT have been included on Palm Sunday. Changes in the Lectionary that came out of something called “Vatican II” prompted this change in the late 1960s. If you want to explore that further, please do so! I won’t get into the details here. The bottom line is that both are included and prompt us to experience a range of emotions on Palm/Passion Sunday. One way to absorb these two readings is to place ourselves within the drama — imagine being in the crowd the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem on that donkey, and also among those who later witnessed his crucifixion!

TODAY’S REFLECTION (focusing on John 12: 12-19)

“The Entry of Christ into Jerusalem” Louis Felix Leullier (1811-82)

One of my history professors at Concordia College liked to say with emphasis, “the three most important words when studying history are context, context, and context!” His point, of course, was that we have to do our best to understand the time, place, and people we are studying through their eyes, their experiences. Recall that just prior to his entry into Jerusalem, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:38-44). This dramatic miracle inspired an outpouring of adulation for Jesus among the common people, while invoking fear and foreboding among the Pharisees. The pious religious leaders simply did not know what to do with this young holy man. In fact, they even plotted the death of Lazarus (John 12:9-11) so as to diminish Jesus’ act among the people! One can sense their fear of Jesus and how the people reacted to him, and perhaps their jealousy of him. 

In that regard, it is good remind ourselves, again, that those people waving palm branches and yelling “Hosanna!” were Jewish and carried with them the Old Testament prophecy concerning this event. The “King of Glory” entered the city “humble and riding on a donkey” (see Psalm 24:7-10 and Zechariah 9:9). Their response, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord,” came directly from Psalm 118: 26. This was the fulfillment of the prophecies they learned in their youth.   And yet, this Jesus came not as a warrior-conqueror on a gallant horse, as some expected, but rather in humility, riding a donkey (in the ancient world, donkeys were a symbol of peace). The symbolism is important, is crucial. It is also important to remember that they experienced this story first hand and DID NOT know its ending.

And that points us to that second reading — the Passion Story. The glorious entry into Jerusalem would be followed by the horrific betrayal and death of Christ, inflicted on him by Roman authorities at the behest of his own people. In John 12:19, we hear that chilling statement from the Pharisees: “You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him!” We know that they had begun to plot the Lord’s death by this time (John 11:53).  What are we to make of this mysterious paradox? Listen to the words of Catholic theologian Bishop Robert Barron  (of Minnesota): “He (Christ) fought, of course, not in the conventional manner. Instead, he took all of the dysfunction of the world upon himself and swallowed it up in the ocean of divine mercy and forgiveness. He thereby dealt with the enemies of the nation and emerged as the properly constituted king of the world.” That phrase from Bishop Barron — the “dysfunction of the world” — hit me hard today. As I write this, we are experiencing yet another school shooting in our nation, this time in Nashville, Tennessee at a Christian school. We are a fallen and dysfunctional people, in need of God’s grace, and our world desperately needs to hear the powerful message of Jesus Christ in 2023!   

PRAYER (inspired by Isaiah 50: 4-9)
Heavenly Father, As we journey through the mysteries of Holy Week, grant us insight into your word. Waken us each morning to listen as those who have been taught. Help us to sustain those who may be weary with a good word, to be your voice within our community and our broken world. We ask this in your strong and loving name. Amen.   

Today is the 30th day of the Lenten journey (40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter, not counting Sundays). Palm/Passion Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week, a climactic moment in our church year. I have listed the Holy Week readings here and am suggesting that you take them on, especially focusing on the readings from John (as highlighted). You will receive the next installment of Faithful Conversations on Wednesday (5 April), and I will explore the “Three Days” (Easter Triduum) with you at that time, along with the readings for Easter Sunday.    

Holy Week Readings:

*Monday (3 April)
Isaiah 42:1-9
Psalm 36: 11-15
Hebrews 9:11-15
John 12: 1-11

*Tuesday (4 April)
Isaiah 49:1-17
Psalm 71:1-14
1 Cor 1: 18-31
John 12:20-36

*Wednesday (5 April)
Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 70
Hebrews 12:1-3
John 13:21-32

The Three Days: 

*Maundy Thursday (6 April)
Exodus 12: 1-14
Psalm 116: 1-2, 12-19
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13: 1-17, 31b-35

*Good Friday (7 April)
Isaiah 52: 13-53
Psalm 22
Hebrews 10: 16-25
John 18: 1 – 19:42 (Passion Story)

*Holy Saturday (8 April)
Job 14: 1-14
Psalm 31: 1-4, 15-16
1 Peter 4: 1-8
John 19: 38-42

Let me leave you with the quote from Martin Luther that Jerry Humphrey offered in the comments related to last week’s blog:

“Therefore the call is: Watch, study, attende lectoni (attend to reading). In truth, you cannot read too much in Scripture; and what you read you cannot read too carefully, and what you read carefully you cannot understand too well, and what you understand well you cannot teach too well, and what you teach well you cannot live too well.”

God’s Peace!

3 thoughts on “2 April 2023: Palm/Passion Sunday

  1. I loved the quote from Martin Luther! “mange tak” to Jerry for that and “mange tak” to you also, Paul! Interesting reading!


  2. Thanks Ellen — It is a great quote. The thing with scripture is that every time you read it, you can see something different, depending on the circumstances — it is a living thing.


  3. I liked your Concordia teacher’s quote on studying history, “Context, context, context!” You explained it as taking into consideration the time, place and people in whatever history we’re studying & do it through their eyes. My hope for all of us followers of Jesus is that when we are studied in 100 years (if the earth is still rotating) the historians see us through our eyes and are impressed with how much we LOVED the PEOPLE around us at this TIME and PLACE.


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