Revised Common Lectionary
Palm Sunday: Psalm 118: 1-2, 19-29; Luke 19:28-40
Passion Sunday: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 22:15-23:56 or Luke 23:1-49
Narrative Lectionary: Jesus’s Last Words, John 19:16b-22, or Triumphal Entry, John 12:12-27 (Psalm 24)
We begin Palm Sunday’s readings with Psalm 118, a psalm of thanksgiving for God’s deliverance from both Egypt and the Exile, for entering the temple and proclaiming God’s reign. This psalm is repeated as a lectionary choice in the Easter season, proclaiming God’s steadfast love and faithfulness which endures forever. In verses 19-29, the psalmist calls the community into worship, processing into the temple. The people rejected are now the chief cornerstone. God shined a light on the people and the people know God’s salvation.
Luke’s account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is very similar to Matthew and Mark, but the words from the disciples mirror the words of the angels proclaiming Jesus’s birth. The angels spoke of glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace to those whom God favors. Here, the disciples call out “Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” They refer to Jesus as the king who comes in the name of God. And in a unique portion of Luke’s account, some of the Pharisees tell Jesus to order his disciples to stop. Remembering that some Pharisees warned Jesus back in 13:31-35 that Herod wanted to kill him, perhaps they were concerned that now Pilate would want to kill Jesus, who was probably entering Jerusalem on a white horse, maybe even that same day. However, Jesus responds with, “If these were silent, the stones would shout out.” Just as the angels spoke on the day of Jesus’ birth, now the disciples speak with heavenly authority: peace will come, the Messiah will reign.
The readings for Passion Sunday begin with Isaiah 50:4-9a. The Suffering Servant in Isaiah is the people of Israel personified. God is the one who lifts up and helps the servant and knows their true innocence though they have suffered from their enemies. God is the one who justifies the people, and the servant knows there is no reason for shame or disgrace, for God is the one who knows them and will bring help and deliverance.
The psalmist has suffered in Psalm 31:9-16. They are distressed and grieving, forgotten by their neighbors, and in anguish. Their enemies have schemed against them, and their life is in danger. Yet they put their trust in God and know that God will be faithful. They plea for God’s deliverance, and know the future is in God’s hands.
Philippians 2:5-11 contains an ancient confession of the church. Whether originally by Paul or quoted by Paul, this confession states that though Christ was equal to God, he did not abuse his power, but became humble and emptied himself as a human being, humble and obedient to the point of death on the cross. God lifted him up and exalted him so that everyone will bow and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
The Passion selections are either the shorter selection of Luke 23:1-49 or the longer narrative of Luke 22:15-23:56. The longer passage begins with the Passover meal. Note that this is not the same as the seder meals celebrated today, but rather the tradition of the seder and the tradition of Communion both emerged as Jewish and Christian practices respectively after the destruction of the temple in the year 70 C.E. Instead, Jesus had gathered for a Passover meal. In Luke’s account, Jesus does lift up a cup before the bread, and an additional one after the bread, which has led some to think this was a new interpretation of the Passover meal. However, we must remember that Luke’s account was also written after the destruction of the temple, and the author may be inserting some of what has become tradition onto the narrative of what happened years before when Christ was betrayed. In Luke’s account, the argument among the disciples over who was the greatest also takes place after the meal, instead of earlier in Jesus’ ministry. Jesus speaks of the importance of serving one another at the table and warns Simon of betrayal and denial.
When they are about to leave, Jesus tells them they will be counted among criminals, and some say to him “here are two swords.” Later, however, when one of them strikes the ear of the slave serving the high priest with their sword, Jesus declares, “No more of this.” It appears that while Jesus wanted them to be prepared for what was to come, violence was not what Jesus intended or desired. He touched the slave’s ear and healed him. Meanwhile, while they are in the garden, unique to this account of Luke’s, there is a vision of an angel who comes while Jesus is praying, and Jesus’s sweat becomes like drops of blood. Jesus is betrayed, Peter denies him, and Jesus is mocked and abused before he is taken before the religious leadership in Jerusalem.
In chapter 23 (beginning the shorter reading), Jesus is first brought before Pilate, and then he is brought to Herod—a story unique to Luke’s account. Herod was interested in Jesus, as he had been in John the Baptist, and wanted Jesus to perform a sign. However, when Jesus wouldn’t respond to his questioning, Herod was displeased, and had him dressed up in a robe and sent back to Pilate. Pilate and Herod, who had been enemies, were now friends—two people united in a common cause to stop any revolution from happening in Jerusalem that would usurp either’s power.
As with Matthew and Mark, Pilate doesn’t find any reason to charge Jesus, but gives in to the crowd who wants Barabbas released instead of Jesus and orders him to be crucified. Simon of Cyrene carries the cross for Jesus, while the women who followed Jesus mourned and wailed. Jesus told them not to weep for him, but for themselves and their children, for what was to come—the revolt in Jerusalem and destruction of the temple.
Also unique to Luke’s account is that of the others crucified with Jesus, one rebukes the other, saying they deserved death while Jesus was innocent, and asked Jesus to remember him when he came into his kingdom. Jesus responded that on that day they would be together in paradise. Jesus is killed on the cross, and the centurion standing by declares that truly Jesus was innocent. In verse 49, Luke’s account states that all who knew Jesus—including the women who followed him—stood at a distance observing these things.
The longer reading continues with Jesus’ burial by Joseph, a member of the council who didn’t agree with the others. He was from Arimathea and had Jesus’ body taken down while the women prepared spices and oils for the tomb. All rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment.
The Narrative Lectionary has been following John’s account of Jesus’s last night for several weeks, concluding this Sunday with the Crucifixion in 19:16b-22. In John’s account, Jesus carried the cross, not Simon of Cyrene. This section, however, mainly focuses on Pilate’s words. Pilate had a sign placed above Jesus’ head that read in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” While the religious leaders complained, Pilate refuted them saying, “I have written what I have written.” Pilate’s sign clearly made this a political execution, that Jesus had challenged Roman authority and failed.
The alternative passage for the Narrative Lectionary is Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem in John 12:12-27. Similar to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus enters Jerusalem riding on a donkey, although in John’s account it is Jesus who found the donkey rather than sending his disciples for it, and his disciples did not understand until after Jesus was glorified. The crowd was testifying about Jesus because they had witnessed Lazarus raised from the dead. Some of the religious leaders were furious. Some Greeks came and also wanted to see Jesus. When his disciples told him this, Jesus declared it was time for the Son of Humanity to be glorified. He further taught his disciples that a grain of wheat must fall to the earth and die in order to bear fruit, otherwise it is only a seed. Those who serve Jesus must follow Jesus and must hate their lives in this world in order to save them. This was the time, the reason Jesus had come, even though he was deeply troubled about what lay ahead.
Psalm 24 is a song of worship, proclaiming that the earth is God’s sanctuary, and everything in it belongs to God. While the worshipers travel to the temple, they are reminded that God is everywhere, mighty and awesome, strong to save, the Ruler of all. The ones who can ascend God’s mountain, who can stand in the sanctuary, are the ones with clean hands and pure hearts—the ones who are true to who they are and are not deceitful. They will receive blessing and righteousness as they seek God.
From Palms to Passion, from “Hosanna” and “Blessed” to “Crucify Him!” On this Palm Sunday, we proclaim Christ reigns even in the face of death. Christ reigns in the face of worldly revolution, while calling us to a revolution of our hearts. Empires can squash rebellions and crucify leaders, but God can raise the dead. The true revolution is understanding that hate and death will never have the final word, but love and life will. Hope endures. Palm Sunday reminds us that in one moment we can be at our very best and the next at our very worst. We are a fickle people, and have been, all the way back to our ancestors of the faith. We fail and fall short. And yet, we still see glimpses of hope. “Hosanna, save us!” “Peace in heaven,” we call out to the angels who once sang, “Peace on earth.” We desire peace, but it is difficult to pursue in this world (Psalm 34:14). As we continue to experience the war in Ukraine, violence by brutal military regime in Myanmar, violence in our streets and in our homes, we cry out in desperation: “Hosanna, save us!” And may the peace we call out to heaven be reflected here on earth.
Call to Worship (from Psalm 118:1, 19, 21 and 24)
O give thanks to the Lord, for God is good;
God’s steadfast love endures forever.
Open to us the gates of righteousness,
May we enter through them and give thanks to our God.
We thank God, for God has answered us,
And has become our salvation.
This is the day that the Lord has made,
Let us rejoice and be glad in it!
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Holy One, we confess that we sing Your praises in one breath and curse one another in the next. We fail to follow You and to live into Your ways. We follow the ways of this world, the crowds of power, and feed the fears of the powerful. We abandon faith in You to chase a passing glimpse of worldly satisfaction and security. Forgive us for our foolishness. Call us back into Your ways of love, compassion, and hope. Call us into living into Your ways of healing and reparation and restoration. In the name of Jesus Christ, who entered Jerusalem as one of us and died for us all, we pray. Amen.
We know that our Redeemer lives. We know that in the face of all our faults and shortcomings, Christ lifts us up, embraces us, and forgives us. You are loved. You are forgiven. You belong to Christ and can never be forgotten. You are valued. Know your worth—you are God’s beloved child, and with you God is well pleased. Go forth and share the good news of God’s hope to the world. Amen.
God of Death and Life, You have made us to become like seeds that fall to the ground, so that we will bear much fruit by dying to the ways of this world and being born in Your way. We are afraid to let go. We have known only this way that the world has taught us, to put ourselves and our desires first, but we know Your Way is the Truth and the Life. Help us to let go of the worldly understanding of success. Help us to let go of the world and to fall into You. Help us to take root and to bear fruit, so that all may know Your abundant love. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.