Revised Common Lectionary: Palm Sunday
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29; Mark 11:1-11 or John 12:12-16
Revised Common Lectionary: Passion Sunday
Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Mark 14:1-15:47 or Mark 15:1-39 (40-47)
Narrative Lectionary: Triumphal Entry, Luke 19:29-44 (Psalm 118:19-23)
We begin Holy Week with Psalm 118, a song of praise to God, calling the people to worship God in the temple. The psalmist speaks of how God has chosen the people rejected by the world, the chief cornerstone. The psalmist calls upon the congregation to process toward the altar, giving thanks to God with praise and offerings.
Mark’s account of Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem in 11:1-11 portrays Jesus as having entered Jerusalem for the first time. He arrives at Bethpage and Bethany, outside of Jerusalem, for the city is crowded for Passover. Jesus sends the disciples ahead of him to find a colt, and they find one exactly as he said they would, to borrow for a short time. The disciples threw their cloaks on the colt, and Jesus rode on it into Jerusalem. People spread their cloaks on the road like a red carpet rolled out, and cut leafy branches to wave, and shouted “Hosanna!” which means “Save us!” They called out blessings to the one who came in the name of their Lord, referring to Psalm 118, and the kingdom in the name of their ancestor David. Jesus went to the temple, looked around at everything—for he had not seen it before—and then returned with the disciples to Bethany to stay for the night.
John’s account of Jesus’ entry is much shorter. In John’s account, the people call him the King of Israel, and John links both Psalm 118 and Zechariah 9:9 as prophesying Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on a donkey with proclamations from the crowds. But his disciples did not understand everything until after the resurrection.
The Passion readings with the Suffering Servant passage found in Isaiah 50:4-9a. In this passage, the prophet Isaiah personifies Israel as a people who have suffered in exile. Because the people have remained faithful to God, God has taken notice of them, and they will not be put to shame or be disgraced for what has happened to them. God knows their innocence, and God will vindicate the people.
The psalmist has suffered in Psalm 31:9-16. Unlike the Suffering Servant, the one suffering in this psalm has experienced shame and disgrace by their neighbors, who scheme and plot to take the psalmist’s life. Yet the psalmist trusts in God’s deliverance, and they call upon God to save them, for God’s steadfast love endures.
Paul shares the ancient confession of the church—quite possibly a hymn—in Philippians 2:5-11. Paul urged the church in Philippi to be humble like Christ in their dealings with one another, both inside and outside the church. Christ did not take advantage of being the Son of God, but became one of us, humble and obedient as a faithful servant of God, to the point of death on the cross. God raised Jesus so that everyone, at the name of Jesus, would confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God.
The longer Passion narrative in Mark, from 14:1-15:47, begins two days before the Passover, with the plot to betray Jesus, and the preparation of Jesus for his death. Both threads are found throughout the Passion narrative: some religious leaders plot to kill Jesus; Jesus is anointed as in preparation for burial. Judas betrays Jesus; two days later, the other disciples prepare for the Passover meal and Jesus tells them that one will betray him. Judas asks, “Surely not I, Lord?” and Jesus replies, “Take, this is my body.” In the garden, Peter assures Jesus he will not abandon him; Jesus says before the rooster crows twice Peter will deny him three times. Judas and the others come to arrest Jesus; Jesus reminds them that he was among them day after day, and they did nothing. Jesus is brought to trial and accused of blasphemy; Jesus tells the religious leaders that they will see him seated at the right hand of power. Jesus defends himself in the court; in the courtyard, Peter denies he knew him. Jesus is brought before Pilate but refuses to answer him to stop his execution. Barabbas is released, Jesus is brought to execution. The soldiers mock him, crying out, “Hail, King of the Jews!” Jesus accepts the thorn of crowns in silence. The soldiers crucify Jesus; Jesus refuses the wine to ease his pain. They mock and taunt him; Jesus cries out to God. The threads weave their way through the narrative until Jesus is placed in the tomb.
The shorter narrative is only 15:1-39, or through 47, focusing solely on the events of Good Friday after the trial, when Jesus is brought before Pilate. Even though in the Gospel accounts Pilate is portrayed more favorably, he still hands Jesus over to be crucified. Jesus is tortured and killed by the Roman Empire as a criminal. Even though Pilate seems to believe Jesus is innocent, he relents to the crowds and has Jesus crucified. Jesus dies at the hands of the empire, of soldiers who mock him and beat him and deride him. The crowds may have called for his death, but it is the instruments of the empire who cause all the physical harm and kill him. The systems and structures of this world designed to keep the peace, the Pax Romana, killed Jesus.
The Narrative Lectionary follows the Gospel According to Luke, and Jesus’ entry in Luke 19:29-44. Though similar to Mark’s account, there are a few differences. In Luke’s account, besides declaring, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord,” echoing Psalm 118, Luke also includes, “Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” an echo back to the Nativity and the angel’s proclamation to the shepherds in 2:14. In Luke’s account, there are Pharisees who warn Jesus to tell his disciples to stop. In Luke 13:31, some Pharisees warned Jesus that Herod wanted to kill him. It seems they are worried of what will happen to Jesus, especially with Pilate in town for the festival. But Jesus famously declares that if the disciples were silent, the stones would shout out.
The Narrative Lectionary also uses Psalm 118:19-23, the psalmist’s call to enter the gates of the temple of God with thanksgiving and praise, and that the ones rejected by the world will become the cornerstone, the foundation of God’s people.
What do you say about Palm Sunday that you haven’t said before? Last year, we thought we would be leaving our isolation, our shut-down, our quarantine within weeks, but it did not happen. This year, we know that the end is coming as vaccinations are on the rise, but for many, we will still be waiting at Easter. As we prepare, perhaps we can take a closer look at what we are preparing for. Were the disciples and the crowds preparing for a parade, or a revolution? Were they preparing for a worldly kingdom, or the reign of God? As others prepared to betray and kill Jesus, Jesus readied for his death in preparation for the resurrection. Perhaps Pilate and the soldiers prepared for things to return to normal once the crowds were gone. Perhaps some of the religious leaders and even Jesus’ own disciples thought things would go back to the way they used to be, while Jesus was preparing for something new. But first, everything old had to pass away. As we prepare for a season post-Covid, are we preparing to just go back to how we used to be, or has God helped us to become something new, something that may take a little longer in this season?
Call to Worship
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!
Save us, O Christ.
Come and worship Christ, who leads us into life.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Almighty God, we confess that we have looked forward to the wrong things. We have failed to perceive what You are doing in our world and in our lives. Instead, we have only prepared for what benefits us, what satisfies us, and are often disappointed when things do not go our way. Forgive us for our short-sightedness. Call us into Your ways of deep listening with love, compassion, and mercy. Help us to slow down instead of rushing forward, to be considerate of others’ needs above our wants. As we shout “Hosanna!” may we truly understand what it means to ask you to Save Us, and to understand what it is to belong to Your Beloved Community, on earth as it is in heaven. In Jesus’ name we pray all things. Amen.
“Prepare the way of the Lord!” God is doing something new, right now, in our world and in our lives. Can you not perceive it? God has made a highway in the desert, rivers in the wilderness, and God is making a way forward for us. You are loved. You are forgiven. You are God’s beloved child. Listen in your heart for what God is speaking to you. Rest, and prepare, for God is leading us on, and we are all on the journey together. Get ready, join your hearts with one another, and go with the grace and peace of Christ. Amen.
God Who Envisioned The Universe, our perception is narrow, often focused on our needs, and even then, sometimes on our desires over our needs. You created for us a world to provide everything we could ever need, and yet, we find ourselves wanting more. We sometimes only take notice of what we are missing out on, instead of all that we have. Guide us into Your ways of abundant living. Help us to not take for granted all You have done for us. Remind us of the blessing that Your creation provides and call us to expand our perception to truly understand our part in the world, in the Beloved Community and coming reign, so that all might know love, and live into Your abundance. Creator God, we pray to You for all things. Amen.