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Passion Sunday (C)
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Readings for Passion Sunday, Cycle C
 

Gospel of the Palms. Luke 19, 28-40

  • Well, I hear no mention of palms.  Actually, they are only mentioned in the account of John.  But there’s not even a Hosanna here!  What shall I do?
  • He proceeded on his journey up to Jerusalem.  This Gospel is organized around that great defining journey.  Let my voice show that it is coming to an end.
  • As you enter the village you will find a colt.  Why is this detail so important?  Perhaps the disciples were amazed that Jesus knew about the animal.  Perhaps we are to remember that the disciples did not steal the animal but borrowed it for a while.  What comes through clearly is that Jesus orchestrated his own entrance into the city, with a clear prophetic sign about himself, riding a colt of an ass.
  • The people were spreading their cloaks on the road.  They saw the sign and accepted it, opening their clothing, their bodies, in hospitality. 
  • The whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God aloud with joy.  At this point I reach my peak of intensity, as I help the assembly imagine this gathering that the evangelist calls large.  How large?  Did they count the way modern day march organizers make their overgenerous estimates?
  • I tell you, if they keep silent, the stones will cry out!  ‘If they keep silent,’ as so often happens, the word will still be proclaimed.  Not like the raining stones of intifada, of course.  And if only the stones could speak!  Once they were not turned to bread, but now they would witness to Christ.  During this Lent I have imagined myself as such a stone struggling for transformation. 
  • Climax: They proclaimed another verse that reminds me of the angels’ song at the birth of Jesus.  Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.
  • Message for our assembly: Are we there with the disciples, welcoming Jesus and shouting in his honor?
  • I will challenge myself: to capture the action symbolized by the colt, a word that the evangelist repeats three times until we get the point.

1. Isaiah 50, 4-7

  • I read the third Servant of God passage, a tough testimonial if there was one.  How many of us would – would I – continue in the ministry if they booed us?
  • I might know how to speak to the weary… what?  Soothing words?  An ancient formula from a liturgical book?  Words of conviction from some outsider?  Or perhaps provocative words, wake-up calls, words that will rouse them?  But, you know, this is what I do: urge our assembly to listen and pay heed, not just on Passion Sunday but every Sunday.  So if I really do that, then maybe I should sound like I mean it.  Easter is only a few days away now.
  • I can’t help noticing the opposition generated by this servant.  What is in these words?  Sometimes they rouse people to opposition and violent resistance.  Does my delivery do that?  Does anyone care?  I hope they do.  Or do they just turn their heads in boredom, waiting for the next amateur to step up to the ambo?
  • Central point: the open proclamation of the message and the fierce opposition to it, the beating and humiliation.  The prophet says they go hand in hand.
  • Message for our assembly: all true prophets give us sharp testimonials and a grim reminder that words spoken in frankness are not always well received.
  • I will challenge myself: to capture the sense of boldness and self-assurance of the Servant of God. 

2. Philippians 2, 6-11

  • Paul repeats the most famous hymn of the servant of God, and I love to say it, almost sing it.
  • Central point: the example of Christ during our Holy Week is one of a servant -- though he was in the form of God -- obedient to the very end, in great humiliation.  And he did it freely to share our own humble existence and the shame of death.
  • The message for our assembly is in the second verse – he emptied himself – it is up to me to encourage them to identify with the humble, accountable Christ.
  • I will challenge myself: To make these first century images self-evident to the people, so that we understand why we proclaim Jesus as Lord.

 

Passion according to Luke 22, 14 to 23, 56

  • I know that most churches today break the story into parts for various persons to read.  I see no reason why a lengthy narrative cannot be done by a single person, as long as it is well prepared and directed.  Here’s how I would do it.
  • Luke presents the final suffering and death of Jesus very much as he presents the life of Jesus.  The Spirit is always with him, especially in the garden.  God did not appear to abandon him, and his final words are a prayer of confidence.  And Jesus does not miss a chance to preach and save the erring sinner.  Here are the details.
  • Of the four Passion narratives, Luke’s has the greatest development of the supper ritual, in terms of a seder with the cup of blessing which he will not drink again until the kingdom of God comes.  I hear echoes of our own Eucharistic Prayer.
  • Jesus does not create a priestly caste at the supper but rather sets the ground rules for discipleship.  I am among you as one who serves.  And he tells Simon: Once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers.  This is not a judgment but an admonition, as when the Lord looked at Peter during his denial.
  • Listen to Jesus reaching out to others right to the end.  He touched the servant’s ear and healed him  Herod and Pilate became friends  Father, forgive them  This day you shall be with me in paradise. 
  • In Luke’s account Jesus is treated with certain restraint during his detention.  He is not beaten or struck at any point!  Pilate threatens: I shall have him flogged but it does not happen.  Sorry, Mel, you won’t find blood and gore here! 
  • Jesus’ dying prayer does not sound like a cry of abandonment but an act of confidence.  I say it as I would my last words of the day before falling asleep. 
  • Climax: Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.
  • Message for our assembly: If these things are done when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?  Is it just his Passion or ours as well?
  • I will challenge myself: To remind everyone that Jesus died just as he lived, as a seeker of the lost and forgotten, challenging us to join him on the hard path.

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