Listen to the Podcast for Sunday, April 5, 2020 – Passion/Palm Sunday
Passion/Palm Sunday – April 5, 2020
Sovereign God, you have established your rule in the human heart through the servanthood of Jesus Christ. By your Spirit, keep us in the joyful procession of those who with their tongues confess Jesus as Lord and with their lives praise him as Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Processional Psalm and Gospel
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29 – Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter… Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
Matthew 21:1-11 – Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, on a donkey.
Isaiah 50:4-9a – Game face: I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting… therefore I have set my face like flint…
Psalm 31:9-16– In you, O Lord, I take refuge. Let me never be put to shame. I am the scorn of all my adversaries, a horror to my neighbors, an object of dread to my acquaintances; those who see me in the street flee from me. I have passed out of mind like one who is dead; I have become like a broken vessel.
Philippians 2:5-11 – Christ hymn: Have this mind, that was in Christ, who didn’t count on his equality with God, but emptied himself, taking on the form of a servant, and becoming obedient, even to death on a cross.
Matthew 26:14 – 27:66 – The Passion. Judas’ betrayal. Peter’s denial. Pilate. Barabbas. Jesus’ crucifixion and burial.
Matthew 27:11-54 – The Passion. Pilate. Barabbas. Jesus’ crucifixion and burial.
Palm Procession and Philippians in a Public Pandemic
Do you wish to be great? Then begin by being.
Do you desire to construct a vast and lofty fabric? Think first about the foundations of humility. The higher your structure is to be, the deeper must be its foundation. ~ Saint Augustine
Well this is certainly going to be an utterly unique Palm Sunday in every single one of our lives. In the church as I served, Palm Sunday was sometimes the third highest attendance of the year, after Easter and Christmas. It may still be, at least virtually.
We usually begin outside, sometimes with a fire burning. Worshippers have palms that they wave as we shout, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!“ We read the professional gospel about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on a donkey, then process into the church singing All Glory Laud and Honor. Six stanzas may be a bit much for online worship. Are there other Hosanna songs your people know and love?
Call and response is a bit weird in online worship, but it might bring the comfort of familiarity. A bulletin could be emailed out in advance, or slides could be shown on the livestream for people to follow. What about those who are not online, or who live in areas with slow Wi-Fi, where a livestream will be glitchy? Can you Zoom and invite them to call in on their phones?
The liturgy is found on page 622 of the ELW Leaders’ Edition, including a blessing of the Palms. You’ve probably already ordered them. If they come, why not bless them anyway? They can be made available once this current crisis abates.
The service continues with the prayer of the day,
As we now enter into the contemplation of the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ and meditate on the salvation of the world through his sufferings, death, burial and resurrection, let us pray.
Sovereign God, you have established your rule in the human heart through the servanthood of Jesus Christ. By your Spirit keep us in the joyful procession of those who with their tongues confess Jesus as Lord and with their lives praise him as Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen
The lessons follow.
Isaiah 50: Game Face
The Hebrew Bible text is Isaiah 50:4-9a, about the abuse the suffering servant is to endure. In Isaiah, Israel is the servant, God’s servant, called to be a blessing to its own people, and a light to the nations/the Gentiles. Israel will not be great because of their power and glory, but because of their humble servanthood.
In chapter 50, part of Second Isaiah, coming out of the Babylonian Captivity, Israel, the Suffering Servant speaks. “I have been given the tongue of a teacher.” Is suffering not our teacher? Do we not learn by our mistakes, our failures, and our shortcomings? The Suffering Servant is not arrogant, but now a listener, a learner. “God has opened my ear.”
“I gave my back to those who struck me… I did not hide my face from those who insulted and spit on me.” One lesson in humility can go a long way. There is nothing like being thrown into the dog house to teach us humility. “Therefore, I have set my face like flint.” Everybody plays the fool, sometime. No exception to the rule.
The Suffering Servant is humbled, yet able to see God’s deliverance. There is hope. “He who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me.” Paul echoes something similar in Romans 8. “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
Certainly, in these difficult days of disease and quarantine, we can appreciate these words of humiliation and hope.
Philippians 2: The Christ Hymn
Paul’s Christ Hymn in Philippians 2 is read on Palm Sunday in all three years of the lectionary. This is for a good reason. This passage is central to Paul’s understanding of Christ and the gospel.
One of my favorite books is Michael J. Gorman’s, Inhabiting the Cruciform God. The book is subtitled, Kenosis, Justification and Theosis in Paul’s Narrative Soteriology.
Gorman calls Philippians 2 Paul’s “Master Story.” Hear this ancient hymn, perhaps one of the first Christian hymns. Imagine the first Christians singing it in worship:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form, he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
These might be words for us today, with all that is going on. Rephrased:
Have the mind of Christ
who didn’t cash in on his divine status
but emptied himself
taking on the role of a servant to all
even to his death on the cross
He humbled himself, therefore God exalted him
giving him a name above all names
so every knee shall bow, every tongue confess
in heaven and on earth and under the earth
Jesus reigns, to God’s glory
Humility is the character of Christ, and therefore, also the character of God. Christ reveals the true, though often hidden truth about God: humility. And if this is so, it is the character of those in Christ. To follow Christ, for Paul is to live in humility. It is to empty ourselves.
We are certainly having to empty ourselves these days, for the sake of others, especially the most vulnerable. As I’m writing (on March 20), I feel fine. In not in a risk group. I’d like to be out and about. Even if I got the virus, statistically, I’d get over it. But I could be a carrier, and put others at risk.
Bishop’s Associate for Mission Chris Markert said this week,
If we are to have the same mind as Christ, then we “empty ourselves” and become like servants to one another, especially the most vulnerable. That is why we’ve locked ourselves in during this pandemic. It’s why we practice social distancing, not to protect ourselves, but to protect others… it is also why we don’t panic-buy, keeping others from getting what they need.
Lord of Life in The Woodlands member and synod bookkeeper Beth Vu said we also,
Think of others interests, looking out for those that might need assistance. A neighbor knocked on my mother’s door seeing if there was anything they could do for her.
Beyond our appointed text, verse 14 goes on to say, “Do all things without grumbling or complaining.” That may be a taller order.
Although Christ was in the form of God, he did not count on it but emptied himself.
Paul does this a lot:
- In 2 Cor. 8:9, Although Christ was rich, he became not rich, but (so that) by his poverty we become “rich.”
- In Rom 15:1-3, Although they are “strong” they must not please themselves, but humble themselves and put up with the scruples of the “weak” so that the body might be built up.
- In 1 Thess. 2:6-8, Although Paul’s status as apostle allowed him to make demands, he did not, but rather he was gentle.
- In 1 Cor. 9:1-23. Although Paul has the apostolic privilege to have a wife and get paid for his his work, he does not exercise this privilege, but (v. 12) endures these sacrifices for the sake of the gospel.
Paul doing what he sees Christ doing.
Jesus expresses his very divinity in “downward mobility.” The Roman “cursus honorum,” a lifelong, upward mobility, from slavery, to peasant, to aristocrat, to divinity (like Caesar). Jesus instead practices downward mobility, from equality with God, down the ladder to slavery, then even to public humiliation by death on a cross.
Christ’s self-emptying is not a termination of his deity; it is the fullest expression of it. Christ reveals the kindness and humility of God.
The Triumphal Entry
Zechariah 9:9 says,
Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
The donkey is actually the mount of royalty arriving in peace (Genesis 49:11, Judges 5:5, 10:4). Royalty arrives on a horse if at war. This Jesus is royalty, but he is the Prince of Peace, and he is arriving in peace, not as a conquering hero. This king practices humility, as Paul also expresses in Philippians 2.
If we, the church, could learn this kind of humility, it would capture the world’s attention. It could be our greatest form of evangelism, living lives of humility. As someone has said, your life is the greatest sermon you will preach. Jesus showed his greatness through lowliness, his power through humility. The lesson for me this Palm Sunday is humbleness.
In times of great difficulty, the church has an opportunity to demonstrate humility, kindness and sacrificial love. When the chips are down, we see the true character of the individual. This is an opportunity to witness to the love of Christ, who came not to be served, but to serve, and give his life as a random for many.