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Passion/Palm Sunday – March 28, 2021
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29– Open the gates of righteousness that I may enter.
Isaiah 50:4-9a – I gave my back to those who hit me; my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard. I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.
Psalm 31:9-16 – Into your hands I commend my spirit…
Philippians 2:5-11 – Have this mind among that was in Christ, who emptied himself and became obedient to death on a cross.
The Sunday before Easter usually begins with a blessing of the Palms outdoors and a processional. It is a liturgical re-enactment of Jesus’ arrival and Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. This year, our second Palm Sunday during a pandemic, many of our people are still participating online. If you order palms, why not invite people to stop by the church to pick theirs up, and offer them a careful, physically distanced blessing when they do? Palms can be placed in the home behind crosses or crucifixes as a reminder.
Outdoors is much safer during a pandemic. If your congregation’s building is located in a neighborhood, why not make the processional a substantial walk to include the neighbors? Make it an event. Pass out palms for all, even those not attending worship. Invite them to come. In fact, weather permitting, the entire service could be outside. The pandemic has given us reasons to try things we might not have tried pre-pandemic. The leader could bless the palms and then conduct the service from the doors of the church building. Information on the procession can be found in the Evangelical Lutheran Worship Leaders Desk Edition, p. 622-626. The Procession with Palms (Year B) is available as a leaflet from Augsburg Fortress.
Lutheran World Relief offers fair trade “eco-palms.” Here’s why. In a typical year we purchase $4.5 million in palms. Most of them will be harvested in Latin America. Very little of this money reaches the actual farmers. The LWR program gives $.05/palm back to the community and pays farmers fairly, eliminating the large corporations that pocket the profits and underpay workers. Creating a steady market in communities means they will care for and keep up their palms, rather than devastating the forest. By this time, you have probably already purchased your palms, since the deadline is usually three weeks prior, but consider making a note of this for next year.
After Palm Sunday worship, some palms should be hung to dry, then burned to make ashes for next year’s Ash Wednesday.
Pre- Vatican II, Passion Sunday was the fifth Sunday of Lent (the beginning of Passiontide) and Palm Sunday was the sixth. Dominica in Palmis, Dominica or Dies Palmarum was the beginning of Holy Week. In 1969, Pope Paul VI, moved Passion Sunday to Lent VI, creating “Palm Sunday of the Passion of our Lord.” In Germany it was called Black Sunday, since the crosses were all draped in black on that day for Holy Week.
I grew up with Passion and Palm Sunday mixed. I am told that the passion was read on the Sunday before Easter, because many people did not attend Good Friday services, and therefore would never hear the story of the cross. They would skip from a festive entry into Jerusalem to a festive Easter. Easter with no cross.
Recently there has been a move back to letting Good Friday carry the weight, and allowing Palm Sunday to be just that, a celebration of Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem.
A gentle word of caution.
Historically, particularly in the Medieval Period, Holy Week was used in anti-Semitic ways. Jews were characterized as Christ-killers, calling out, “Crucify him!” Passion plays pitted Jews against Christians. Passages like Matthew 27:25 were interpreted in anti-Judaic ways:
Then the people as a whole answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!”
Holy Week liturgies stirred up anti-Jewish hatred. They were an occasion to stone Jewish houses and businesses. Of course, we saw the outcome of this building anti-Semitism which culminated in the Holocaust.
Some argue that the comments about the Jews in the New Testament are evidence of an “internecine rivalry between Jewish sects.” (See the articles below.) It is true. Jesus and the disciples were Jewish. Many early Christians were Jewish. The tension between orthodox and Christian Jews, however, read today, in the light of recent history, is problematic. Even though our modern liturgies have attempted to edit out blatantly anti-Semitic phrases, much of the passion narrative is jarring to Jewish ears, and should be to ours as well, much as the acceptance of slavery in the Bible is jarring (or should be) to us today.
Here are some articles that spell out the challenge in more detail.
- Palm Sunday: The Most Anti-Semitic time of the Christian Calendar
- Why Good Friday was dangerous for Jews in the Middle Ages and how that changed
- Pressure points of Holy Week: Reflections in light of Christian anti-Judaism
The revised common lectionary calls for the reading of the passion on Palm Sunday Year A from Matthew (chapters 26-27), Year B from Mark, and Year C from Luke. On Good Friday the RCL calls for the reading of the passion from John (chapters 18-19) all three years. The John passion is the most difficult of the accounts.
I would point out that unlike Catholics and Episcopalians, we do not have canon law. Reading these texts in their entirety is not strictly binding for us. I have come to prefer on Palm Sunday to simply read and preach on Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. This is, of course, what is used as the processional gospel in the preservice blessing of the palms, so some editing of that liturgy is required if one is going to read it as the gospel:
- Year A: Matthew 21:1-11
- Year B: Mark 11:1-11
- Year C: Luke 19:28-40
Mark Mummert’s helpful blog post on the Solemn Reproaches for Good Friday points out that the ELW solemn reproaches have been carefully edited for modern usage.
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.
Isaiah 50:4-9a – The Suffering Servant Israel
4The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens— wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. 5The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. 6I 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. 7The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; 8he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. 9It is the Lord God who helps me; who will declare me guilty? All of them will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up.
Patricia Tull points out this text comes from the second half of Second Isaiah (40-55), an exilic text. The text seems appropriate for this time of the pandemic, as the people of God are yearning to gather the scattered remnants of Judah and return to Jerusalem.
Israel is God’s servant, called into service for Israel and the whole world. Its greatness is in serving. Servant Israel is both a teacher and a learner in this Sunday’s text. God’s servant will encounter violent oppression. This text sets the scene. God’s servant will suffer.
Psalm 31 – Hope in Distress
I won’t copy the entire psalm, but here are a few excerpts:
1In you, O Lord, I seek refuge; do not let me ever be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me.
2Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily. Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me.
3You are indeed my rock and my fortress; for your name’s sake lead me and guide me,
4take me out of the net that is hidden for me, for you are my refuge.
5Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God…
10For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my misery, and my bones waste away.
11I 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…
14But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.”
15My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.
16Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love…
24Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord.
This text also rings during a pandemic, as it calls upon God in the midst of a crisis. The Psalmist is suffering, but finds hope in trusting in the Lord.
Philippians 2: The Christ Hymn
Paul’s Christ Hymn in Philippians 2 comes up on Palm Sunday in all years of the RCL A, B, and C. The only other time it pops up is on The Name of Jesus, which many Lutheran congregations omit, and Proper 21A/Ordinary 26A/Pentecost +20 in season A, which usually falls in September. This passage is so central to Paul’s Christology in general and incarnation in particular, that one hates to miss an opportunity to preach it.
Now there’s a mouthful, but it’s more than gibberish. This is an incredible work of Christocentric theology. Gorman begins with the number of times Paul uses the phrase “in Christ.” When I reread the New Testament scanning for it, I’m shocked by the number of times that phrase is there, and how I’ve taken it for granted. To cite a couple:
For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, so that I may gain Christ and be found in him. Philippians 3:8-9
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. 2 Corinthians 5:17
I remember Mark Alan Powell telling us that there are no places in the Bible where we are told to invite Jesus into our heart. Not that it’s a bad thing to do, but the New Testament never mentions it. Instead, it invites a flip-flop of that. Not Christ in us, but us “in Christ.” Paul has a robust “in Christ” spirituality and theology. What exactly does Paul mean by this turn of phrase? What does it mean, concretely, for Paul be “in Christ?”
Gorman has four main points:
- Cruciformity = Theoformity, or what is called theosis in the Eastern Christian tradition. To be in Christ is to live life in a cruciform way. It is to be claimed and shaped by Christ. It is to be molded into the image of Christ. Theosis means humans becoming more like God. As Irenaeus said, later shaped by Athanasius: “God became what we are to make us what he is.” (See 2 Peter 1:4, Rom 8:29, 1 Cor 15:49, 2 Cor 3:18, 2 Cor 5:21, Phil 3:21). In Philippians 2, cruciformity, theosis is kenosis: emptying oneself.
- Justification is theosis. Justification, as Paul uses it, is more than a judicial term, a declaration of “not guilty.” It is more than a label. There is a transformation that begins to take place. Anything less is “cheap grace” a la Bonhoeffer, or “cheap justification.” Justification without justice is cheap, armchair grace.
- Holiness, then, is conforming to the cruciform character of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Holiness (sanctification) is not a supplement to justification, but the actualization of it.
- Non-violence is one of the essential elements of participating in the kenotic, cruciform God. To live the cruciform life is to empty oneself, to not lay claim to status and power, but to take on the form of a servant/slave.
That last part is critical: to live the cruciform life is not to lay claim to status and power, but to take on the form of a servant. This is what it means to be “in Christ.”
Gorman’s scholarship and exegesis is impeccable. The first part of the book focuses on Paul’s Christ Hymn in Philippians 2, which he calls Paul’s “Master Story.” His brilliant work has huge implications for the church, especially in this postmodern context.
Hear this ancient hymn, perhaps one of the first Christian hymns. Imagine the first Christians singing it in worship…
The Christ Hymn
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.
Of course the big argument in church history was the pre-existent camp versus the adoptionist camp. The pre-existent folks point out that Christ was already in the form of God and had to empty himself to become human. My systematics professor called this “theology from above.” The adoptionists pointed out that the phrase “Therefore God highly exalted him…” means that Jesus became Christ, and therefore God, because of his obedience unto death. God adopted him as Son.
Gorman’s work here is brilliant. Christ’s kenosis, his self-emptying, reveals the character of God, and forms the key to understanding Paul’s theology, Christology, and ethics. The theology of this seminal passage permeates all of Paul’s letters. Gorman suggests that a kenotic Christ means a kenotic God. Paul’s understanding of Christ, and thus his understanding of God, is in two parts:
- Humiliation, verses 6-8
- Exaltation, verses 9-11
Gorman draws two conclusions:
- Humility is the character of Christ. Therefore, humility is the character of those “in Christ,” and
- Humility is the character of Christ, and therefore, also the character of God. Christ reveals the true, though often hidden truth about God: humility.
Humility is the character of those “in Christ.”
Although… not… but.
Although Christ was in the form of God, he did not count on it but emptied himself.
Do you see the rhythm of this? Gorman points out that time and time again. Paul displays this pattern in his own behavior, probably unconsciously. And, this underlying pattern is woven throughout his letters. Here is the formula:
Although [x], not [y] but [z].
Although [status], not [selfishness], but [selflessness].
- 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 work, he does not exercise this privilege, but (v. 12) endures these sacrifices for the sake of the gospel.
Paul is himself, doing what he sees Christ doing in Philippians 2. Possessing status carries with it an inherent mandate to deny oneself; practice humility. This does not deny his apostolic identity. It fulfills it. Although he has authority as an apostle, Paul empties himself, exercising humility as a Christlike act of love. For Paul, love seeks conformity to the self-emptying image of Christ. Humility is the character of Christ, and therefore the character of the one who is “in Christ.” Paul exercises his true apostleship by acting in conformity to Christ.
Humility is the character of Christ, and therefore, it is also the character of God.
Not only is Christ defined as kenotic, or self-emptying, not only is the Christian (the one “in Christ”) defined as kenotic, or self-emptying, but GOD is therefore defined as kenotic, or self-emptying.
Jesus expresses his very divinity in “downward mobility.” Gorman cites Hellerman, saying Phil. 2 is a contrast to the Roman “cursus honorum,” a lifelong, upward mobility to honor in the Empire, from slavery, to peasant, to aristocrat, to divinity (like Caesar). Jesus instead moves backwards, from equality with God, down the ladder to slavery, then even to public humiliation by death on a cross. The phrase “In the form of God” is Paul’s clearest Christological statement.
“In the form of God” vs. “In the form of a slave” was common parlance. For a god to be in the form of a slave was inconsistent in Roman thought. A god does not divest power. Divinity and kenosis don’t go together. Erik Heen points out ἐν μορφn θεοu is a phrase used in Emperor cult worship. After Augustus, the phrase was only used for the Roman emperor. So this hymn sets Christ up against the Emperor. Remember, it is most likely that Paul didn’t write this hymn, but is quoting something early Christians sang in worship. We are hearing echoes of the first Christian hymns and theology.
As to the debate about whether Christ already possessed divinity or ὑπάρχων, grasped (or “exploited” in the NRSV) it, Gorman points out that the exaltation cannot be a promotion to divinity, as if one could earn divinity by being humble, or doing good works. The hymn clearly says that Jesus was already in the form of God, and emptied himself. The exaltation is not promotion, but a confirmation of his divinity.
But is this emptying in contrast to what God is like? Is God in Christ doing something completely out of character? Or is self-emptying revealing the most intimate and profound character of God?
In other words, Gorman says, there are two possible readings of this text:
- Christ renounced his deity: “Although Messiah Jesus was in the form of God, a status that means the exercise of power, he acted out of character – in a shockingly ungodlike manner, contrary in fact to true (imperial) divinity – when he emptied and humbled himself.”
- Christ exercised his deity: “Although Messiah Jesus was in the form of God, a status that people assume means the exercise of power, he acted in character – in a shockingly ungodlike manner, according to normal but misguided human perceptions of divinity, contrary to what we would expect, but, in fact in accord with true divinity – when he emptied and humbled himself.”
Of course, Gorman’s point is the latter. Jesus redefines divinity, and this ultimately changes the world irrevocably. Jesus subverted and deconstructed concepts of divinity when he emptied and humbled himself. This is an absurd story of God in first century Rome, which is Paul’s point in 1 Cor. 1:18-25.
Christ’s self-emptying then is not a termination of his deity; it is the fullest expression of it. Gregory of Elvira said that Christ’s majesty and divinity, though never lost, were “momentarily hidden,” as the sun is hidden behind a cloud. Gorman argues that Paul’s point is quite the opposite, that the humility of incarnation and the cross in fact reveals divine majesty. Like Father, like Son. Christ reveals the true nature of God.
Therefore, Gorman would rather translate hyparchon “because” he was in the form of God not “although” he was in the form of God. Because he was in the form of God he emptied himself… Placher calls this the “Narrative of a vulnerable God.”
Vulnerable God: Now there’s an oxymoron.
Oh, I think everybody knows so what. They may not like it, but the implications for the church are pretty obvious. If we follow a self-emptying Christ, who reflects a self-emptying God, then being “in Christ” means to be a self-emptying church, a self-emptying people, that the world might see the true God.
The preacher might give self-emptying examples from individuals in the congregation to make it personal. Or stories of saints and/or ordinary people. Schindler is a great example of one who poured himself out for others. The preacher might find examples from the congregation’s history or other congregations’ histories. One congregation I served in a changing neighborhood, while in seminary, turned part of their parking lot into a playground for neighborhood children. That’s rerooting.
The bishop from Oregon told me of some congregations in Portland, who were struggling in this difficult economy, with a colder-than-ever winter. Many were unable to pay their astronomical heat bills. One congregation, Redeemer, strongly rooted in the community realized that the houses in their neighborhood were built about the same time as the church, and therefore, the people in the neighborhood must be going through the same thing. They turned their focus from inward (their energy bills) to outward (their neighbors’ energy bills).
One pastor in our synod tells me his congregation was dying when he arrived. They figured, if we’re going to go out, let’s go out with a bang. They used their coffers to bless the neighborhood. They gave and gave. And of course, they started to grow. This is, in part, why, even when times are tough, cutting back on our percentage of giving is not appropriate. A church that doesn’t give isn’t a church.
For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, so that I may gain Christ and be found in him. Phil 3:8-9
The Christ Hymn of Philippians 2 echoes another ancient hymn in Isaiah 40-55: The Song of the Suffering Servant. God’s power is made known to the world in self-emptying. To paraphrase Irenaeus and Athanasius: “God became what we are to make us what he is.”
There’s no wiggling out of this.
The good news is, when we give ourselves away, that’s when we really begin to see what life is about.
Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem
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.
Royalty arrives on a donkey in times of peace (Genesis 49:11, Judges 5:5, 10:4). Royalty arrives on a horse in times of 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.
Charles Spurgeon writes,
Brethren, let us be lowly. Did I hear one say, ‘Well, I will try to be lowly’? You cannot do it in that way. We must not try to act the lowly part; we must be lowly, and then we shall naturally act in a humble manner. It is astonishing how much of pride there is in the most modest.
Jesus’ entry is not a pseudo-humility. The donkey is royalty. The palms signify victory. There is a greatness here, but it is a greatness expressed not in pomposity, but in humility. Those who are truly great need not prove it. Einstein had a humorous humility to him. It is the nature of true strength, not to have to posture.
I have often thought, that if we, the church, could learn this kind of humility, the world would pay careful 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.
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.
The gospel writers present Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem as a kind of anti-Triumph – a parody of Caesar’s pompous march into Rome after each military victory.
He highlights three reasons Jesus is crucified:
- Subverting the nation
- Encouraging people to not pay taxes
- Calling himself a king
While these are probably trumped-up charges, the sign over his head on the cross confirms that this was probably the line of thought: “King of the Jews.”
Jesus was popular. He drew large crowds. The feeding of the five thousand. Anyone who could draw a crowd of 5,000 men, plus women and children, was a dangerous person, a visible threat to the powers that be. Clogging Jerusalem’s streets at his entry, drew attention to Jesus. An anti-imperial, anti-triumphal procession of peasants would capture attention of the authorities, who were expected to put down riots, much like we see in many places today. Jesus had to have known what he was doing by riding into Jerusalem on a donkey – what he was saying.
What does it mean for us to participate in subversive counter-processions today? How might the preacher tie into the demonstrations by young people right now, following the most recent school shooting in Florida? What does it mean to empty ourselves as Paul talks about in this coming Sunday’s epistle text (Philippians 2)? What does it mean to pour ourselves out like a drink offering (2 Timothy 4:6)? We affect change by our very presence. Where we put ourselves matters. Jesus’ procession is not on religious property. It is in the public square.
It is all well and good to ogle and reenact Jesus’ own procession, but how do we process into the world as a subversive community exposing systems of power and privilege? First, we must acknowledge these powers and principalities. We have to expose them to the light. They have to become topics of discussion. We have to name who is powerful and who is powerless. Then we invite the heart of the people into a soulful response.
To walk the way of the cross is to tap into the power of compassion, listening, enlightening, and emptying. It is the power of powerlessness.
Julius Caesar was born 100 years before Jesus. Known for his incredible speaking ability, his magnetic personality and his military genius, he was elected Pontifex Maximus in 63 B.C. at the age of 37. Today the Pontifex is the Pope, but back then it referred to the Pagan High Priest of Rome.
By reducing the taxes of the rich and by giving land to the poor, he became extremely popular with all levels of society. He conquered what are now Britain, France, Belgium and Germany west of the Rhine, making him the greatest military leader of his time. He is reputed to have known the names of every one of his men in battle. You can read more about this and what follows in Jesus the Last Day, A Collection of Essays published by the Biblical Archeological Society. © 2003 Biblical Archeological Society.
As popular as Julius Caesar was, the senate nevertheless elected Pompey instead, another military leader with his own faithful armies. The senate told Caesar to give up his army. He did not know what to do: submit to the will of the senate or to Civil War? On January 19, 49 years before the birth of Christ, Caesar said, Iacta alea est – the die is cast – and his armies crossed the Rubicon River, entering Italy to change history forever.
From there he conquered Spain, then Greece, and Egypt where he lived with Cleopatra, then on to Syria and Pontus. He conquered the Mediterranean world with such ease he reported his victory with the words Veni, Vidi, Vici – I came. I saw. I conquered. He never once doubted that he had done the right thing. Because Rome needed the best general in charge, right? His victory proved that he had done the right thing; the gods were on his side. The victor is the winner and the winner is the gods’ choice, right?
When he returned to Rome, the people lined the streets for his Triumphal March. They waved branches and threw their garments before him as he rode into Rome on his horse. Some in history see him as the greatest military commander ever. Others see him as one who destroyed democracy and the Republic.
In subsequent years, every time land was conquered there would be a triumphal procession. The historian, Dio Cassius, tells us the triumphator would gather his armies and the Praetorian Guard, and enter Rome clad in armlets and a regal purple robe embroidered with gold after the rites of Dionysus. With a gold laurel crown upon his head that had been borrowed from the Temple of Jupiter, he held a branch in his hand.
The racially-diverse, conquered prisoners of war would march ahead of him, Africans, Jews and Arabs; proof the victories he had attained. When the triumphator arrived at the Roman Forum, he would command some of the prisoners to be put to death and the rest imprisoned or enslaved. He would ride up to the Capitol and perform certain sacred rites to the gods. The word “capitol” just means “the head.” The head of Italy. The head of the world. Later a triumphal arch would be erected to commemorate the event.
Each leader felt his triumphal march had to upstage the others. So the processions became more and more complex and lavish. Perfumes would be distributed to those along the way to create an aroma or aura. By 16 B.C, 20 years before the birth of Christ, the triumphal procession became the sole privilege of the Emperor, who would parade through the city as people shouted, “Hail Caesar!” A bull would be dressed up and led along in procession to be sacrificed to the gods at the end. A priest would walk behind the bull with a double-bladed axe for the sacrifice.
The Emperor’s face would be painted red like Jupiter’s statue so that he would be identified standing in for the deity. Indeed, Gaius insisted on being addressed as Jupiter, and Nero was called Apollo.
Just before the sacrifice, the triumphator would be offered a cup of wine, but he would refuse, and instead the pour the wine out on the bull or the altar. The wine symbolized the precious blood of the sacrifice.
After the sacrifice, the Emperor would then sit on his Throne in glory.
Both Luke and Matthew base their version of Jesus’ passion on the Gospel of Mark, which was written in Rome, for Christians in Rome. They could not possibly fail to see what we 21st century American Christians almost always miss: Jesus’ procession to the cross is a parody of the Roman triumphal march. It follows a formula.
Jesus is taken first to the Praetorian guard, where he is clad with a purple robe and a crown of thorns.
They parade him through the city, shouting, “Hail, king of the Jews!” His executioner walks alongside him.
The triumphator would be led to the Capitol, the Head. But Jesus was led to Golgotha, the place of the Skull.
Like the triumphator, Jesus too is offered ceremonial wine, but he too refuses it, echoing his words at the Last Supper, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” (Mark 14:24-25).
At the end of the procession, the Emperor would sit on his throne. When Claudius returned to Rome after a military campaign, he ascended the steps of the Capital on his knees and then sat on his throne with his sons-in-law on his right and on his left. When Titus returned after destroying Jerusalem and the temple he had Vespasian on his right and Domitian on his left. When Jesus concludes his triumphal procession, he is crucified with two thieves, one on his right and one on his left.
The gospel writers want us to see Jesus’ last day not just as a triumphal march but as a kind of anti-triumphal march. Whereas the world glorifies power and violence and destruction; Jesus encounters the hatred and violence of his own religious tradition, and the hatred and violence of the world’s greatest empire and responds not with hatred and violence, but with submission to God’s will, and in his resurrection finds a victory that transcends the human condition.
The pomp and pride of Gaius and Nero are contrasted with the humility of Jesus, and so the pomp and pride of the world’s rich and powerful are contrasted with the humility of the world’s poor and common people. In Christ, God is not for the victor, but for the victim. God’s divine favor is not found in victory, but in humility, compassion, and service. In kenosis: emptying oneself (see the next devotion, below). Here’s the message: The salvation of the world depends upon God’s way, Christ’s way being made manifest in the world.
As followers of Christ, we are challenged on this day and every day, to not cater to power and the powerful, but give our lives for the poor and downcast of the world. The innocent. The powerless. The children. We are challenged to reject the hatred, violence, and power plays of the world, and risk living in the humility of Jesus the crucified Jew. We are not promised that there will be no cost. We are never promised that there will be no hour of trial or a cross with our name on it. In fact, Jesus warns us that there will be persecution, by those who reject God’s ways. But in the end, there will be a crown of glory that will outshine the suffering of this world.
Hear Paul’s understanding of the Triumphal March (and Mary’s anointing for burial?) in 2 Corinthians (2:14-15):
…thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him.
There can be no mistaking Paul’s metaphor here: Christ is the ultimate Triumphator because he has destroyed the real enemies: sin and death. Therefore, we are freed to follow the cross in Triumphal Procession all the days of our lives, until we are led to our joyful resurrection.
 Patricia Tull. “Commentary on Isaiah 50:4-9a.” n.d. Working Preacher from Luther Seminary. Accessed March 8, 2021. https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-24-2/commentary-on-isaiah-504-9a-13.
 Gorman, Michael J. n.d. Inhabiting the Cruciform God : Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul’s Narrative Soteriology. William B. Eerdmans.
 Dan Clenendin. 2021. Journeywithjesus.net. 2021. https://www.journeywithjesus.net/Essays/20080310JJ.shtml.
Un Pacto Nuevo
CUARESMA 5B – 21 de marzo de 2021
Jeremías 31: 31-34 – Haré un nuevo pacto. Escribiré la ley en sus corazones. Todos me conocerán. No recordaré más sus pecados.
Salmo 51: 1-12 – Crea en mí un corazón limpio, oh Dios…
Salmo 119: 9-16 – Bienaventurados los cuyo camino es perfecto …
Hebreos 5: 5-10 – Sumo sacerdote según el orden de Melquisedec. Aprendió la obediencia a través del sufrimiento.
Juan 12: 20-33 – Evangelio: Griegos. Señor, deseamos ver a Jesús. El grano de trigo muere. Ama la vida piérdelo ¿Sálvame de esta hora? Cuando sea elevado, atraeré a todos hacia mí. La luz está contigo un poco más. Mientras esté en la luz, crea en la luz para que pueda convertirse en hijos de la luz.
Jeremías 31:31-34 – El nuevo pacto
El Señor afirma: «Vendrá un día en que haré una nueva alianza con Israel y con Judá. 32 Esta alianza no será como la que hice con sus antepasados, cuando los tomé de la mano para sacarlos de Egipto; porque ellos quebrantaron mi alianza, a pesar de que yo era su dueño. Yo, el Señor, lo afirmo. 33 Ésta será la alianza que haré con Israel en aquel tiempo: Pondré mi ley en su corazón y la escribiré en su mente. Yo seré su Dios y ellos serán mi pueblo. Yo, el Señor, lo afirmo. 34 Ya no será necesario que unos a otros, amigos y parientes, tengan que instruirse para que me conozcan, porque todos, desde el más grande hasta el más pequeño, me conocerán. Yo les perdonaré su maldad y no me acordaré más de sus pecados. Yo, el Señor, lo afirmo.»
Esta Cuaresma nos hemos movido del Pacto con Noé en Cuaresma 1, al Pacto con Sara y Abraham en Cuaresma 2, al Pacto Mosaico Cuaresma 3 y 4. Luego está el Pacto Davídico, que ni siquiera hemos cubierto. En resumen, existe una red de pactos ancestrales que forman la base de la vida de Israel. Después de semanas de contemplar los distintos pactos, llegamos a la Cuaresma 5, la semana anterior al Domingo de Pasión / Ramos, en la que Jeremías promete un nuevo pacto. El problema con el Pacto Mosaico es que la gente no pudo cumplirlo. Su infidelidad es la razón por la que Judá está exiliado en Babilonia.
Después de muchas palabras duras, el profeta ofrece una palabra de esperanza. Un día vendrá un nuevo pacto, no como el Pacto Mosaico. “Escribiré la ley en sus corazones”. Todos conocerán al Señor. Sus pecados nunca más serán recordados. Se acercan los días, dice el Señor.
Los cristianos ven el cumplimiento de esta profecía en la vida, muerte y resurrección de Jesús, seguida de Pentecostés. Jesús transforma el agua de la religión humana en vino del Espíritu. La nueva ley, el nuevo pacto está escrito en nuestro corazón, no en tablas de piedra. En las Palabras Eucarísticas de Institución decimos recordar las palabras de Jesús: “Esta copa es la nueva alianza en mi sangre, derramada por ti y por todos los hombres …”
Este pasaje se usa a menudo para apoyar el concepto de supersesionismo, que afirma que los cristianos han reemplazado a los judíos como pueblo de Dios. Los luteranos rechazan este punto de vista, aunque subconscientemente emerge en algunos escritos teológicos y homiléticos. Escribo esto para que nosotros, los predicadores, usemos nuestras palabras con cuidado y no deambulemos por callejones sin salida teológicos que pueden ser antijudaicos, y quizás incluso antisemitas.
Pablo agoniza en los capítulos 9-11 de Romanos por el hecho de que su propio pueblo no ha abrazado a Jesús como Mesías. Sin embargo, no deja lugar a dudas, en Romanos 9:4-5, que la fe de Israel y la relación de Dios con el pueblo de Dios siguen siendo fundamentales. Si no fuera así, la iglesia no habría incluido el Antiguo Testamento en su Biblia:
Son descendientes de Israel, y Dios los adoptó como hijos. Dios estuvo entre ellos con su presencia gloriosa, y les dio las alianzas, la ley de Moisés, el culto y las promesas. 5 Son descendientes de nuestros antepasados; y de su raza, en cuanto a lo humano, vino el Mesías, el cual es Dios sobre todas las cosas, alabado por siempre. Amén.
En Romanos 11:1-2, Pablo deja en claro que Dios no ha rechazado su pueblo. Y versículo 29 lo aclara, los dones y el llamado (Pacto) de Dios son irrevocables. Un nuevo pacto no anula un pacto anterior de Dios:
Ahora pregunto: ¿Será que Dios ha rechazado a su pueblo? ¡Claro que no! Yo mismo soy israelita, descendiente de Abraham y de la tribu de Benjamín. 2 Desde el principio, Dios había reconocido a los israelitas como su pueblo; y ahora no los ha rechazado. ¿No saben ustedes que la Escritura dice en la historia del profeta Elías que éste, en su oración a Dios, acusó al pueblo de Israel?
Pues lo que Dios da, no lo quita, ni retira tampoco su llamamiento.
Sin embargo, el mensaje cristiano se basa en la creencia de que Jesús aporta algo nuevo a la relación de Dios con el pueblo de Dios. Incluso David Novak, presidente de estudios judíos de la Universidad de Toronto, lo admite. Lo importante es proclamar la buena nueva sin tener que denigrar la fe de los demás. Este nuevo pacto es necesario. No está escrito en tablas de piedra, que se pueden robar, dice Wil Gafney, sino en corazones. No judicial, sino familiar: “los tomé de la mano” y “los casé”.
Hebreos 5:5-10 – Jesús es un sumo sacerdote según el orden de Melquisedec
5 De la misma manera, Cristo no se nombró Sumo sacerdote a sí mismo, sino que Dios le dio ese honor, pues él fue quien le dijo:
«Tú eres mi hijo;
yo te he engendrado hoy.»
6 Y también le dijo en otra parte de las Escrituras:
«Tú eres sacerdote para siempre,
de la misma clase que Melquisedec.»
7 Mientras Cristo estuvo viviendo aquí en el mundo, con voz fuerte y muchas lágrimas oró y suplicó a Dios, que tenía poder para librarlo de la muerte; y por su obediencia, Dios lo escuchó. 8 Así que Cristo, a pesar de ser Hijo, sufriendo aprendió lo que es la obediencia; 9 y al perfeccionarse de esa manera, llegó a ser fuente de salvación eterna para todos los que lo obedecen, 10 y Dios lo nombró Sumo sacerdote de la misma clase que Melquisedec.
“Hebreos 5: 5 inicia la discusión del autor sobre el sacerdocio de Jesús”, dice Amy Peeler. Jesús ofrece el sacrificio perfecto, no en el templo, sino “fuera del campamento”, dice Erik Heen, en un campo de exterminio romano. Melquisedec presagia a Jesús como sacerdote y rey.
Melquisedec (מַלְכִּי־צֶדֶק, malchi zedek, “rey de justicia”) se menciona 12 veces en la Biblia, dos veces en Génesis 14, una vez en el Salmo 110 y nueve veces en Hebreos. En Génesis 14, él es el rey de Salem y un sacerdote del “Dios Altísimo” que bendice a Abraham. En el Salmo 110, “El Señor dijo a mi Señor, siéntate a mi diestra y pondré a tus enemigos por estrado de tus pies … Tú eres un sacerdote eterno como Melquisedec”. En la teologia de Hebreos, Jesús es identificado como este sacerdote. Esta es probablemente la forma en que el autor dice que Jesús ahora es el sumo sacerdote. El Templo ya no es necesario, lo cual es bueno, porque el Templo fue destruido décadas antes de que se escribiera Hebreos. De alguna manera este es un mensaje similar a la Purificación del Templo en Juan 2 (Cuaresma 3B). El Evangelio de Juan también fue escrito décadas después de que el Templo fuera destruido.
La teología de la Carta a los Hebreos es compleja. Jesús “aprendió la obediencia a través del sufrimiento”. Es probable que esto sea un estímulo para una iglesia que está bajo persecución. Los seguidores de Cristo deben aprender a obedecer a través del sufrimiento como lo hizo Cristo. Este mensaje de sufrimiento evoca la teología de la cruz de Lutero de la disputa de Heidelberg. Este no es un evangelio de autoayuda para sentirse bien. Este es un compromiso del mundo a través de la vida de los que sufren.
Juan 12:20-33 – Los griegos quieren ver a Jesús.
20 Entre la gente que había ido a Jerusalén a adorar durante la fiesta, había algunos griegos. 21 Éstos se acercaron a Felipe, que era de Betsaida, un pueblo de Galilea, y le rogaron:
—Señor, queremos ver a Jesús.
22 Felipe fue y se lo dijo a Andrés, y los dos fueron a contárselo a Jesús. 23 Jesús les dijo entonces:
—Ha llegado la hora en que el Hijo del hombre va a ser glorificado.24 Les aseguro que si el grano de trigo al caer en tierra no muere, queda él solo; pero si muere, da abundante cosecha. 25 El que ama su vida, la perderá; pero el que desprecia su vida en este mundo, la conservará para la vida eterna. 26 Si alguno quiere servirme, que me siga; y donde yo esté, allí estará también el que me sirva. Si alguno me sirve, mi Padre lo honrará.
27 »¡Siento en este momento una angustia terrible! ¿Y qué voy a decir? ¿Diré: “Padre, líbrame de esta angustia”? ¡Pero precisamente para esto he venido! 28 Padre, glorifica tu nombre.
Entonces se oyó una voz del cielo, que decía: «Ya lo he glorificado, y lo voy a glorificar otra vez.»
29 La gente que estaba allí escuchando, decía que había sido un trueno; pero algunos afirmaban:
—Un ángel le ha hablado.
30 Jesús les dijo:
—No fue por mí por quien se oyó esta voz, sino por ustedes. 31 Éste es el momento en que el mundo va a ser juzgado, y ahora será expulsado el que manda en este mundo. 32 Pero cuando yo sea levantado de la tierra, atraeré a todos a mí mismo.
33 Con esto daba a entender de qué forma había de morir.
“Señor, deseamos ver a Jesús”. Karoline Lewis nos recuerda que este pasaje está grabado en muchos púlpitos. La gente necesita ver a Jesús, no solo escucharlo. Este es nuestro desafío como predicadores. Involucramos todos los sentidos. ¿Cómo encarnamos a Jesús?
Algunos griegos desean ver a Jesús. Jesús ya ha dicho que tiene otras ovejas “que no son de este redil”. (Juan 10:16) Ha habido mucha especulación sobre el significado de esta enigmática declaración de Jesús a lo largo de la historia. Mi opinión: Jesús les está diciendo a sus seguidores judíos que hay seguidores gentiles por ahí. Claramente, la misión a los gentiles está en pleno apogeo mucho antes de que Juan escriba su evangelio.
En la primera parte de esta lectura del evangelio, Jesús ha estado diciendo que su hora aún no ha llegado. Recuerda las Bodas de Caná, “Mujer, ¿por qué me involucras? … Aún no ha llegado mi hora ”. Aún no es tiempo. Después de la resurrección de Lázaro en el capítulo 11, se toma la decisión de matar a Jesús. Ahora es el momento: “Ha llegado la hora de que el Hijo del Hombre sea glorificado”. La crucifixión está sobre nosotros. ¿Quieres ver a Jesús? Contempla la cruz. Medita y contempla sobre ella.
Discursus: A menos que un grano de trigo caiga a la tierra y muera, permanece solo. Si muere, da mucho fruto. Los que aman su vida la perderán y los que la odian la conservarán. Juan 12:5-26 son un paralelo al texto de Marcos 8 que tuvimos la Cuaresma 2. Este pasaje aparece en los cuatro evangelios. Morir es vivir. Jesús ahora debe cumplir esto, ser glorificado, ser levantado, escuchando Juan 3, la semana pasada.
Este pasaje toca algo que hemos visto varias veces durante la Cuaresma, el misterio de la cruz: la única forma de encontrar la vida es perderla. “Destruye este templo y en tres días lo edificaré”. “Si alguno quiere seguirme, que se niegue a sí mismo, tome su cruz y sígame”. “La cruz es locura para los que se pierden, pero para nosotros, que somos salvos, es poder de Dios”. El predicador debe conocer bien a su comunidad para encontrar formas creativas de transmitir este mensaje contradictorio con convicción. El poder de Dios es más perfecto en nuestra debilidad. La vida crece cuando la dejamos ir.
La historia de los griegos que querían ver a Jesús brinda una excelente oportunidad para predicar un mensaje de testimonio. La gente puede estar disgustada con la iglesia, pero todavía están muy, muy interesados en Jesús. Si demostramos que estamos más interesados en la vida espiritual de las personas que en la supervivencia institucional de nuestros clubes religiosos, todavía tenemos la capacidad de ver el poder del Evangelio obrando en la vida de los buscadores.
Ha llegado la hora de que el Hijo del Hombre sea glorificado. Ha llegado la hora de que el Hijo del Hombre sea levantado. Jesús se acerca a su “hora” con miedo y también resignación. “Ahora mi alma está turbada. ¿Y qué debería decir: “Padre, sálvame de esta hora”? No, es por eso que he llegado a esta hora ”. (12:27) Este podría ser un modelo de cómo nosotros, como cristianos, podemos acercarnos a nuestra propia muerte. Es natural estar preocupado, pero como pueblo de la resurrección, confiando en la gracia salvadora de Dios, sabemos que nuestra vida está en las manos de Dios.
Jesús camina por el camino de la cruz porque puede ver más allá de la muerte y la tumba. El discipulado se trata de dar nuestras vidas. El Vía Crucis es una forma en que algunas congregaciones recorren litúrgicamente el camino de la cruz durante la Cuaresma y Semana Santa.
La obra de arte de Chagall arriba resalta la continuidad entre el pacto de Moisés y el nuevo pacto en Cristo, así como el Cristo atrayendo a todas las personas hacia él. “Y yo, cuando sea levantado de la tierra, atraeré a todos hacia mí ”. (Juan 12:32)
Aunque es una alegoría homilética, el predicador podría pedirle a la congregación que considere las formas en que Cristo está siendo levantado en su iglesia y en la comunidad en general. ¿Está Cristo levantado en nuestro discurso? ¿En nuestras vidas? ¿El Hijo del Hombre está siendo levantado en presencia de nuestra congregación en la comunidad? Cuando la gente habla de nuestra congregación, ¿qué dicen? ¿Qué ven ellos? ¿Cómo se nos conoce? ¿Cómo se conoce a Cristo a través de nosotros? ¿Está el sufrimiento de Cristo informando nuestras vidas y ministerios?
La buena noticia aquí es que cuando Cristo sea levantado, la gente se sentirá atraída hacia él. La buena noticia es que esperanza está disponible de forma gratuita. Es inmerecido. Deja ir tus vanos intentos de aferrarte desesperadamente a la vida y encontrarás que está justo frente a ti.
 David Novak. “Supersessionism Hard and Soft | David Novak.” n.d. First Things. Accessed March 1, 2021. https://www.firstthings.com/article/2019/02/supersessionism-hard-and-soft.
 Wil Gafney. “Commentary on Jeremiah 31:27-34.” n.d. Working Preacher from Luther Seminary. Accessed March 1, 2021. https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-29-3/commentary-on-jeremiah-3127-34.
 Amy Peeler. “Commentary on Hebrews 5:1-10.” 2015. Working Preacher from Luther Seminary. Accessed March 1, 2021. https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-29-2/commentary-on-hebrews-51-10-3.
 “Karoline Lewis. Commentary on John 12:20-33.” n.d. Working Preacher from Luther Seminary. Accessed March 1, 2021. https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/fifth-sunday-in-lent-2/commentary-on-john-1220-33-3.