Sunday of the Passion: March 20, 2005.
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
Tim: This Sunday begins the sweep of Holy Week by presenting us with a whole range of human emotions and experience: victory and excitement, betrayal and confusion, fear, hatred, suffering, death. We begin our processional account with Jesus riding triumphant on a colt and a donkey (Matthew was a literalist, it seems). In the eyes of Jesus' disciples, surely this was a high point in their journeys with him: at last, at long last, the people they are ministering to get it! At last, at long last, their ministry would be able to flourish, to reach all the people that needed to hear it! At last, at long last, their efforts weren't in vain.
But we move from the procession to the long narrative for the day, the full Passion from Matthew. We begin, in shocking fashion, with betrayal: one of the twelve, one of Jesus' own, goes to the chief priests and offers to betray his Rabbi to them. But the shock of this betrayal is even greater when we put this reading in its immediate context: just before the start of our Passion narrative, an unnamed woman--not a disciple, not one of the inner circle--extravagantly honors and serves Jesus. How much more shocking that Judas, one of his twelve, immediately plots to betray him!
The full sweep of the story is of course familiar. Wrestling with God in Gethsemane, the arrest, trials that seem largely for appearance's sake, the crucifixion. We close with Jesus' lifeless body placed in a tomb and the stone placed at the entrance. We begin with Judas sealing Jesus' fate; we end with the soldiers sealing the tomb. We've come full circle, but with a marked difference: now the grave is filled.
Katrina: One of our challenges as preachers, then, is to honor the story in its entirety and leave space for the story as it unfolds on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. If we tell the whole story on Palm Sunday, why do we need to come back during the week?
I suppose we come back because we are in the "in between" time. Palm Sunday is the end of Lent, yet it is not time for the celebration of Easter. Today is the day we hear the whole story. During this Holy Week, we will live the story.
T: It's hard to be in Holy Week! This is really the threshold of some of the most emotionally fraught moments of our church year. To hear, over and over again, about betrayal and pain gets overwhelming. Not to mention that to hear two long narratives in the same week is tiring! Perhaps our task as preachers leading into and through this week is, together with Isaiah's servant, to recall our gift of "the tongue of a teacher, that [we] may know how to sustain the weary with a word" (Isa 50:4a).
K: It's not just any word. And we are looking toward a very specific place. Or, rather, we are once again looking at a very specific person, a very focused Messiah. The journey through Lent has been a journey into and through ourselves. One of the jolting things about Palm Sunday is that we no longer have our eyes trained on ourselves. We are called to look to Jesus. Yes, it is painful and hard and gruesome. It is a story unfolding for us and in front of us.
T: But aren't we back again to that same dilemma? We stand in the foothills of Holy Week, peering forward at landscape we're going to walk again--walk in excruciating, gory detail with Jesus. But today we're still at that threshold. How can we honor the mixed messages we're given today (victory, betrayal, triumph, suffering, life, death) and still leave space for the journey to come?
K: A message of grace from Philippians is that we do not walk this pilgrimage alone. We are called into a community of believers who may be equally as shocked, fearful, and excited as we are.
T: Above all we do not walk through this landscape alone. Instead, we're there with the woman who is staring at her still-pruny hands and wondering what she has just done for love. We're with the disciples, desperately saying "It's not me who will betray you, is it, Lord?" We're there to hear the irony of Judas calling Jesus "Rabbi," and wondering just what he learned from this one he calls his "teacher"--just before he hands him over to the crowd with a kiss. We're with the masses calling "Hosanna" and later "Crucify." We're with our brothers and sisters sitting in equally uncomfortable silence in the pew next to us, figuratively if not literally holding hands against the dark week to come.
K: That's a big thought, that "Hosanna" and "Crucify" are somehow connected together. Could we have the events of Easter if they were not connected? Or, more deeply, could we come to understand the Easter event without shouting ourselves hoarse with each one? We stop short of preaching Easter, though. There's one more shout--this time of acclamation. But not yet.
Another question to ponder as preachers: Do we preach a sermon on Palm Sunday? What is there to be said after the power of the story, read in its entirety? Are we able yet to see that this is God's fulfillment of God's promises?
T: And if you do preach a sermon today, where do you land it? We could focus on the processional Gospel, and talk about victory and prophecy fulfilled, except that it would necessarily be shadowed by the Passion reading. Or, you could focus on the Passion itself, but that would feel a little preliminary. So where to focus?
K: Our story is not complete. It never will be on Palm Sunday. "Alleluias" must drown out "Hosannas" and "Crucifies!"
T: But not yet. We still have to walk through this week set aside--Holy Week--to get there. Our story is unfinished, like you said. Today, "Hosannas" and "Crucifies" still echo in the air.
K: There's no room for anything this week but trying to follow along with Jesus. We grab coattails, donkey tails, or anything else we can get a hand on.
T: Today we march in procession behind Jesus, watching him straddle the donkey and the colt. But that's really the metaphor for all of Holy Week: Jesus heads into territory where we cannot follow, where we are powerless and overwhelmed. We'll shout "Hosanna!" at the roadside, but when death stalks the land, we are reduced to a whisper. All we can do is trail along, spectators to God's unfolding drama.
Maybe that's why today is hard to preach: It's God's drama, and we are simply spectators. Yes, the drama is ultimately about us, but its reach and scope is so huge, so universal, it dwarfs us into silence. Maybe there's nothing more that needs to be said. But then again, maybe we do need that word of proclamation to connect our lives to the drama. TK/KH
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|Title Annotation:||Preaching Helps|
|Publication:||Currents in Theology and Mission|
|Date:||Feb 1, 2005|
|Previous Article:||Unfinished speech.|
|Next Article:||Maundy Thursday: March 24, 2005.|