Here are my first thoughts for Palm /Good / Easter
Readings: Palm Isaiah 50: 4-9a, Psalm 31: 9- 16, Philippians 2: 5-11, Matthew 27: 11- 54
Good : Isaiah 52: 13- 53:12, Psalm 22, Hebrews 4: 14-16; 5:7-9, John 18:
Easter: Jeremiah: 31:1-6, Psalm 118: 1-2, 14-24, Acts 10:34-43, John 20:1-18
Thanks to Feasting on the Word Year A Volume 2 pgs. 158- 375
I had almost completed my first thoughts for Palm but got busy and did not finish them on time. So I am sending you my thoughts on them as well as comments on some of the other readings we will listen to this Holy Week
A good sermon based on our reading from Isaiah might consider what it means to listen for God and to listen to God. But I think for Passion Sunday when we mark our Lord’s death upon a cross , the obvious theme we should concentrate on from the Isaiah reading is how the servant accepts suffering knowing that God will vindicate him and that it is not a suffering that ends in humiliation. Despite all that Jesus undergoes , the final statement at the crucifixion is,” surely this man is the Son of God” hardly shameful. James Wallace says it well,” This Holy Week we remember how fully Jesus lived out the song the Servant who listened to the father, who taught a word to sustain the weary, whose words brought down upon him the wrath of those who were his adversaries, who gave his back and cheeks to those who struck him, allowed them to pull his beard, not hiding his face from insult or spitting, but who set his face like flint, knowing he would not be put to shame, and was finally vindicated by the Lord God of Israel, the Father of our redeemer Jesus Christ” Feasting on the Word pg. 163
Our epistle reading is often considered by scholars to be a hymn to Christ which Paul quotes in his letter to the Philippians. It is a great summary of God’s love of the world in Christ’s humility and suffering and then exaltation. You could read this great passage on Good and Easter and perhaps most appropriately Ascension. But we are reading it on Passion Sunday because it declares that Jesus did not grasp onto his divinity but humbled himself to be a servant ( slave) reminiscent of the Isaiah reading for us. He was even willing to die on the cross. To me this hymn speaks of how much Jesus loves us and all of creation. It also makes the point that the crucifixion of Jesus was unique and had efficacy because of who Jesus was( is). If Jesus was not both human and divine his cross would have been like all of the other cruel deaths experienced by innocent people throughout history but because of who he was his cross wins forgiveness and victory over sin and evil and death. I read a story and may tell it in church of a bishop preaching in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. He told the story of these young atheists who were being rude to parishioners going into church, ridiculing them for their faith and so on. Finally the priest had had enough and dared the ring leader to come forward. He took the challenge. The priest said to the man I want you to look up at the crucifix and say as loud as you can , “You died on the cross for me and I don’t give a damn” The young man got through it the first time but in the middle of the second time he broke down and cried” The preacher telling this story said to the congregation , that young man was me” In other words he perceived humble love of Christ and was converted.
Once again I think the reason for our epistle reading as for the reading from Isaiah is to set the stage to listen to the passion of Jesus. But clearly Paul quotes this great hymn to Christ to invite us to have the same mind as Christ Jesus. A good sermon would invite people to consider this tremendous calling. What would it look like if we all had the mind of Christ?
Where does one begin to comment upon the passion narrative, there is so much there and when you consider all four of the Gospel stories together there is even more to ponder. They say much the same thing but they highlight different truths. For instance , I noticed that only in Matthew do we read of the earth shaking at the cross , a theme Matthew speaks of in the resurrection account as well. What is Matthew trying to tell us? Certainly our Lord’s death and resurrection was earth shattering and history altering. Of course only when you read all four accounts do you hear all of the words from the cross which together form a tremendous source of teaching for us.
There are so many themes in these stories even in the little details. For example you could preach a sermon on Peter’s denial and imagine who the servant girls are in our lives who ask us to identify our faith and loyalty to Jesus. I think we often are like Peter and for various reasons say I don’t know Him. Perhaps this story in the passion invites us to consider our struggles with evangelism, sharing our faith. I know there are circumstances when I have been like Peter. Another detail that provides wonderful sermon material is to imagine how we can be like Simon who carried out Lord’s cross.
But in an overview of the story, I think we are called to recognize just how much God loves us and we are invited to respond with thanksgiving and to be moved ourselves to love sacrificially. The hymn When I Survey the Wondrous Cross does a marvelous job of recognizing the great love of God shown to us in the cross of Christ and the generous response of love we offer in return,” Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small; love so amazing so divine, demands my soul, my life my all”
On the other hand the cross of Christ is more than a expression of love. It was victorious over sin and evil and death, inaugurated the Kingdom of God , and is the sight of sacrificial love that has paid the price of our sins. On the cross we see the son of man give his life as a ransom for many, for you and me. It is atonement, making us at one with God. The hymn There is a Green Hill Far Away captures the objective work of the cross, “ There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin, he only could forgive could unlock the gate of heaven and let us in”. As we hear Jesus say from the cross in john’s Gospel , It is finished , the work is done the accomplishment achieved.
I think the reading from Isaiah on Good offers a wonderful portrayal of what Christ on the cross does for us.
First Christ carries our pains. He identifies with us completely, weakness, sickness, pain, suffering. “ He carries our pains so we do not bear them alone. The servant takes what is ours and makes it his” Donald McKim Feasting on the Word Year A Vol. 2 pg 282 I remember once when I was waiting to have a medical procedure that was going to be painful. In the waiting room was a crucifix and I was really comforted that Jesus was carrying my fear and pain.
Secondly Christ was wounded for our transgressions crushed for our inequities. He suffered for our sins to eliminate the separation our sins create between us and God.
Thirdly Christ Heals our bruises. “ our reconciliation with God is the medicine we need. It is the healing that can bring wholeness to our lives in which sin is forgiven” Donald McKim Feasting on the Word Year A Vol. 2 pg 282
On Easter we have a strange choice for the O. T. reading in that it is from Jeremiah the weeping profit who was speaking into the horrible time of exile for the people of Israel. Things were very bleak as the temple had been destroyed and many were exiles in Babylon. What could this possibly have to do with the greatest celebration of all Easter Day. Well as we read our text we see remarkable hope in God to bring life out of their deathly situation. And perhaps this is very relevant for us today as we celebrate that Christ is risen in a world where there is such poverty and violence. We think of Syria and the victims of the stabbing in Calgary. As John Holbert says, “We sing because we know there is another way to run the world, a world where death is not the final word, where despair is not the winner, where human power and hierarchies are not thought to be inevitable and unchangeable. Like Jeremiah we need to look squarely in the face of the world’s ugliness and horror and hopelessness and shout Christ is Risen” John Holbert Feasting on the Word Year A Vol. 2 pg 355
I actually would never have thought twice about preaching from Jeremiah on Easter but I was inspired by Holbert’s perspective and it seems to offer a message into the real context of suffering in the world.
There is so much we could say about Psalm 118 but perhaps the best way that we can use it on Easter is to let it’s words lead us into praise and thanksgiving for what god has done for us as individuals and for all of creation. It is a joyous day so let us rejoice and be glad in it!!
As I have mentioned many times in sermons( too many I am sure) I was impressed by Bishop Wright’s observation that Jesus being identified as the gardener by Mary on Easter morning was another of John’s use of irony. In fact Mary was correct for Jesus was and is the gardener of the new creation. Just as Adam was the gardener in the first creation Jesus has established a new kingdom and we as subjects look forward in great joy to the Kingdom’s final establishment. Easter is huge. It changes all of creation and therefore we live into that reality and hope. But I also am moved by how personal the story of Easter is in John’s Gospel. Mary recognized Jesus when he called her by name. May you on Easter hear the voice of the Good Shepherd call you by name and know that he who is alive loves you and that you are the object of God’s love and care.
Just some very first thoughts on some of Holy Weeks readings. Every blessing to you in the sacred week.