Towards the broken


Isaiah 53 (A Good Friday text)

3He was despised and rejected by others.

Psalm 22 (The appointed psalm for Good Friday)

File:Russian - Crucifixion - Walters 37309.jpg24He did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted.

“He was despised.” We have a natural abhorrence of disease and disfigurement. Abhorrence may seem too strong a word, but I would defend it. We all know people who can’t stand the sight of blood. We have a natural aversion to distortions of the human appearance. We pull away from those whose suffering seems unremitting. A crying child will invoke our sympathy, but a child who cannot be consoled will eventually make us want to turn away. We cannot bear it.

There is something strangely compelling about human tragedy that turns us into voyeurs watching on television, glancing at an accident as we drive by, or watching from a distance. But only from a distance. Too close, too real, or unremitting suffering overwhelms us.

Maybe it’s the feeling of helplessness. Maybe it’s the fear. I visited a widow in the hospital many years ago, her head held immovable by a steel ring and screws into her skull. She had fallen on the basement stairs and broken her neck. She lived now on a ventilator and a feeding tube. There was no future for her. There was no recovery. This was no fever that would pass, no wound whose pain could be lifted by a parent’s kiss. I came and sat with her. There was nothing to do but bear her burden with her for a moment. But I was haunted by the experience. There are some things you’d rather not see. She died when her ventilator failed and no one heard the alarm. Such a death haunts me, too. Unable to summon help. Unable to cry out. Unable to move. Dying alone. Haunting.

So we have this natural response to turn away from the afflicted. But Jesus does not turn away.

24He did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted;

It’s not only the afflicted from whom we turn away. We turn away from the grieving, too; we want them to “get over it” and be “normal” again. We turn away from the addict, from the beggar, from those who differ too far from us. We stigmatize all kinds of people – which is an interesting word considering that the word “stigmata” refers to those who bear in their hands and feet the wounds of Christ.

3He was despised and rejected by others.

Maybe it was because he walked with the lowly that “he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted.” Or maybe it was simply because God is not like we are. God turns toward the suffering, not away. God turns toward the broken not away. God turns toward the crucified not away. God turns towards us with a compassion that does not grow weary, and a mercy that has no end.

Jesus Liberation Front


blog.elements.Palm Sunday1 Corinthians 11 (A Maundy Thursday text)

23For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

“I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you.” It is so easy to think of the Holy Communion as a religious ritual. However meaningful we may or may not find it, however deeply spiritual, however healing or renewing, our eyes tend to see ‘church’ rather than Jesus. This is something people do. This is something religious organizations do inside a religious building presided over by religious professionals dressed in religious robes.

No. “I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you.”

Two thousand years of tradition may stand in between Jesus and ourselves. These robes were once the ancient equivalent of blue jeans. Perhaps upscale blue jeans – but still, common everyday dress. The colored stole around the pastor’s neck is affected by the ornamental styles of the ancient and modern world – but it may have started with the towel the deacon put around his neck after washing feet. It is understandable that everyday items used for sacred purposes become objects of special care and beauty. When I have guests for dinner, I use my best wine glasses, not the cheap everyday ones. I use my nicest serving dish. I get out cloth napkins instead of handing out paper towels. So this banquet of Holy Communion now involves items of beauty and distinction. But we all know that we can use hamburger buns and a cafeteria water glass of two-buck chuck if we need to and Christ will still be present. Because this isn’t a religious ritual; “I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you.”

Of course Paul received it from Jesus and handed it on to Timothy who handed it on to Polycarp who handed it on to generation after generation – but it all goes back to Jesus and that last night with his followers.

It connects us through time with Jesus.  It connects us now with Jesus.

There was a time when gathering to break this bread was like gathering in the Soviet empire to read Solzhenitsyn. It was a radical and revolutionary act. In whispers we say the words that speak of the end of every Rome and the dawning of God’s reign. In whispers we are members of the Jesus Liberation Front, knowing that the supreme act of violence could not stop this Jesus. That we are members of his household. That he is present among us. That he breathes upon us his spirit, his love, his courage, his strength, his grace. That he will one day be manifest to all and all heaven and earth will be governed in harmony with his spirit, in union with his perfect grace and love.

Rich and poor, noble and serf, slave and free, Judean and Gentile, “Parthians, Medes and Elamites,” Arab and Israeli and American and Hindi, black and white, this amazing gathering of all people recognizing themselves sisters and brothers in one household of God, declaring by their very existence – and by this act of breaking bread together – that Christ has died, is risen and will come again.

Words of power. Words of hope. Words of transformation. Words of rebellion and resistance to the world as it is. Words of love. Words that connect us with the source and goal of life. “I received from the Lord what I am here handing over to you.”

The new year


Exodus 12 (A Maundy Thursday text)

File:PikiWiki Israel 14865 Jewish holidays.jpg2This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you.

God commanded Israel to make the month of Passover the first month of the year. At the full moon came the sacrifice of the lambs and the meal when the ancient story was told: they had been slaves in Egypt and God had set them free. I don’t know when Canaanite culture around them – or Egyptian culture, for that matter – had celebrated the new year other than that it was associated with the natural world and the cycle of the seasons (Baal was the God of the storm and the new year came with the return of the rains). But God has placed his people out of step with the society around them.

The New Year is for us, too, the time of new beginnings, the time of starting over, the time of leaving the past behind and embracing a future that we all hope will be better. There is no small measure of irony in the fact that our culture seems to celebrate such a day of new beginnings with behaviors that are rarely ennobling. I suspect that getting drunk and hoping to get lucky are indicative of our fear of time rather than our trust in the future, our fear of our mortality and the fleetingness of our days.

For Israel, their feet still wet from the waters of the Red Sea, God declares that Passover will be the beginning of their year. It is an act of Lordship: God is giving his people a new calendar than the one given by their slave masters. This day of new beginnings is not linked to the return of the sun or the fertility of the fields but to God’s act in time when he led them through the sea out from bondage. This day leads all the rest. This day defines all the days to come.

We have not made Easter the beginning of the ecclesiastical year, but these are still the days that define all the rest. Every Sunday is a festival of the resurrection; every morning the dawning of the new creation. We live now in the realm of light and life. We live now in the realm of grace and truth. We are defined by an empty grave. We are freed from shame and the fear of death. . “The grass withers and the flower fades but the word of our God stands forever.” “(Isaiah 40:7-8) “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3-4)

We still get up and go to work. We still worry about the future and our children. We “marry and are given in marriage.” We still struggle with our inner thoughts and desires, our aches and angsts. But we are sons and daughters of the Most High, emissaries of heaven, agents of blessing, the heart and hands of Christ. We are inheritors of the kingdom – and participants even now. We are children of the resurrection.

All our days are defined by these days, all our hours by these hours – by the new commandment, by the redeeming sacrifice, by the empty tomb, by the commission to go and tell.

From death into life

Watching for Easter Morning

Year A

Maundy Thursday / Good Friday / The Vigil of Easter / Easter Sunday

File:StrasbourgCath BasCoteS 13b.jpg

The risen Jesus appears to his disciples, Strasbourg, Cathédrale Notre-Dame

We watch, this week, for that early morning on the first day of the week when the women go to the tomb. But before that sunrise, comes the drama of the Paschal Triduum, our three day observance of the cross and resurrection. So we look towards Easter, but before us is also the sight of water splashed upon feet, the sight of bread broken, the sight of an altar stripped bare. Before us also is that barren sanctuary, the prophet’s voice about a suffering servant, the words of the passion from John, and the prayers of the people that the work of Christ may bear its fruit in all the world. Before us is the large wooden cross that echoes with the sound of nails and the last words of Jesus and the sight of creeping darkness. And then the image of a new fire and a new candle and a great procession through the darkness into the light of Easter.

The week is full of profound images, actions and texts that combine for our Passover, a deliverance from Egypt and an entering of the promised land, a deliverance from death and an entry into life, the crossing of a boundary between old and new, a new birth into Christ. As written in 1 Peter: “Once you were no people but now you are God’s people.”

The waters of baptism are our Red Sea. Behind us lies the broken world of slaveries great and small. Before us lies the new creation and the true freedom of the children of God. And each year, in the paschal Triduum, we walk that journey so that Easter morning is not just eggs and bunnies and the possibilities of new beginnings, it is the first morning of the new creation and all existence shimmers with the radiance of light and life. It is not Jesus who emerges from the realm of the dead on Easter morning; we do.

The prayers and texts for this week

Maundy Thursday:

Gracious God,
by the witness of your Son Jesus
who bent to wash the feet of his disciples,
you point us yet again toward the path of life:
Grant that we may live as your servants
bound not by the bonds of slavery
but by the bonds of an incomprehensible love.

First Reading: Exodus 12:1-14 (The Passover)
Psalmody: Psalm 116:12-19 (I will lift up the cup of salvation)
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (In the night in which he was betrayed…)
Gospel: John 13:1-17, 31b-35 (A give you a new commandment)

Good Friday

Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy and Immortal,
Source of all goodness and life, our Eternal Father:
all earth falls silent before the crucifixion of your Son.
We can say nothing; you alone may speak –
and you choose to speak forgiveness and love.
Make us ever mindful of your mercy,
and shape our lives by your Spirit
that we may walk in your love.

First Reading: Isaiah 52:13-53:12 (He was bounded for our transgressions)
Passion Reading: John 18:1-19:42 (The passion according to John)

Good Friday Evening Prayer – Tenebrae

Eternal Father,
in the shadows of the night we hear the echo of your voice.
Beyond the hammer and the nails,
beyond the jeering and the cries,
beyond the anger and the hardness of heart,
we hear the voice “Father, forgive them.”
Help us hear the prayer, trust its promise, and know its healing.

First Reading: Isaiah 53:4-6 (He was wounded for our transgressions)
Second Reading: 1 Peter 2:21b-25 (He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross)
Seven Last Words:
Luke 23:33-34: (Father forgive them)
Luke 23:39-43: (Today you will be with me in paradise)
John 19:23-27: (Woman behold your son)
Matthew 27:45-46: (My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?)
John 19:28-29: (I Thirst)
John 19:30: (It is finished)
Luke 23:46: (Father, into you hands I commend my Spirit)

Holy Saturday / Easter Vigil

Almighty God, creator and redeemer of the world,
before whom the grave lies shattered and gates of hell torn down,
help us to hear and trust the message that Christ is risen,
and to live our lives in you for the sake of the world.

First Reading: Genesis 1.1-2.2 (The Story of Creation)
Second Reading: Selections from Genesis 6-9 (The Flood) [whole text, Genesis 6:5-9:15]
Third Reading: Genesis 22.1-14 (The Binding of Isaac)
Fourth Reading: Exodus 14.5-14:30 (The Exodus)
Fifth Reading: Ezekiel 37.1-14 (The Valley of Dry Bones)
Sixth Reading: Selections from Exodus 11 and 12 (The Passover)
Seventh Reading: Daniel 3.1-29 (The Fiery Furnace)
Epistle: Romans 6:3-5 (We have been buried with him in baptism)
Gospel: Matthew 28:1-10 (The angel opens the tomb)

Easter Sunday Morning

Almighty God, creator and redeemer of all,
who through the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus
broke down the gates of hell to set all its prisoners free,
delivering us from the dominion of death
and bringing us into the reign of your Spirit and life:
set us free from all that binds us,
that we may serve you with joy
and live your grace towards all.

First Reading: Acts 10:34-43 (Peter’s message to Cornelius about Jesus)
Psalmody: Psalm 118:1, 14-15, 17, 22-24 (The stone that the builders rejected)
Second Reading: Colossians 3:1-4 (If raised with Christ, seek the things above)
Gospel: Matthew 28:1-10 (The angel rolls back the stone)

A participation in Christ

The Evening of Palm Sunday / The Sunday of the Passion

1 Corinthians 10

File:87365 Palm Sunday.jpg

Palm Sunday tradition in Poland creating palm trees from crepe paper and dried flowers

16The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?rsv

I choked on the wine, today. At that crucial moment at the end of the service, when the sip of wine from the chalice is drained (evoking Jesus draining his cup of suffering) and turned on its side with the words: “Jesus said, ‘I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep,’” I choked. The wine hit my vocal chords, and though I suppressed the cough, I couldn’t clear my throat, so the words came out forced and feeble.

It was a powerful service. After the joyful opening, processing with palms from the picnic area where we’d gathered around coffee and hot cross buns to the doors of the church where the crucifer banged on the doors of the church with the words of the psalm “Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and testify to the Lord!” After the singing of “All Glory, Laud and Honor” as we entered the sanctuary. After the choristers sang their joyful anthem accompanied by flute and piano. And after the children’s message about the meaning of all this, we turned to the passion story from Matthew. We listened to that great narrative, weaving into it the elements of Sunday worship – an offering when we heard of the woman’s offering when she anointed Jesus with precious oil, the communion when we heard Jesus speak of the communion, the prayers when Jesus prayed in the garden. Hopefully in the weaving together of these elements we will remember that what we do Sunday after Sunday is a participation in this story of Jesus’ death and resurrection. This is what Jesus told us: “Do this to remember me.”

As we moved towards the end of the service, the words of the passion story took over and our words fell away, yet interspersed with wonderful music from the quartet that gave further voice to the story and allowed us time to digest all we heard. All this moving towards that final moment when I would proclaim: “The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” and we would hear the quartet echoing down from the loft “What Wondrous Love Is This?” before leaving in silence.

But I choked. I feared it would break the mood. But worship is not about mood. Worship is about participating in this story. We are those with whom Jesus walks. We are those who acclaim him our true king. We are those who share in his table. We are in the crowd as Jesus’ fate is decided. We are witnesses of his sacrifice. We are the women watching at the tomb – and we are there at first light when the tomb is opened and found empty.

This is worship. The word and the meal, the hymns and the prayers, the offering of ourselves – it is a participation in Christ, a participation in his dying and rising, a participation in his Spirit and Life, a participation in his mission and ministry.

In the power of this narrative of wondrous love, the breath of God is breathed upon us. And maybe the fact that I choked is okay. It is a story that should render us speechless for a time.

The city quakes


Matthew 21

File:Christ entering Jerusalem icon.jpg

Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem. 14th Century icon from St. Catherine’s Monastery of Mount Sinai.

10When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” 11The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

The city was shaken. The word translated here as turmoil is used again by Matthew when Jesus dies, the temple curtain is rent and the earth shakes. He also uses it when the angel descends to open the tomb, the earth quakes, and the guards shake with fear. It shows up in Hebrews with reference to the shaking of heaven and earth (quoting Haggai 2:6), and in Revelation describing the falling stars as when the fruit drops when the tree is shaken by a gale. We hear the word also in Isaiah for the shaking of the foundations of the earth on the day of wrath and in Psalm 68 for the quaking of Sinai when God descended upon it. This translation ‘turmoil’ doesn’t seem quite the right word. The city quakes. This is not just the buzz of rumor and curiosity; this is fear that a new king has come.

The city is shaken. The pilgrim crowds coming in from the countryside are exultant. The demonstration with the donkey and the cries of the crowds reflect ancient rituals of the king riding up to Jerusalem. Jerusalem, the city of kings and priests, the city of wealth and power, is shaken just as it quaked in fear when the magi came and asked for the newborn king. Now the child they tried to murder is grown and arrives to claim his inheritance as the Son of David and Son of God.

The city is shaken. This city that slays the prophets. This city that resists God’s reign. This city that thrives on wealth and power, not justice and mercy. This is a city in partnership with Rome, not the city of God set on a hill, the righteous communion.

The city is shaken. “Who is this?” they ask with trepidation. “The prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee,” the pilgrims joyfully answer. God is coming to reclaim his city. God is coming to deliver the nation. God is coming to set right the world!

But the city doesn’t want change.

Jesus is trouble. He is always trouble. Trouble for the green zone but mercy for those outside the walls. Trouble for pharaohs but redemption for slaves. Trouble for ‘the seeing’ but light for the blind. Trouble for the victors but hope for the vanquished. Trouble for the “righteous” and grace for sinners. Trouble for the temple system but power for the community of believers.

The city is shaken. They have reason to shake. The world is being reborn.

“This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee”!

“Hosanna to the Son of David!”

A crown of thorns


Matthew 27

File:Couronne d'épine de l'église Saint-Michel de Dijon.jpg29and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!”

We saw pictures of this from Abu Ghraib. And it is not even that the Roman soldiers were particularly brutal – though it was a brutal time. This same thing happened with Stanford students in Philip Zimbardo’s famous 1971 experiment. Students were randomly divided into guards and prisoners and things devolved so quickly the experiment had to be stopped. Something dark happens when people are given such power and authority over others.

It’s disturbing how brutal we can be, how far we have fallen from the possibility that Eden represents. How does a “modern society” systematically gas and murder 11 million to purify their race? How can Hutus rise up against Tutsis with machetes? How are neighbors turned against neighbors in Bosnia? How is it possible that soldiers slaughter women and children at Sand Creek? How does any man rape? There is plenty of evidence that we can be a brutal species.

How do three men chain another to their pickup truck and drag him three miles down an asphalt road? Or beat a young man senseless and leave him to die, tied to a Wyoming fencepost? We who were made in the image of God?

Why do we tolerate poverty? Why do we tolerate ignorance? Why do we enjoy watching ritualized violence like the world wrestling federation or the NFL? What is the power of violent video games? Humans are capable of such supreme works of beauty and such terrible ugliness. We can build architectural wonders and death camps. We are capable of great generosity and stunning selfishness. We can fall on a grenade for our buddies – and toss the grenade in the first place.

We are such strange creatures. Noble and ignoble. Kind and cruel. Tender and brutal. Compassionate and callous. Able to weep with those who weep, but to laugh while tormenting others.   A crown of thorns.

Jesus doesn’t just say, “Try harder.” God doesn’t ask us to “do better.” The cross of Jesus is like Matthew Shepard’s fencepost. It makes us see. See not just the violence of which we are capable, or how far we have fallen from our true humanity, but where God chooses to stand. Among the crucified.

The cross makes us see. See what we don’t want to see. See ourselves. See God. And, seeing, we are carried out of the darkness into the light.

The God of justice


Matthew 26

File:Jesus bearing the cross - Sagrada Familia - Barcelona 2014.JPG

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

59Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for false testimony against Jesus so that they might put him to death

They needed an excuse. Not that they needed to justify their actions to themselves – they had good reasons, and they, after all, are the smart and intelligent leaders of the land who know what needs to be done and how to get it done. But there needs to be the appearance of propriety. Plausible deniability. Cover.

When King Ahab pouts because Naboth will not sell him his field, Jezebel, daughter of the Sidonian king, shows Ahab how power is exercised in the real world. She finds two willing witnesses, sets Naboth between them at a public liturgy, has her “witnesses” accuse him of cursing God and the king, and has him executed.

As soon as Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, Ahab set out to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it.

The leaders of Judea have become Naboth and Jezebel, adept at the exercise of power. They understand the real world of Rome. They know how to pull the levers of power. They have a dependent class of people to use as a rabble to cry out for Jesus’ death. The only thing to work out is the official story so Pilate will bring the terrible power of Rome crashing down on this uppity peasant who challenges their world.

They have abandoned the way of God for the way of the world.

It is not hard to rationalize their decision. If Jesus gains enough followers, if he becomes a threat to Rome, if his followers cause any political instability, Rome will quickly march in, depose them all and appoint someone else to rule the land. Romans want order. They want nothing to interfere with the flow of tribute to Rome.

These leaders in Jerusalem can’t control Jesus. He is a loose cannon. Talk of justice, talk of the reign of God – these are dangerous ideas. A few wondrous deeds, a healing, and suddenly people will think anything is possible. He must be silenced. And more than silenced – he must be neutralized completely. He must be crushed. He must be disgraced in the eyes of all.

It is the way of power. Whether with the skill of lobbyists in congress or lawyers in the courts – drag out the case for years until the poor suitor is penniless or exhausted – the advantage lies with the strong. They need only the thinnest veneer of respectability.

So the God of justice is served by the unjust. The protector of widows and orphans, the defender of the poor, the avenger of the alien with no one to protect him against predation – this God is preyed upon. 30 pieces of silver. An accusation that he has threatened the temple. A couple lackeys to say he claims the kingship. And Rome will smack him down.

But he doesn’t stay down. The God of justice arises. The defender of the poor defends his faithful one. Death must give back its victim and the power of this world is shown to be powerless.

So we watch the machinations of politicians and corporations; bankers, lawyers and lobbyists; clever manipulators of markets and social opinion. But the world belongs to the God of justice. Jerusalem was destroyed. Rome no longer exists. A succession of Romes have come and gone, but the followers of this Jesus are still here, passing on his words and deeds, and living by the knowledge that Ahab and Jezebel do not get the last word. It is spoken by the God of justice.

A strange and different messiah


Matthew 21

2011 Palm Sunday Procession 29The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

We are not very good at enacting the excitement of that first Palm Sunday. What is supposed to be a raucous crowd of pilgrims shouting acclamations full of messianic hopes as they throng the road to Jerusalem on the occasion of their great national celebration of deliverance becomes a relatively polite and orderly reading of assigned lines by people trying to walk and read their bulletins at the same time, while looking to get their usual pew.

It’s different for us, of course. We don’t come to this day with the same fervent hope for revolution. We do not have enemy soldiers watching the crowds. We do not have an enemy garrison at the corner of the church lot. We do not have a story of miraculous deliverance – we have a national story of brave men and clever citizen soldiers fighting from behind trees with truth and justice and providence on their side. Our Fourth of July is a time for beer and picnics and fireworks. It doesn’t have the expectancy of the big game. It isn’t fueled by present tyranny. We do not anticipate angelic armies with drawn swords to appear by our side.

Nor do we live in a time when this simple acclamation “Hosanna!” is provocation enough for the riot police to start smashing heads.

So I will forgive a little lack of enthusiasm in our Palm Sunday procession. What will happen next is not fueled by uncertainty and possibility. We know the story. The soldiers will crack heads. Or they would, if Jesus had not chosen to go quietly and give us time to flee. Jesus, however, will get cracked. Brutally. More brutally than we can imagine. Give humans a machete and a reason to hate and you will be horrified to discover the things of which we are capable.

The purpose of the Palm Sunday liturgy is not to get us geeked up as on that original day. It is to let us worship with our hands and feet and well as our heart and mind, to give us a chance to step outside the ordinary and to physically walk into this extraordinary story where messianic hope is radically rewritten. No longer is it about the power to crack heads (cracking the “bad guys’ heads”); suddenly it is about the refusal to crack heads, the refusal to answer violence with violence, the decision to love even those with batons and spears and a hammer and nails.

It is a strange and different messiah. A sacrificial lamb. A footwasher. A man of prayer. An embodiment of grace and truth. An innocent laying down his life that others may be freed from the self-righteousness and violence that lurks in the darkness of the human heart. An innocent through whom God will raise a new people, a new community, a new world to life.

Hosanna.  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

The appearance of defeat

Watching for the morning of April 13

Year A

Palm Sunday / Sunday of the Passion

2011 Easter Pix 005Sunday will immerse us in the passion of Jesus. We gather with the festive procession with palms, joyfully entering the church with acclamation and song – there to share in the story of the one who was broken for us.

In this Lenten season we have been reading in John’s Gospel. We have heard about the birth from above, the living water and the blind man seeing: life, water of life, light of life – and then life from death, the resurrection of Lazarus. Now, for this Sunday we switch back to Matthew and that powerful narrative of the welcoming crowds, the expectant hope, the betrayal, the crushing defeat. Or, at least, what looks like defeat.

But it is not defeat. Jesus knows the path he travels. Scripture bears witness to his work. It is in his hand to call upon twelve legions of angels, but he will not. He comes to fulfill the scriptures. He comes to embody them. He comes to be the faithful son – the theme with which we began this Lenten season when the devil assaulted Jesus in the wilderness but could not turn him from his fidelity to God. His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane is for this cup to pass him by, but his deeper prayer, his more fundamental request, is “not what I want but what you want.”

It is not that God wants Jesus to die, but this is the path upon which God and humanity have been set since Adam and Eve eyed the fruit in the Garden and thought they could be gods. It is the path that brings our rebellion from God to its terrible climax and changes forever the chemistry between God and ourselves. Humanity does its worst; God does his best; and in that interchange the door opens to a new world, a world reborn, a world brought back to its right place under the governance of God’s creating, life-giving spirit. The door to a new world opens, if we will choose it, if we will enter, if we will turn from fighting God to following him.

But whether or not we turn toward God, God has turned toward us. Decisively and eternally. At whatever price.

The Prayer for April 13, 2014

Almighty God, Hidden in Mystery and Majesty,
trusting your promise, Jesus entered Jerusalem
knowing the sacrifice he would offer.
Grant us a share of his Spirit
and the courage to follow his way of love.

The Texts for April 13, 2014

Procession with Palms Reading: Matthew 21:1-11
“The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” – Matthew’s account of Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem.

Processional Psalm: Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
“Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord…The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” – A song of salvation from an ancient festival in Israel as the community enters through the gates into the temple, rejoicing in God’s deliverance.

Reading from the prophets: Isaiah 53:1-6
“He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole.” – Isaiah’s vision of the suffering servant who bears the sins of the people.

Passion Reading: Matthew 26:1 – 27:61
“Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” –The passion narrative according to Matthew.

Appointed Readings for Passion Sunday

First Reading: Isaiah 50:4-9a
“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.” – Another of the ‘servant songs’ from Isaiah describing a teacher who suffers, but trusts completely in God’s vindication.

Psalmody: Psalm 31:9-16
“My life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my misery, and my bones waste away.” – A cry from one who suffers and who faces the threat of a violent death. It echoes with themes of the passion and contains the words Jesus used from the cross “Into your hands I commend my spirit.”

Second Reading: Philippians 2:5-11
“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, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave.”
– An early Christian hymn reciting the humiliation and exaltation of Jesus. It is used by Paul to remind the community of the mind of Christ and to call them to abide in his Spirit.

Gospel: Matthew 26:14 – 27:66 or Matthew 27:11-54