Palm Sunday, April 9, 2017

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Title:Palm Sunday, April 9, 2017

April 9, 2017 (full size gallery)

The weather preceding Palm Sunday has been unseasonably cold and cloudy but had cleared by late Friday,  was warmer in the 60’s on Saturday. Palm Sunday was clear unlike 2016 when it was cloudy in the 50’s.  It is 19 days later than last year (March 20) warmer in the high 60’s or lower 70’s.   This week the dogwoods in all colors, tulips and azaleas were blossoming. And there was that light green color on the trees.

The service bulletin is here. The lectionary readings are here. We had 51 in the service. The children in Christian ed reviewed the Palm Sunday story and then looked at 4 symbols of Palm Sunday – the cross, a large stone, a cock and 30 pieces of silver and a Last Supper sculpture.

Palm Sunday is the hinge between Lent and Holy Week.Lent has been the 40 day season of fasting and spiritual preparation intended to understand in practices, ritual and disciplines critical to living in the way of Jesus and Holy Week. Holy Week is a time of more intense fasting, reading and prayers in which we pay particular attention to the final days, suffering, and execution of Jesus.

While Palm Sunday marks Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem,  the events of that day set in motion Jesus’ death 5 days later before the Passover begins. Zechariah had forecast "Zion’s king" coming "righteous and victorious" on a donkey. It looked like Jesus was proclaiming himself King of Israel to the anger of some of the Jewish authorities.

Palm Sunday has two liturgies – the Liturgy of the Palms where we consider Jesus arrival in Jerusalem from Galilee and the Liturgy of the Passion, a foreshadowing of Holy Week. 

We gathered for "Liturgy of the Palms", this year from Matthew and processed into the church. At this Jesus knows what’s about to happen – "you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden." The Gospels go on to recount how Jesus rode into Jerusalem in the midst of the Passover and how the people there lay down their cloaks in front of him, and also lay down small branches of trees. Traditionally, entering the city on a donkey symbolizes arrival in peace, rather than as a war-waging king arriving on a horse. This has been foretold in scripture by Zechariah, five centures earlier. 

This year instead of waving palm branches we held palm crosses which from St. John’s Episcopal in Olney Maryland. For forty years, St John’s Episcopal has worked to better the conditions in Africa by importing palm crosses from the village of Masasi in Tanzania. All the net proceeds from the sales of the crosses are returned to many African nations in the form of self-help grants to promote safe drinkingwater and sustainable farming practices.

An enthusiastic "All Glory Laud and Honor" started the service after the Litany of the Palms procession. It was written in exile by Theodulf of Orléans in 820.  

Catherine noted the services this week as way to participate in the changing nature of the story.  We have three services this week – Wed (Tenebrae), Thurs (Maunday Thursday), and Friday (Good Friday) all at 7pm as well as Easter Sunday at 11am. In addition we are adding Stations of the Cross at 5pm on Good Friday. A description of the services is here.

The passion readings were divided among 6 readers, 3 men, 3 women followed by a short sermon. 

Matthew 26:1-5 opens the narrative with the plot to kill Jesus. Jesus announces that the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified. In ironic fulfillment, the leaders of the people conspire to arrest Jesus and put him to death.

In Matthew 26:6-13, Jesus’ anointing with costly perfume by a nameless woman at Bethany is described by him as a preparation for his burial and as a key part of the preaching of the good news.

In Matthew 26:14 16, Matthew alters Mark’s narrative by making Judas appear greedy, asking how much the leaders are willing to pay him in order to betray Jesus. They agree to pay him thirty pieces of silver.

After sending his disciples to prepare, Jesus gathers with them to eat the Passover meal, (Matthew 26:17-35). Jesus first foretells that one of them will betray him, and then takes a loaf of bread and a cup of wine and, after blessing them, shares them with the disciples as his body and blood of the covenant of the Father’s kingdom. Framing the meal and parallel to the announcement of the betrayal, Jesus predicts that Peter along with all of the disciples will deny and desert him. 

After the meal, Jesus goes to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray (Matthew 26:36-46). The sermon concentrated on Jesus suffering in agony in Gethsemene. While the disciples sleep, three times Jesus prays earnestly to the Father that he might be spared the drinking of the "cup" of his death. Obediently he submits to the Father’s will and the betrayal is at hand.

The arrest of Jesus takes place as Judas arrives with a crowd and betrays Jesus with the agreed upon signal, a kiss (Matthew 26:47-56). Twice Jesus emphasizes that all of this is happening in fulfillment of the scriptures. The truth of his assertion is confirmed by the note that, as he has predicted, all the disciples desert him and flee. 

In Matthew 26:57-68; 27:1-2, Jesus is put on trial before the High Priest. Various charges are brought against Jesus, but he remains silent. To the high priest’s question whether he is the Messiah Jesus responds with a somewhat ambiguous, "You have said so," and a scriptural quotation about the Son of Man. Jesus’ remarks are seen as blasphemy and worthy of death. Jesus is bound and handed over to Pilate.

Ironically, in the midst of Jesus’ trial, Peter, too, is interrogated regarding his relationship to Jesus (Matthew 26:69-75). As Jesus has predicted, three times Peter denies that he knows Jesus. The cock crows and Peter repents.

In a unique motif, Matthew narrates the death of Judas, Matthew 27:3-10. When Judas sees what his betrayal has occasioned, he repents of his sin of having betrayed "innocent blood" and attempts to return the thirty pieces of silver to the leaders. Upon their refusal, in despair he hangs himself, and in fulfillment of scripture the leaders use the money to buy a burial field.

Jesus now goes on trial before Pilate (Matthew 27:11-31). To Pilate’s question whether he is "King of the Jews," Jesus responds as to the chief priest, "You say so," but otherwise remains silent amid the accusations. Matthew adds unique features to the trial scene before Pilate. Pilate’s wife notes that she has been warned in a dream (see Matthew, chapters 1 and 2) to have nothing to do with this "righteous man" (27:19; see 1:19 and throughout). After agreeing to release a prisoner, Barabbas, instead of Jesus, Pilate washes his hands of this "innocent" man’s blood, while the people answer "His blood be on us and upon our children!" (27:24-25). Pilate then hands Jesus over to be crucified. The soldiers dress Jesus up in a robe, a crown of thorns, and a reed and mock him as "King of the Jews" and then lead him away to be crucified.

On the way to Jesus’ crucifixion and death (Matthew 27:32-56), a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, is compelled to carry the cross to Golgotha, where Jesus is placed on the cross with two bandits on either side. Those who pass by mock him as "Son of God" and "King of Israel." Darkness comes over the land from noon until three o’clock, when Jesus cries out "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" and then breathes his last. To Mark’s note regarding the rending of the temple curtain at Jesus’ death, Matthew adds that there is a great earthquake and that many of the dead come out of their tombs (27:51-53). Many women who have followed Jesus from Galilee stand watching from a distance.

 After Jesus’ death, Joseph of Arimathea, described as a "disciple" of Jesus, goes to Pilate and asks for the body. Joseph receives the body and lays it in his own new tomb and rolls a large stone in front of the door, while Mary Magdalene and the other Mary sit opposite the tomb, watching (Matthew 27:57 61).

The passion narrative concludes with the setting of a guard at the tomb (Matthew 27:62-66). In this unique addition to the narrative, Matthew notes the concern of the leaders that Jesus’ disciples will come and steal the body and then claim he has been raised from the dead. Pilate orders them to make the tomb secure by setting a guard.

From the sermon:

"Today, Palm Sunday, with its story of the last cruel and horrid suffering hours of Jesus’ life, is our doorway into Holy Week.

"So I invite you during this holiest of weeks in the church year to find your own Gethsemane, the place where you feel pressed, burdened, the place of sorrow, fear or pain that you usually try to avoid.

"Intentionally go to that place, as Jesus did, to pray.

"Pray the words of the psalms. Pray the Lord’s Prayer. May these words give shape and weight and context to our own pains, afflictions, and worries.

"And remember, Jesus praying in Gethsemane reminds us that God is with us in our suffering, even when God seems far away and inaccessible.

"Knowing that God is with us in every bit of our humanity, even the toughest parts, means that we can pray, along with Jesus, those trusting words that Jesus prayed.

“Yet not what I want, but what you want.”

“Thy will be done.”

"On earth, as it is in heaven.

"Following Jesus through Holy Week helps us to walk through our own dark valleys, and to go to our own Gethsemanes, knowing that death is powerful.

"But Jesus’ death is not the end of the story.

"And death is not the end of our stories either. Because earth is not just earth, but also heaven, when we trustingly enter into God’s will."

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