Palm or Passion Sunday is the day we hear of our Lord’s passion for us and remember the last week of his human life, the culmination of his life of love and obedience. We companion our Lord as he enters into Jerusalem and makes his way toward the cross and the tomb. The readings are long and at times harrowing (RCL Mark chapters 11, 14 and 15) and so to help us digest them I have broken them down into smaller portions with a brief reflection after each. I then encourage you to reflect on the readings over the week.
Mark 11:1-11 Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem
Jesus, you made your way into Jerusalem with a provocative procession and with attention to detail you tried to help the people then, and us now, see what you were really all about – announcing the kingdom of God, the reign of God’s mercy and peace here on earth in the midst of our human madness and sadness.
You came riding the colt of a donkey, as you knew the prophet Zechariah had said a future king would, a king who would banish the weapons of war from the land. You came enacting this long remembered promise at the very moment you knew another procession was making it’s way into the city – the procession of the Roman governor of Judea and the imperial army for they were nervous at this time, Passover, every year about Jewish uprisings against the Roman Empire. You came riding the colt of a donkey, making the choice between the kingdom of God and the Empire of Rome as clear as possible. But it was largely misunderstood then, as maybe now.
How often do we throw palm branches and our Hosanna’s into the air wanting you to be our Mighty Leader, the Almighty on our side, to line up with us on the side of right and victory, as we define it, against whatever cause offends us? How often do we try and convert God to our cause rather than risk being converted ourselves to the cause of justice and mercy for all of God’s peoples.
Help us to become ready to acclaim you as the one who brings the kingdom of God where power makes one vulnerable to suffering, joy and hope and a servant of peace and love.
Mark 14:1-25 The Passover
Jesus your life came to its terrible and unfathomable conclusion at the feast of the Passover. With thousands, tens of thousands of others, you came to celebrate one of the greatest and most holy of feasts of the year in Jerusalem. And on the way to destiny you paused to share food and comfort with a leper, an untouchable, and welcomed an unnamed woman’s attention and care. You allowed yourself to receive food and touch and company from those regarded by many as unworthy and were grateful for their gifts. The unnamed woman alone seems to have understood that you were making your way to your death and she prepared you in the only way she could – she anointed you.
And so prepared for destiny and death you ate one last meal with your friends, your companions on the way. Passover, the meal of unleavened bread, and lamb, that recalled the last meal eaten in Egypt as the chosen people of God ate in haste and prepared for the arduous journey to freedom and the promised land.
Jesus, you declared yourself as the food and drink of the Passover – the meal to sustain your followers on the journey from slavery to liberty, from the shadow of death to the land of promised milk and honey.
How often do we eat of your meal with no intention or desire to journey from where we are to where you call us to be? How often have we partaken of your meal as comfort food and not wanted the liberation from oppression that you call us into?
Help us become ready to receive your flesh and blood into our very being and find ourselves fed with the food of heaven for life here on earth.
Jesus, you gave yourself over to trial and persecution for followers you knew were betraying you and who would fail you. Jesus, you gave yourself up to death for those who betrayed you, denied you, who could not even keep watch one night with you in your dread and fear. Jesus, we come to your holy meal knowing that we still betray you and ourselves and our neighbours, that we still deny you, and still fail to be faithful for even a dark night.
How often do we deny you by name? How many more times are we unable to bear to keep company with a suffering God?
Help us to accept that no matter how deeply and terribly we fail you, you still give yourself to us to be our food and drink, the stuff of life.
Mark 15:1-27 The Trial, Crucifixion and Death of Jesus
Jesus, betrayed, abandoned, denied by those you love you gave yourself into the violent hands of temple authorities and imperial leaders who for different reasons all wanted you killed. Jesus, you allowed yourself to be ridiculed, judged, sentenced, tortured and put to a shameful painful death. Jesus, you suffered the physical and spiritual pain of all humanity – your divine nature not sparing you a single blow or moment of fear. Jesus you took into yourself all hate and fear, all violence and vulnerability, all our wounds and death itself. And having died you continued to hang on the cross for all to see that you were utterly broken.
How hard we find it to stand at the foot of the cross and see your suffering and apparent failure. How utterly shocking to see the divine become human just another tortured man among others. And hard to understand that out of this pain and defeat comes life and the victory of love.
Help us to give ourselves to you in all things and when we face death and suffering to know that even in this, especially in this, you are our companion and saviour.
Even though we know how the story ends we cannot rush ahead of ourselves. The wisdom of the church since ancient times is that we need to allow ourselves to enter fully into the mystery of the claim of ours that out of death comes life, that through suffering comes healing, and that from apparent defeat comes the victory of love over all enemies.
We remember not only that this was Jesus experience but that it is the pilgrim’s journey, that every soul must take this path at some time, so that we can know for ourselves the great love of Jesus our Saviour. In joy and suffering he is our companion, our guide, our destination.
In the beautiful language of one of the prayers of the church set for evening we pray:
Come, O Spirit of God, and make within us your dwelling place and home.
May our darkness be dispelled by your light, and our troubles calmed by your peace;
may all evil be redeemed by your love, all pain transformed through the suffering of Christ,
and dying glorified by his risen life. Amen