Monday, March 19, 2018

Preacher’s Study – Palm/Passion Sunday, Year B

The Preacher’s Study
Sunday of the Passion, Year B

D. Jay Koyle   

Mark 11.1-11 or John 12.12-16
Isaiah 50.4-9a
Psalm 31.9-16
Philippians 2.5-11
Mark 14.1–15.47

We are the stories we tell. The stories we tell form and transform us. They shape our view of the world and have the potential to spark change in the world itself. We are, or at least we are becoming, the stories we tell.

This insight, this wisdom lies behind our weekly rehearsal of the gospel story through scriptures proclaimed, rites celebrated, feasts and seasons observed. Our “storytelling” has particular potency, however, as the church gathers to mark the days of palms and Passion, Resurrection and New Creation.

This Sunday marks the first step of transition from the Lenten journey to the fifty-day celebration of Easter. Soon the candidates for baptism will voice their renunciation of all the spiritual forces of deceit and wickedness; the powers and systems that corrupt, destroy, and degrade the creatures of God; and all sinful desires that draw them from God’s love.

They will be asked if they turn to Jesus Christ, Redeemer of the world, pledging to trust the grace and love revealed in him; pledging to obey him as Lord, and follow him as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The baptized will echo this choice of allegiance in words of reaffirmation.

The entire Passion narrative, announced in all its power and drama, displays the stark choice with which those baptismal questions confront us.

Essentially, two “kingdoms” are on display in the narrative of Christ’s Passion and Resurrection: one personified by the likes of the chief priests and elders and Pilate, the other embodied in Jesus. The disciples’ actions in the events that unfold – particularly as they betray, deny, and abandon Jesus – serve as a reminder of how both dominions make a compelling claim on our lives.

What do these “kingdoms” look like in our world, our generation, our context(s)? How do we find ourselves torn between the two, individually and collectively? How is God at work to liberate us? What alternative vision does the good news proclaimed and embodied in Christ at this climatic moment provide?

In what barren soil might the seeds of God’s purpose and promises actually be taking root and beginning to bloom in our lives? In the world around us?

What would it look like for us to embrace once again our subversive identity as ‘Body of Christ’ and live the radical life of allegiance to God’s Kingdom in our world, our generation, our context(s)?

The preacher would do well to provoke engagement with questions such as these at the threshold of Holy Week.

The liturgies of Holy Week orient us to active citizenship in the everlasting Reign of God, immersing us once again in the story of Jesus, crucified and risen. It is vital to recognize that this story is the story of all who have “put on Christ” through baptism.

Attending to Paul’s words from the Letter to the Church in Philippi can help the preacher bring home this recognition. 

Today’s sound bite from the epistle records preacher Paul breaking out in song. As he lifts up the crucified Christ to remind his congregation of who they are and what this means for how they live, he cracks open his hymnal and extols the One who poured out himself for the life of the world, the One whom God has now raised up, the One to whom all peoples will one day sing.

“In a world where people grasp for prestige and privilege,” sings Paul, Christ Jesus emptied himself and became servant.

“In a world where people covet status and association with the right people, Christ Jesus walked and dined and died with outcast and sinner.

“In a world that demonizes distinct demographics, and says we must take up arms to combat killing, Christ Jesus took up a cross to break the cycle of scapegoating and violence.

“In a world where people place ‘their own’ desires first, Christ Jesus sought above all else to desire what God desires.

“In a world where people seek to maneuver political opponents into checkmate out of a cynical attempt to survive or win, Christ Jesus became vulnerable and surrendered his life.

“In a world where people look out for ‘number one’ and compromise their principles to save their skin, Christ Jesus never wavered in his fidelity to God, even when it took him to the shameful gallows.

“Therefore,” sings Paul, “God has exalted him above all else!”

(If it were any other season besides Lent, he’d be launching into a series of Alleluia’s, too!)   ;-)

Then, catching his breath, Paul looks at his congregation and announces, “You are rooted and one in Christ already, his Body in the world. So let this same mind be in you.”

Paul knew that the cosmic changes wrought by the cross had very tangible, immediate implications for the way we live. So says he, “Let the same mind be in you.”

It would be wise for preachers to follow Paul’s example in Philippians, naming concrete matters, but then taking on a similar tone of hope and praise even as people are exhorted to take up their cross and follow.

Make sure that, in preaching and any other aspect of the liturgy, you approach the coming week not as a dramatic reenactment, but rather as a ritual opportunity to deepen participation in the paschal mystery.

The vitality of the Christian people is fuelled when they are reminded about “who and whose” they are, and then exhorted to live out of that reality, that story – their story.

Reading of the Passion Gospel

In many congregations it is customary for parts to be assigned for the proclamation of the Passion story. If this option is chosen, it is recommended that the congregation not be delegated the part of the crowd, shouting “Crucify Him!” It is a questionable practice to have Christians ritualize themselves in opposition to Christ when they should be strengthening their identification with Christ and his devotion to God.

Instead, the congregation might take part through a refrain sung at the start of the passage and after Mark 14.31; 14.72; 15.37. Possible refrains include “Now We Remain” (Haas), “Bless the Lord, My Soul (Taize), or a setting of the Kyrie or Trisagion. If your “script” of the Passion Gospel has a part for the congregation to voice the part of the crowd, this part can be assigned to a chorus of readers.

If the Passion Gospel is proclaimed in the manner suggested here, there is no need to provide copies of the passage to members of the congregation.

The proclamation of the Passion Gospel is introduced, “The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Mark.” There is no preliminary greeting or congregational response to this announcement. Likewise, the proclamation ends in silence.

Another resource for proclaiming the Passion Gospel in parts can be found here in the online resource “Becoming the Story We Tell” -


Walk with Christ the way of the cross, 
that you may embrace the outcast and condemned 
as your sister or brother. 

Walk with Christ the way of the cross, 
that from brokenness and despair 
God may bring forth hope and new life. 

Walk with Christ the way of the cross, 
that the cycle of violence and oppression 
may be broken in our world. 

And may the blessing of the crucified One 
who is alive and reigns forever 
be with you now and always. 


Jay Koyle is past president of The Associated Parishes for Liturgy and Mission. He is a presbyter ministering as Congregational Development Officer of the Diocese of Algoma (Anglican), and serving as chair of Faith, Worship and Ministry for The Anglican Church of Canada.

Artwork from Chris Gollon’s ‘Stations of the Cross’ (2009). For more information about the collection, or to order cards or reprints:

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Preacher's Study - Lent 5B

The Preacher’s Study

Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year B

John W.B. Hill

Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 51:1-12 (BCP/BAS 51: 1-13) or 119:9-16
Hebrews 5:5-10
John 12:20-33

The long and tortuous history of God’s covenant partnership with his people that we have been hearing about over the past few Sundays has come to this: it is “a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord.”  Jeremiah put his finger on the problem: unless ‘the law’ of this covenant — the patten of life it entails — is written on our hearts, no amount of pleading, or threats, or coercion will save us.  But how will that ‘law’ be written on our hearts?

Each of the psalms provided as a response to this reading begs for this one thing:
“You desire truth in the inward being;
            therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart...
Create in me clean heart, O God,
            and put a new and right spirit within me...
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
            and sustain in me a willing spirit.”  (Psalm 51)
“With my whole heart I seek you;
            do not let me stray from your commandments.
I treasure your word in my heart,
so that I may not sin against you...
I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word.”  (Psalm 119)

The other two readings show us how the law comes to be written on our hearts.  We hear a story that is unforgettably heart-wrenching, and we experience the intervention of a ‘high priest’ who “always lives to make intercession for [us]” (Hebrews 7:25).  For the climax of the gospel story is not just the horrific crucifixion and glorious resurrection of our Messiah; it also includes his agony of love in the last and greatest test of his faithfulness.  Both readings bring us back to Jesus’ agony in Gethsemane and take us into the experience of that agony.

In a way very characteristic of the fourth Gospel, that evening in the garden is recast as another of John’s discourses.  The discourse is introduced by the appearance of some Greeks who have tracked down one of Jesus’ disciples from the Greek-speaking city of Bethsaida and asked, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”  At first, it is tempting to think that Jesus simply ignored the request, but the discourse is Jesus’ response.  After all, the Greeks “are those who have not seen and yet...[will] come to believe” (John 20:29) — once his disciples have learned to tell his story, the story that “will draw all people to himself.”

This entire discourse (verses 23-28) is an exposition of its opening sentence: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”  In preceding chapters we were told that the authorities wanted to arrest him, but “his hour had not yet come.”  But now all the world wants to see Jesus (John 12:19), and so his passion must begin. 

In the first part of this discourse, Jesus announces his coming suffering and death, using a parable about planting seed, only now the seed is not just the word of the kingdom that is planted in the earth (Matthew 13:19), but the Word himself who must fall into the earth and die.

The second part of the discourse begins “Now...” (reiterating the gravity of ‘the hour’); we hear John’s version of Jesus’ prayer in the garden (echoing the prayer he taught us):

John’s version:                               Matthew’s version:                    The sense of the prayer:

“Now my soul is  troubled.      “I am deeply grieved,                 (Sickening horror, 
And what should I say — ”       even to death”                              spiritual turmoil.)

“Father, save me from this .     “My Father, if it is possible,      “Do not bring us to the
hour?"                                              let this cup pass from me” .     time of trial.”

"No, for this reason I have        “My Father, if this cannot         “Your Kingdom come.”
come to this hour.”                      pass unless I drink it...”

“Father, glorify your name.”     “...your will be done.”                 “Hallowed be your 
                                                                                                                   name...your will be 
 The third part of the discourse also begins “Now...” (in this momentous ‘hour’); Jesus announces the defeat of the evil one!  This is ‘the hour’ when action gives way to passion, when Jesus’ mission is brought to its fulfilment (John 17:1, 4).  “Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.  And I, when I am lifted up from the world, will draw all people to myself.”

Today, however, we need to “stay awake and pray” in this hour of his anguish, to stay until we have plumbed the depths of his doubt and terror, his acute awareness of the power of the evil one, and his inconsolable longing for God’s kingdom.  The second reading recalls this very moment, when “Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death.”  And it tells us the meaning of this last and greatest test: “he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him”.  Why do we obey him?  How is his law ‘written on our hearts’?   Who is not drawn to him by the magnificence of his vulnerable humanity and his faithfulness even to death?  Discipleship consists not in what we believe about him but in the way he draws us into following him, “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).

John W. B. Hill is an Anglican presbyter living in Toronto, Canada. He is a Council member of APLM, chair of Liturgy Canada, and author of one of the first Anglican sources for catechumenal practice.

“Exodus,” by Marc Chagall