Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Preacher’s Study – Palm/Passion Sunday, 2016

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

D. Jay Koyle   

Luke 19.28-40
Isaiah 50.4-9a
Psalm 31.9-16
Philippians 2.5-11
Luke 22.14 – 23.56

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 as the church gathers to mark the days of palms and Passion, Resurrection and New Creation. This Sunday, the menu of Scriptures proclaimed will escort us from Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem to the seeming defeat of his Passion. This Sunday marks the first step of transition from our 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 Herod and Pilate, the other embodied in Jesus. The disciples as they argue about who is greatest, and later as they betray, deny and abandon Jesus, serve as a reminder of how both dominions make a persuasive 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? How is God at work to liberate us? Where do we see the seeds of God’s purpose and promises taking root and beginning to bloom in our lives? In the world around us?

Our participation in the services of Holy Week orients 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 our story, too – the story of the baptized, the story of our world, the story of God at work today.

Attending to Paul’s words from the Letter to the Church in Philippi can help the preacher bring home this recognition. The conflict and transformation painted on a cosmic canvass in the Gospel’s passion narrative is inked by the apostle on the sketchpad of our life together as church.

The snippet of the epistle we listen in on finds 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 cannot help but pick up his hymnal and extol the One who poured himself out for 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 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!”

Then, catching his breath, Paul looks at his congregation and says, “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 concrete, down-to-earth implications for the way we live. So says he, “Let the same mind be in you.”

The preacher would do well 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 our participation in the paschal mystery. The vitality of the Christian people is fueled 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 repeated after Luke 22.38; 22.71; 23.31; 23.46. Possible refrains include the refrain from “Now We Remain” (Haas), “Bless the Lord, My Soul or “Jesus Remember Me/Us” (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.

Jay Koyle is president of The Associated Parishes for Liturgy and Mission. He is a presbyter serving as Congregational Development Officer of the Diocese of Algoma (Anglican), and a member of the Liturgy Task Force of 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:

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