Today we begin our turn toward Holy Week and toward the complex liturgy with which it begins, Passion/Palm Sunday. Which is it? It’s both, Palms and Passion juxtaposed, and there begins the complexity. But it is problematic only if you insist that liturgies sound only one central theme. Realize, however, that the scriptures don’t offer us such thematic coherence; they are as complex as our lives.
Consider these narratives not simply as historical accounts. Experience them instead as a contemporary disciple. You could enter today’s passage at one of several points—perhaps as the disciple sent to retrieve the colt. Jesus calls us to do such strange things. Or you could enter it as one called to give your very best, even today, offering the colt simply “because the Lord needs it.” Each of those pathways leads to both joy and sacrifice. Or you could enter the narrative along with the “multitude of the disciples” who greet Jesus as their king. That is what’s going on here; the colt (see Zechariah 9:9) and the variation on Psalm 118:26 (“blessed is the king”) make that unmistakable point, and naming Jesus as king changes everything.
In a realm with emperors, naming anyone other than Caesar as king could bring lethal consequences, as it did for Jesus. But what about us today? It’s such problematic language. Those who call Jesus king may be tempted to see themselves as his royal courtiers, but the Gospel and the other texts that we read this week will have none of that. Yes, we’re to follow, as subjects must do, but we are to follow in his way of self-giving love and service. What will that mean for you for the rest of this year?
Give us grace, O God, to name you as King and follow where you lead, even in the way of sacrifice and self-giving. Amen.
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Psalm 118 is a song of rejoicing, yet it also includes the prophecy that the cornerstone must experience rejection. Isaiah speaks of physical suffering, of being beaten, disgraced, and spat on. We see elements of this in the Gospel reading, where Luke describes the final moments of Jesus’ life. Bloodied and beaten, Jesus hangs on the cross and breathes his last. In Philippians, Paul places this drama within the eternal narrative of God’s redeeming work. Jesus leaves his rightful place and becomes flesh. He experiences pain and suffering, even the most humiliating form of death, crucifixion. Jesus can empathize with our suffering because he has suffered. Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Read Isaiah 50:4-9a. How does the Suffering Servant speak to your life today?
Read Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29. How do you hear differently the familiar verses of this psalm when you read them together?
Read Philippians 2:5-11. Do you find it paradoxical to live as a beloved child of God and as a servant? If so, how do you live in this paradox?
Read Luke 22:14–23:56. How do you experience the extreme emotional highs and lows of Palm Sunday and Holy Week, even knowing how it will all turn out?
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