Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Palm Sunday Passion Intro 4/5

          The focus of this day is the Passion narrative that we’re about to read and in many ways it is a day in which we just let the liturgy and the text have their say; too much preaching just gets in the way.  The liturgy for today began with the Palm Sunday processional celebrating Jesus’ apparently triumphant entry into Jerusalem with palms waving and shouts of Hosanna, but following that the mood always shifts rather dramatically with the reading of the lessons for Passion Sunday and then the Passion gospel that tells of Jesus’ arrest and trial and crucifixion.  Maybe we wish we could stay a little longer in Palm Sunday triumphant mode, maybe till Thursday anyway, but the liturgy doesn’t let us, actually, our theology doesn’t let us.  We always come back to the paradox of the theology of the cross where strength is revealed in weakness, where triumph is found in the apparent humiliation of death on a cross. 

          The lesson that was just read from Philippians provides a pretty good introduction to the story of the Passion highlighting as it does the cosmic significance of Christ “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.”  

These verses from Philippians are thought to be part of a hymn that was circulating in the early Christian church, a hymn that was around before Paul wrote this letter probably around the year 55 or 56.  At that point none of the gospels had been written, there was no official Christian doctrine but already they were trying to make sense of Jesus, particularly the problem of explaining how he could be the Christ having died as a common criminal.  Even for those who experienced and believed in the Risen Christ, there was still a need to understand how death by crucifixion played a role in things.

          The early church settled on the idea of Jesus emptying himself of divinity and becoming fully human, thus humbling himself and in that humility he is exalted by God as counterintuitive and ironic as that seems. In this hymn the early church didn’t try to explain all this; they sang about it;  then Mark was the first of the gospel writers to tell the story in narrative form. 

          Mark gets at the irony of the Passion story differently than the hymn from Philippians.  One way he does it is with a number of references to Jesus as a king, the King of the Jews (you might want to listen for that as we get to the later parts of today’s reading).  These references are ironic because Jesus hardly seems king like in any ordinary sense of the word and in fact many of these comments are spoken to mock Jesus.  The point though is the same as that of the Philippians hymn, that in this mockery, humiliation and death Jesus is in fact a king, a different kind of king who embraces sacrifice rather than power.

          The problem that the early church had and that we still have is that none of this makes sense; it never has and it never will.  The glory, laud and honor of Palm Sunday does make sense to us and that’s why we just as soon stay there and then come back next Sunday to the happily ever after ending of resurrection.  Then the darkness of Thursday, the death of Friday and the absence of Saturday we could just skip over.  That might make things cleaner, but it wouldn’t make them better and besides, the liturgy of the day won’t let us do that anyway.

          So let us hear the Passion of our Lord, according to St. Mark.   


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
sent me.”


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