Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Passion Intro 04/05/2020

I’m pretty sure that pretty much every year on this Sunday I have commented on the drastic change in mood that takes place as we move from the Palm Sunday opening part of the service with Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem with that quickly left behind and followed by the Passion, the story of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion. I didn’t actually go back and look at what I said in previous years but the dissonance created by the contrasting moods is always part of this Palm/Passion Sunday.

I learned something new though about why we have both of these stories on the same day. It goes back to the early days of the church when, in different places, different traditions developed concerning how events and festivals of the church year were observed. For the church centered in Jerusalem, on the Sunday before Easter, the procession with palms was the focus. Since the fourth century there has been a full liturgical parade in Jerusalem to re-enact Jesus’ entry into the city and many other cities have modeled that with similar processions. As an aside, it’s said that Theodulf of Orleans who wrote the words to All Glory, Laud and Honor, the traditional Palm Sunday hymn, did so while he was in prison and heard one of these parades go by. So that’s one tradition.

For the church in Rome though, the long reading of the Passion gospel became central on this Sunday. Sometimes it was read, sometimes sung using more than one voice, something of a variation on how we’ve done it over the years. Over time, these two traditions came into contact with one another and something of a blending took place. It hasn’t always been seamless, the emphasis on one aspect or the other has varied within different Christian denominations and communities, but that’s a little of the history behind the day and why we observe it the way we do.

Moving into the Passion part of the day, the word passion has a few different meanings, but in this case it has to with suffering, Jesus’ suffering and death. Today we’ll hear Matthew’s telling of the Passion story but it’s worth noting that he really doesn’t put much emphasis on the suffering of Jesus; it’s more implied than it is stated. Mel Gibson emphasized the suffering in his Passion of the Christ movie; Roger Ebert called it the most violent movie he’s ever seen and to be fair, there is theological grounding for the suffering emphasis.

While there is no one accepted theory of exactly how Jesus’ suffering and death takes away our sin, at the center of Christian faith is the belief that somehow it does. We say that Jesus died for us, that he suffered for our sins: “Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world.” That’s a lot of sin, so the suffering must be extreme. But still, Matthew really doesn’t go there.

There is much more emphasis on the actions of other characters in the story. Some of them were against Jesus all along, but maybe more important are those who had been on his side but who abandoned him when the going got tough starting with the crowds who cheered Jesus on as he rode into Jerusalem but who then shout “Crucify him!” when the tide turns. Even more significant though are those closest to Jesus, the disciples. They all scatter but special emphasis is given to Judas who betrays Jesus and Peter who denies him three times.

I have to think that part of Matthew’s intent here is that we find ourselves in these characters, that we recognize that we too abandon, betray and deny Jesus by what we have done and by what we have left undone, especially when the going gets tough and our faith is tested. Seen that way it’s a version of Luther’s law/gospel dynamic as our identification with the failure of the disciples reveals our need for the good news of what Jesus has done for us. That’s something to think about as you hear the reading today.

Sometimes though, we respond differently in tough times. We’re all going through a tough time right now, but…it seems that in many ways, at this point anyway, it’s bringing out the best in us; we’re not abandoning who we are as followers of Jesus. I’m sure that not everyone thinks of it as a faith response, but from what I can see, people are respecting the social distancing recommendations, when I do go to the store, people are polite and accommodating, many people have told me that they’re available to help out however they can, running errands or shopping for people who are leery about going out, wanting to make sure there’s money in my discretionary fund if people are in need. All of those things are examples of being faithful rather than unfaithful in a difficult time.

Now though, we hear the Passion of our Lord, according to St. Matthew.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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