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Introduction To The Scripture For The Sixth Sunday in Lent - Year C
Palm Liturgy
Psalm 118:1-2,19-29; Luke 19:28-40
Passion Liturgy
Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 22:14-23:56

The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (jlss@sympatico.ca) of the United Church of Canada. John has structured his offerings so that the first portion can be used as a bulletin insert, while the second portion provides a more in depth 'introduction to the scripture'.

INTRODUCTION TO THE SCRIPTURE	
Palm Passion Sunday -  Year C

     The Revised Common Lectionary includes the first two lessons if
     the celebration focuses on the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into
     Jerusalem. If preferred, the celebration may be centered on the
     Passion of Christ using the second set of lessons.  Often both
     are used.

Liturgy of the Palms
Psalm 118:1-2,19-29; Luke 19:28-40

Liturgy of the Passion 
Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 22:14-23:56


PSALM 118:1-2, 19-29     This psalm attributed some unidentified victory to
Yahweh rather than to Israel's military prowess.  The use of the first
person singular probably indicates that the person concerned may have been
a king as representative of the whole nation.  At some later date, along
with Pss. 113-117, it was adapted for liturgical use as one of "The Hallel"
sung at one of the great festivals.


LUKE 19:28-40            According to Luke, following Mark's earlier
Gospel, Jesus had planned his entry into Jerusalem by warning the owner of
the colt that he would need the beast for this occasion.  That the colt had
never been ridden emphasized the aura of the incident Jesus' intended to
create.  The donkey was regarded as a peaceful beast willingly serving its
master, thus creating an image of a servant rather than a conquering king.
Matthew elaborated the story to include two animals as in a messianic
prophecy from Zechariah 9:9-10. 

Jesus himself took no part in the celebration.  Instead, he rebuked the
Pharisees who complained about the crowd of disciples displaying their
joyous expectations. 


ISAIAH 50:4-9a           The unnamed prophet of Israel's Babylonian exile
whose poetry is included in Isaiah 40-55 describes the response of
persecuted people to their suffering.  This is an excerpt from a longer
poem (vss.1-11) which portrays the exile as the result of the nation's sin
against God (vs.1).  Though written in the 6th century BC, the poem was
seen by the early Christian church as a prophecy of Jesus' wholly unjust
trial and conviction. 


PSALM 31:9-16            Again the Christian church has interpreted this
lament and plea for God's protection from persecution by false accusers
with reference to the Passion of Christ.  Though not in this reading, vs. 5
of this psalm  was uttered by Jesus on the cross: "Into your hand I commit
my spirit." (Luke 23:46)


PHILIPPIANS 2:5-11       Paul may have found this hymn in use in one of the
congregations he visited, or he may have created it himself.  Note that
while it does equate Jesus with God (vs.6)  Jesus did not exploit that
honour.  Rather, it emphasizes his humanity, his death obedient to God's
will, and his exaltation so that he may be worshiped as Lord of all. 
    

LUKE 22:14-23:56         It is not intended that the whole story of the
Passion should be read during public worship, though this is often done in
a special, extended service accompanied by  musical selections and hymns.
It could be used for personal devotions, however, throughout Holy Week.
    
Note how as the story progresses many people come and go, each having
contact with Jesus in one way or another.  In the end, Jesus is alone in
death, commits himself into God's keeping, and is buried in a unused tomb.
Despite its apparent gloom, the story nonetheless has a deep sense of
worship about it.
                                    
************

ISAIAH 50:4-9a   We tend to select only excerpts of OT passages
with reference to our Christian liturgical themes and seasons.  This
passage is yet another example of that kind of adaptation.  We need to
understand  both the setting and significance of the original which was
never intended to prophesy the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

The unnamed prophet of Israel's Babylonian exile whose poetry is included
in Isaiah 40-55 describes the response of persecuted people to their
suffering.  Chapter 50:1-11 is a poem of four strophes (or stanzas: vss.1-
3,4-6,7-9,10-11).  It portrays the exile as the result of the nation's sin
against Yahweh's covenant (vs.1) and contrasts this with Yahweh's
faithfulness and that of the servant of Yahweh who suffers for his loyalty.
Though written in the 6th century BC, the poem was seen by the early
Christian church as a prophecy of Jesus' faithfulness throughout his trial
and unjust conviction. 

The early church had only the Jewish scriptures from which to discover the
relationship between the Gospel to which they were witnesses and the
purposes of God as revealed in the historical and religious traditions of
Israel.  It is not surprising, therefore, that the apostolic community made
some unusual connections between various passages and their experience of
the crucified and risen Christ.  The obedient, faithful and persecuted
servant of this passage gave them exceptional insight into the sufferings
of Christ and their own sufferings under persecution. 

It is hypothesized by redaction critics of the NT that instead of being
actual accounts of what happened, the various versions of the passion story
were created, each from a different theological perspective, for very 
different audiences, and as expositions of relevant OT passages such as
this one.  The recently released movie, *The Passion of Jesus the Christ,*
while drawing on all four gospels, has given a mediaeval interpretation to
those sufferings more in keeping with Isaiah 52:13-53:12.  While the NT
does contain some reference to the great suffering and shame caused by
crucifixion, as in Hebrews 12:3, that is not its main emphasis.  As Otto
Piper, formerly of Princeton Seminary, put it, "While in the OT the
believer becomes so occupied with his own suffering that he seems to lose
sight of the rest of the world, the follower of Christ feels as a result of
his suffering a deep compassion for the sufferings of others."
(*Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible,* 4, 453.)
 
This prophecy puts greater emphasis on the trust of the persecuted one in
Yahweh in order to encourage fellow sufferers.  Physical violence plays a
limited role in the action (vs.6).  Rather, this is a teaching moment
(vs.4) when the suffering servant is certain of his innocence and of
Yahweh's  vindication.  He also envisions an end to the persecution (vss.8-
9).  It is this victory over suffering through the death and resurrection
of Jesus Christ which becomes a central theme of the NT.


PSALM 31:9-16   Again the Christian church has interpreted this lament and
plea for God's protection from persecution by false accusers with reference
to the Passion of Christ. 

According to W. Stewart McCullough in *The Interpreter's Bible,*4, p.
158ff, the psalm in its entirety consists of three laments woven together
(vv.1-8;9-12;13-18) and concluding with a hymn of thanksgiving (vss.19-24).
This selection includes only the middle segments.  Its two parts consist of
the cry of someone who is suffering from some undefined illness (vss. 9-12)
and of someone menaced by false accusations.  The parallel with the Passion
story is obvious, especially in vss.11-13.  One could easily imagine Jesus
reciting the prayer in vss.14-16 as he stood silently before his accuser
and bore the cross along the Via Dolorosa. 

Or was it only in the imagination of later generations of Christians to
magnify events along Via Dolorosa so that these became precious to the
faithful in "the Stations of the Cross?"  All four gospels have very little
to say about the journey from Pilate's seat of judgment to the place where
the crucifixion actually occurred.  Only the incidents about Simon of
Cyrene being compelled to carry the cross and the wailing of the women of
Jerusalem appear in the gospel narratives.
     
Though not in this reading, vs.5 of this psalm  was uttered by Jesus on the
cross: "Into your hand I commit my spirit." (Luke 23:46)  This gives
further evidence of how the early church searched their scriptures to
better understand and communicate the Gospel.
                                    

PHILIPPIANS 2:5-11   This is an early Christian hymn outlining the
essential creed of the early church.  In a few well chosen words it recites
the whole sequence of the Incarnation, ministry, crucifixion, resurrection
and exaltation of Jesus as described in the gospel records.  But Paul had
not read any of the narratives knew only what the first apostles had
proclaimed or had taught him after his conversion.  Paul may  have found
this hymn in use in one of the congregations he visited, or he may have
created it himself.  In recent NSRV it appears as poetry with some aspects
of parallelism, one of the characteristics of Hebrew poetry. William
Barclay notes that it may well be an elaboration of 2 Corinthians 8:9 "For
you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was
rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might
become rich."
     
Note that it does seem to equate Jesus with God (vs.6).  Yet Barclay
examines the original Greek more closely, as does E.F. Scott in *The
Interpreter's Bible* 11, 48ff.  Barclay comes to the conclusion that this
verse does express the "innate, unchangeable, unalterable characteristics
and ability of the man....  So Paul begins by saying that Jesus was
essentially, unalterably, and unchangeable God." 
     
If it is easily accessable, Barclay's exegesis of this passage in his
*Daily Bible Readings* series, *The Letter to the Philippians, Colossians
and Philemon,* is well worth examining in detail.  In particular, his
definition of the two Greek words for "form" - *morph‚* and *schema* - is
helpful in understanding what he believes Paul claimed as the essential
divine nature of the human Jesus: "The *morph‚* (the word Paul uses) never
changes ....  However Jesus' outward *schema* might alter, he remained in
essence and in being divine."

The humiliation of Jesus as a servant (again the word is *morph‚*)
emphasizes his humanity and his death obedient to God's will.  This
humiliation leads to his exaltation so that he may be worshipped as Lord of
all. 
     

LUKE 22:14 - 23:56   It is not intended that the whole story of the Passion
should be read during public worship, though this has been done in a
special, extended service accompanied by musical selections and hymns.
Which segment should be used as the Gospel lesson for worship on Passion
Sunday is a matter of considerable choice.  The whole passage could be used
for personal devotions, however, throughout Holy Week. A liturgy of the
palms would have to look to Luke 19:28-40 as an alternative reading.

Note how as the story progresses that many people come and go, each having
contact with Jesus in one way or another, and some role to play in the
drama.  The first to leave are those closest to him, Peter being that last.
They were followed by his most hostile opponents, the chief priests and
scribes when they delivered him to Pilate.  Then Pilate himself gave up
trying to administer justice and gave in to political expedience.  Quickly
thereafter came Simon the Cyrene who carried the cross, the weeping women
of Jerusalem, the two other criminals, the Roman centurion, and finally the
crowds.  In the end, Jesus commits himself into God's keeping, and dies
alone to be buried in a unused tomb. 

In Jerusalem today, two sites are shown to tourists as probable locations
of the place of crucifixion and burial.  It is clear that one's own
theology determines which site is the more acceptable as a place to inspire
devotion and to be appropriately venerated.  Without question, the site
where the Church of the Holy Sepulchre stands is the more elaborate and
traditional in Christian lore.  Only since the late 19th century has the
site of the Garden Tomb been favourably regarded as an alternate location. 
The truth is that the actual place of Jesus' death and resurrection are
forever lost.  The four Gospels each give a different version of the
Passion story based on their differing theological standpoint and
intentions as authors writing for very disparate communities. 

Luke's version is not so much the climax to his Gospel as it is "a major
turning point in salvation history, inaugurating the new period of the
church and its universal mission.  This period would be covered by the book
of Acts." (Reginald H. Fuller in *The Oxford Companion to the Bible,* 365.)
In other words, for Luke, the Passion story is only the middle, not the
ending of what Jesus came to do.  And so it is for us, despite the
sometimes brutal concentration of attention on the crucifixion as in
Gibson's movie of Jesus' twelve last hours. 

                         
copyright  - Comments by Rev. John Shearman and page by Richard J. Fairchild, 2006, 2004
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these resources.



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