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Palm Sunday 2009

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Theme: What kind of king is this?

Let us pray.

Most holy, Lord God, death makes us sad; the death of your son is particularly tragic, but we give thanks for his great love for us that he was willing to die for us – taking our sins upon himself so that we died to sin, once and for all, through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

We began this liturgy proclaiming Jesus to be king and waving palms. Slowly, Jesus’ disciples, Jesus’ friends, slip away from the scene. Jesus becomes more and more isolated. Only one remains and when confronted to take a stand, Peter runs off. Jesus is left alone. We have now crucified our king.

Mark says that Pilate wished to appease the crowd. He released a known anarchist, one who killed Roman soldiers in seeking to free Judah from Roman rule. In Barabbas’ place, he ordered Jesus, the King of the Jews, to be crucified.

Does anyone really believe that Pilate released a known rebel, an enemy of the empire, to crucify a religious fanatic? It is more than interesting to find that the translation for Barabbas’ name is “Son of the Father.” Was it a case of mistaken identity? All we have are the gospels to fall back on.

As was Roman custom, the condemned prisoner was flogged before being crucified. If the prisoner survives the flogging, an extreme, gruesome, whipping, the prisoner is taken to the site of crucifixion.

You know the details: the royal purple robe, the crown of thorns, the mocked king. Maybe there is blood trickling down his face from his crown. His body is a broken pile of bleeding flesh. They are doing more than carrying out a state execution. They are breaking the body, the spirit, the mind, the emotions, and the soul of the one to be crucified.

Jesus was in no physical shape to complete the journey to Golgotha carrying his own cross. It was likely a cross bar. The pole to receive the bar and his body is already in the ground waiting for him. A man named Simon is ordered to carry the cross.

The soldiers gambled for his clothes. Why, I have no idea. They couldn’t have been worth that much. He was nailed to the cross at about 9 AM. There was a sign above his head, indicating the charge that warranted his execution by this torturous means: The King of Jews.

He was not alone. There were two others executed that day. Two strangers hung with Jesus after his friends deserted him.

Then there were people passing by mocking him. A very understandable human reaction. There would be many people today who would do the exact same thing if we still had public executions. The equivalent of law enforcement, the temple priests and guards, also took their verbal shots at the condemned. “You thought you were beyond the reach of the law? Look at you now.”

It got dark at noon and stayed that way for three hours. It was then that the depth of Jesus’ despair yielded his only reply. They mocked, but Jesus did not respond. To God, he does respond. “Why have you left me out here to rot? Why have you abandoned me?” Jesus felt alone. We, too, have sometimes felt abandoned, whether it was by friends, family, and sometimes – God.  It is a black time. It is full of despair. No one loves us anymore.

Someone tried to give him something for the pain, but it was too late. Jesus died. At that moment, the curtain in the temple that kept all but the High Priest from God’s presence in the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. That which separates us from God is torn in two. All the barriers separating us from God were removed at that moment.

The Roman officer, the Centurion, saw all of this. And then he understood. Jesus was God’s son. The Holy Spirit comes not to a disciple, not to an apostle, not to Jesus’ closest friends, but to a gentile, a soldier, who helped kill the Son of God.

There is supreme irony in Jesus being called several times, “The King of the Jews.” He really doesn’t look much like a king, despite the sarcastic attempts of the Roman soldiers. This is a king that does not seek dominion over the empire. This is a king that rejects violence to get his way. And he suffers for those choices. Jesus, the Prince of Peace, offers a peace unlike the Pax Romana. Jesus’ peace is not coerced. It is not enforced by a military occupation. Jesus challenges his disciples then and now to think of a radically different kind of political and religious power.

This week we accompany Jesus during his last fateful week. We will recall sadness on Tuesday at Tenebrae. But we will leave from that service confident that the darkness will not overcome the Light of Christ. On Wednesday, we will note that one of our friends, Judas, will conspire against Jesus. On Thursday, we will dine with Jesus one last time. He will command us to love one another. On Friday, we will walk with Jesus before we abandon him to death. On Saturday night, we will go to the tomb in darkness and we will find it empty.

It was impossible for us to reconcile our rebellious and sinful selves to God. Jesus took that burden on himself. Jesus did not give in to the authorities. Jesus did not give in to evil. Jesus let evil do its work without a fight. Jesus would not use violence to respond to violence. Jesus knew that that would never work. Jesus defeated evil by submitting to it. Jesus responded to evil with love and Jesus prevailed. Evil was vanquished. We were reconciled to God. The birth of our movement toward the kingdom of God was begun. Jesus turned over the rest of that work to us.

In a Peanuts cartoon, Charlie Brown and Linus are standing next to each other, staring at a star-filled sky. “Would you like to see a falling star?” Charlie Brown asks Linus. “Sure...” Linus responds. “Then again, I don't know,” he adds, after some thought. “I’d hate to have it fall just on my account.”

In the book Parables of Peanuts, Robert Short uses this cartoon to make the point that a star did fall on our account. God came down to us as Jesus: like a lamb led to slaughter, he died on our account. What humility. What love and, oh, what he accomplished there.

We now pray: Gracious God and giver of all good gifts, we give you thanks for the gift of the forgiveness of sins, strengthen us to resist temptations that take us away from your great love, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Text: Mark 14:1-15:47 (NRSV)
14 It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesusa by stealth and kill him; 2 for they said, “Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people.”

3 While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper,b as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. 4 But some were there who said to one another in anger, “Why was the ointment wasted in this way? 5 For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii,c and the money given to the poor.” And they scolded her. 6 But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. 7 For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. 8 She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. 9 Truly I tell you, wherever the good newsd is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”

10 Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. 11 When they heard it, they were greatly pleased, and promised to give him money. So he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.

12 On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to him, “Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?” 13 So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, 14 and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks, Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 15 He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.” 16 So the disciples set out and went to the city, and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.

17 When it was evening, he came with the twelve. 18 And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” 19 They began to be distressed and to say to him one after another, “Surely, not I?” 20 He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping breade into the bowlf with me. 21 For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.”

22 While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” 23 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. 24 He said to them, “This is my blood of theg covenant, which is poured out for many. 25 Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

26 When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 27 And Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters; for it is written,

‘I will strike the shepherd,

and the sheep will be scattered.’

28 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 29 Peter said to him, “Even though all become deserters, I will not.” 30 Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” 31 But he said vehemently, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And all of them said the same.

32 They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. 34 And he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.” 35 And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 He said, “Abba,h Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” 37 He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? 38 Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial;i the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 39 And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. 40 And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. 41 He came a third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.”

43 Immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; and with him there was a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. 44 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.” 45 So when he came, he went up to him at once and said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. 46 Then they laid hands on him and arrested him. 47 But one of those who stood near drew his sword and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. 48 Then Jesus said to them, “Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? 49 Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. But let the scriptures be fulfilled.” 50 All of them deserted him and fled.

51 A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, 52 but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked.

53 They took Jesus to the high priest; and all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes were assembled. 54 Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest; and he was sitting with the guards, warming himself at the fire. 55 Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none. 56 For many gave false testimony against him, and their testimony did not agree. 57 Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, saying, 58 “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’ ” 59 But even on this point their testimony did not agree. 60 Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?” 61 But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah,j the Son of the Blessed One?” 62 Jesus said, “I am; and

‘you will see the Son of Man

seated at the right hand of the Power,’

and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven.’ ”

63 Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “Why do we still need witnesses? 64 You have heard his blasphemy! What is your decision?” All of them condemned him as deserving death. 65 Some began to spit on him, to blindfold him, and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” The guards also took him over and beat him.

66 While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant-girls of the high priest came by. 67 When she saw Peter warming himself, she stared at him and said, “You also were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth.” 68 But he denied it, saying, “I do not know or understand what you are talking about.” And he went out into the forecourt.k Then the cock crowed.l 69 And the servant-girl, on seeing him, began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” 70 But again he denied it. Then after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean.” 71 But he began to curse, and he swore an oath, “I do not know this man you are talking about.” 72 At that moment the cock crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered that Jesus had said to him, “Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.

15 As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. 2 Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” He answered him, “You say so.” 3 Then the chief priests accused him of many things. 4 Pilate asked him again, “Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.” 5 But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.

6 Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked. 7 Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. 8 So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom. 9 Then he answered them, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” 10 For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. 12 Pilate spoke to them again, “Then what do you wish me to doa with the man you callb the King of the Jews?” 13 They shouted back, “Crucify him!” 14 Pilate asked them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him!” 15 So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.

16 Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquartersc); and they called together the whole cohort. 17 And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. 18 And they began saluting him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 19 They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. 20 After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

21 They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. 22 Then they brought Jesusd to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). 23 And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. 24 And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take.

25 It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. 26 The inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” 27 And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left.e 29 Those who passed by deridedf him, shaking their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!” 31 In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32 Let the Messiah,g the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.

33 When it was noon, darkness came over the whole landh until three in the afternoon. 34 At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”i 35 When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.” 36 And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” 37 Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39 Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way hej breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”k

40 There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41 These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.

42 When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 44 Then Pilate wondered if he were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he had been dead for some time. 45 When he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph. 46 Then Josephl bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body,m wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the bodyn was laid.



a  Gk him

b  The terms leper and leprosy can refer to several diseases

c  The denarius was the usual day’s wage for a laborer

d  Or gospel

e  Gk lacks bread

f  Other ancient authorities read same bowl

g  Other ancient authorities add new

h  Aramaic for Father

i  Or into temptation

j  Or the Christ

k  Or gateway

l  Other ancient authorities lack Then the cock crowed

a  Other ancient authorities read what should I do

b  Other ancient authorities lack the man you call

c  Gk the praetorium

d  Gk him

e  Other ancient authorities add verse 28, And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “And he was counted among the lawless.”

f  Or blasphemed

g  Or the Christ

h  Or earth

i  Other ancient authorities read made me a reproach

j  Other ancient authorities add cried out and

k  Or a son of God

l  Gk he

m  Gk it

n  Gk it

[1]  The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. 1989. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

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